Friday, March 21, 2008
Really Says it ALL!
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 5:17 AM
In the last year of his term, the President of the United States and the
Department of Education are now trying to do for math what they did for
reading. The notable achievements of Reading First include massive fraud,
profiteering, junk science, federal control over classroom practice, fear
and hysteria. While the National Reading Panel was stacked with ideologues
sharing the same educational philosophy, the National Math Panel co-opted
the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) by appointing the
organization’s President to serve on the committee.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, never known for its
radicalism, swung hard towards “the basics” last year in its Curriculum
Focal Points and now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having
to disagree with NCTM’s President and the President of the United States.
“Skip” Fennell did neither his members nor millions of American school
kids any favors by participating in this unnecessary process.
These federal education expeditions seek to narrow both the range of
content and pedagogy permissible in public schools. The private and
religious schools the GOP wants to support with taxpayer-funded vouchers
are immune from these intrusions. The one-size-fits-all prescriptions for
what ails public education are justified by claiming that schemes are
The rigid definition of “scientific evidence” enforced by Department of
Education may be fine in testing remedies for restless leg syndrome, but
is ill-suited for the complexities of education. But hey, these are the
folks who have mangled the English language to imply that theory is merely
an unproven guess.
There is a lot wrong with the recent math report, but making Algebra the
holy grail of K-8 mathematics is wrong-headed and goes unquestioned.
Stressing the importance of fractions as critical prerequisites for
Algebra adds insult to injury.
In a world-class display of side-splitting math teacher humor, panel
member Frances “Skip” Fennell told the New York Times , “Just as
“plastics” was the catchword in the 1967 movie The Graduate, the catchword
for math teachers today should be ‘fractions.’“ What Fennell doesn’t realize is that the person who said, “Plastics,” in The Graduate was emblematic of everything wrong with society. “Plastics,” was a metaphor for a shallow, superficial, inauthentic culture focused on
the wrong values. The National Math Advisory Panel’s greater focus on
fractions represents a “plastic” version of mathematics that will do more
harm than good.
It’s easy to see how someone might think that several years worth of
fraction study prepares a child for Algebra. Fractions have numerators
over denominators, separated by a horizontal line. Many algebraic
equations have something over something else, also separated by a line.
That’s all you need to know. Right?
Not only is the progression from arithmetic manipulation of fractions to
Algebra tenuous, but neither of the assumptions underlying the value of
teaching fractions or Algebra are ever questioned. The President’s Math
Panel, like most of the math education community maintains a Kabbalah-like
belief in an antiquated scope and sequence. Such curricular superstition
fuels a multigenerational feud in which educators fight over who has the
best trick for forcing kids to learn something useless, irrelevant or
Despite the remarkable statement in the 1989 National Council of Teachers
of Mathematics Standards, “Fifty percent of all mathematics has been
invented since World War Two,” the NCTM has been in full retreat ever
since. Although much of this “new” mathematics is playful, practical,
beautiful or capable of being visualized via the computer, little new
content has made its way into the curriculum. Against this backdrop of
unimaginative heuristics and a leadership vacuum, math class has become
increasingly torturous for too many students.
Children who struggle to manipulate fractions do so because the skills are
taught absent a meaningful context in a culture where fractions are rarely
ever used. Fraction fans might argue that fractions are important in
following a recipe, but little cooking is done during fraction
instruction. Even if kids did get to learn fractions by cooking, they
might add, subtract or even multiply fractions, but one hardly ever
divides fractions. The fact that there are four arithmetic functions
doesn’t justify drilling kids for several grade levels. I wonder how many
members of the Presidential panel can coherently explain how division of
fractions works beyond repeating the trick – multiply the first fraction
by the reciprocal of the second fraction?
The Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel
does not dispute that teachers spend lots of time teaching fractions. The
report merely urges that teachers do even more of the same while hoping
for a different result. A definition of insanity comes to mind.
