Current Math Issues from Western Regional NCSM Members
Richard Seitz, Western 1 Regional Director
Winter 2010/2011

Author's Note: Some people believe that opinions become fact when they are widely held. As mathematicians, we know that opinions may be true but the degree of acceptance does not equate to their truth. As a result, this article must retain its position as an editorial.

The US Government is wrestling with a revision to the current "No Child Left Behind" program of encouragement, evaluation, and assessment of mathematics education. What advice could we offer the esteemed legislative body in Washington, DC? In discussions with leaders across Western Region 1 this fall, I've heard some interesting ideas. I propose that educators across the nation need a serious discussion and program of implementation for three of these suggestions.

  • Suggestion 1-Support the Common Core of State Standards (CCSS)
  • Suggestion 2-Support New Innovations in Teaching and Learning
  • Suggestion 3-Deemphasize Large-Scale Testing as a Measure of Success

Support the Common Core State Standards. Educators are in amazing agreement that accepting a set of expectations for curriculum for all states would help us develop materials and courses that could standardize and raise the expectations for student learning. Indeed, many of the states that have not yet adopted the Standards opted not to adopt because the Standards did not fit into their cycle of curriculum review-not because the Standards are not a viable solution. Does this mean that educators believe the Standards are perfect? Absolutely not; but, they do believe that given enough data, analysis, systematic review, careful revision, and thoughtful time the Standards can be transformed into a powerful set of expectations. There is hope that a non-political, slow, and careful evolution of the Standards could exponentially improve their utility for developing a viable curriculum.

Support New Innovations in Teaching and Learning. Over the last 50 years, teaching and learning mathematics has become more research-based, has seen support from powerful technology developments, has explored new content in discrete mathematical fields, and has become much more sophisticated in using mathematical models. The Common Core State Standards should allow us to focus the curriculum in such a way that teachers will gain enough time to teach some of the newer high-interest topics in mathematics. There is a belief and expectation that the CCSS will give us more time for innovation. There was a strong consensus that funding support for STEM educators to attend professional conferences and workshops must be revitalized. There were even suggestions that patterned funding based on earlier funding models (1990's Eisenhower Funding and 1960's Sputnik era models) would produce much more innovation.

Deemphasize Large-Scale Testing as a Measure of Success. Putting federal and state agencies in charge of selecting measures, evaluating, and analyzing success has been extremely problematic. An interesting fact is that no standards for mathematics education have ever been remotely mastered by all of the students in any state. We need to reinstate gross measures of performance such as ACT, SAT, and NAEP scores to tell us how states are doing. We also need those informal measures about students who choose to emphasize mathematics-the number of and diversity of students involved in high-level classes, participating in math-modeling contests, engaged in science and mathematics clubs, and going on to post-secondary education. These findings should also be communicated to the public.

A Final Note about the Dangers of the Present Educational Policies

The current system has placed an unrealistic expectation on school performances that has changed the perception that American schools are doing amazing things. We have set in place a punitive system of assessments that portray schools as failing to teach effectively. For most schools the opposite is true.

The current system has taken one of America's largest challenges-the graduation rate of high school students-and made American schools the whipping boy for a problem so complex that it demands a solution from all parts of society.

The current system has taken resources for schools and put them into competing programs without a strong research base for those changes.

What the next governmental program must do is simple. It must support educators in the celebration of their successes, communicate what works, and create a non-punitive system that supports educational improvement and innovation. The program must bring American education back into the position of respect that it rightly earned by all its achievements in each and every one of the last 50 years.

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