News from the Western 1 Region
Richard Seitz, Western 1 Regional Director
Spring 2012

A New Direction for Math Ed?

Where should we be heading? Who should lead us? How should we get there? The reflections of an NCSM director on the directions the mathematics' community is heading.

I have been involved as a professional in mathematics education for 40 years since the time when new math really was modern math! Along the way, I've noticed that there had been a series of changes, a host of new ideas, a collection of reports and steady stream of new leaders. This may be the perfect time to stop and reflect on where we are headed. Here are some questions related to the newest issues for all mathematics educators to ponder.

Issue 1: The Common Core State Standards

Let's celebrate the fact that we are creating a consensus about the very core of the teaching practices and the content that should be presented in every part of America. The questions are many:

  1. How can we guarantee that the necessary professional development will be offered (and fully funded) for teachers across this country to ensure that the practices are practiced and the content is understood? Perhaps it is time to bring back the level of commitment for professional development that accompanied the Sputnik revolution and the innovation of Eisenhower Funding and Systemic Initiatives for states and communities?
  2. How can we guarantee that testing and data will be used for improvement of what we teach and how we teach? How can we eliminate the politically charged attacks on the proud educational institution in America that takes on the challenge of educating everyone who walks into our doors and indeed into our country? How can we eliminate the punitive nature of high stakes testing with unreachable results?
  3. How can we guarantee that the standards will have a slow steady process of revision and development led by mathematics educators? Are the professional organizations planning to take on this process?
  4. Can we get the political leaders who have personal biases and agendas out of the job of trying to create a new solution imposed from above? Can we support the leaders with STEM expertise to lead the charge for the improvement of mathematics education?

Issue 2: Technology in America

We now have the resources to build interactive schools where educators and their students are empowered to use new ways of communicating and engaging in learning.

  1. Can we give the gift of time or will we continue to demand teachers' time be devoted to classroom based instruction? Can we create time for formative or summative assessments, for collaborative lesson planning, for learning new content, for reading, for reviewing and for examining the resources and for extending their skills at using technology to enhance their lessons?
  2. Will we ensure that every student who walks into school does so with the technology they need at school and at home to help them meet the challenges of learning and teaching in a highly competitive and technologically advanced society?
  3. Will institutions of higher education recognize as a community that we need teachers who know multiple strategies on how to solve problems and that those strategies must also include the ability to use mobile and hand held technology to solve problems, build models and communicate solutions?
  4. As a society dependent upon mathematics, will we all learn to balance the use of high tech with the use of low tech and understand that mental math, conversation, estimation, and imaginative thinking are essential to innovation and creativity and must be complemented by procedural fluency and technology skills?

Issue 3: Teaching as a Profession in America

We all understand the need for a society to build products and produce results. Sometimes it seems that we appear to lose sight of the fact that supporting the teaching profession is an honorable way to help the next generation be ready to do exactly that: to invent products, to build solutions. to produce results and to make the entire world a better place for all.

  1. Will education continue to face unrealistic goals and be labeled as a failure when they don't achieve those goals?
  2. Are we willing to put the resources necessary into making teaching the honored profession status it has held in the past?
  3. Are we ready to support the professional mathematics education organizations and encourage all mathematics leaders and educators to join with them?
  4. Are we willing to give educators the time (as well as demand that they use of the time) needed to be a powerful force in the teaching and learning of our citizens?

The issues above are our current challenges. We have the opportunity to leave this year, this decade and this century in a better position to educate all the youth of America. The discussion is important, the task is daunting but we have the resources to achieve the best teaching and learning in the world.

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