It would be bad enough if wasted time was the only consequence of the
fanatical fraction focus, but too many students get the idea that they
can’t do math. This damages their inclination towards learning other forms
of mathematics. Given the importance of mathematics and the widespread
mathphobia sweeping the land, students can ill afford to a diminution in
their self-image as capable mathematicians.
Educators should not be complicit in creating learning disabilities
regardless of what the President or his friends say.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Fractions, Fractions and More Fractions
By NANCY ZUCKERBROD
The Associated PressThursday, March 13, 2008; 2:40 PM
WASHINGTON -- Schools could improve students' sluggish math scores by hammering home the basics, such as addition and multiplication, and increasing the focus on fractions and some geometry, a presidential panel recommended Thursday.
"Difficulty with fractions (including decimals and percents) is pervasive and is a major obstacle to further progress in mathematics, including algebra," the panel, appointed by President Bush two years ago, said in a report.
Because success in algebra has been linked to higher graduation rates and college enrollment, the panel focused on improving areas that are the foundations of algebra. Average U.S. math scores on a variety of tests drop around middle school, when algebra coursework typically begins. That trend also led the panel to focus on what's happening before kids take algebra.
A major goal for students should be mastery of fractions, since that is a "severely underdeveloped" area and one that's important to later algebra success, the report states.
"Students don't know how to translate fractions into decimals or into percentages and they can't locate fractions on a number line," said panelist Tom Loveless, a senior fellow and education expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
The report also says other critical topics _ such as whole numbers and aspects of geometry and measurement _ should be studied in a more in-depth way.
When it comes to whole numbers, the report states that students must have a clear grasp of the meaning of basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, among other things.
With geometry and measurement, students should be able to find unknown lengths, angles and areas, the report says.
"By building on a strong foundation of skills, students will be ready for rigorous courses in high school or earlier," said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, praising the report.
Spellings and the panelists emphasized the need to boost U.S. students' math performance because of the increasing need for high-level math skills in today's workplace and because of the need to compete with workers from other countries for global jobs.
U.S. students do particularly poorly on international tests. On one recent exam given to 15-year-olds in 30 industrialized countries, U.S. students posted an average score that was lower than the average in 23 of the other countries.
In general, U.S. math curricula ought to be streamlined, according to the report.
"There is I think a tendency in American curricula to cover too many things too shallowly," Larry Faulkner, the panel's chair and the former president of the University of Texas, said.
The report takes a diplomatic stance when it comes to taking a position on the best methods to teach math to kids.
In recent years, there has been a dispute over whether children should learn a sequence of basic skills in math, including multiplication tables and some memorization, or should understand the theory behind math problems and come up with solutions on their own.
The report says both quick and effortless recall of facts and conceptual understanding of math are beneficial.
In addition, the back-to-basics camp has tended to favor "teacher-directed" instruction, in which teachers do all the explaining, while the opposing side has backed "student-centered instruction," in which students have the main responsibility for learning math _ often through working with peers.
The panel found students can benefit from both styles.
"You need some element of discovery to allow kids to secure concepts in their minds, and you need to be able to have a reasonably efficient approach to be able to cover the material," Faulkner said.
Teachers need to emphasize that effort pays off, because too many kids feel that they are just not good at math and give up too early, according to the report.
Faulkner said much more research is needed to understand why certain teachers are able to boost their students' math skills. "Very little is known about these things, surprisingly little I think to this panel _ given the importance of that question," Faulkner said.
The report did note that elementary- and middle-school teachers need more math preparation.
It took aim at math textbooks, saying they are too long and lack coherence.
Textbook publishers say they are trying to cover all the things in various state standards. Like for other subjects, each state sets its own math standards dictating what students should learn and when. Many critics say students would be better off with a single national standard, but the panel didn't weigh in on that.
The math panel's report comes several years after another presidential panel outlined what ought to be done to improve reading performance. That panel stressed the importance of phonemic awareness in reading instruction and emphasized the need to combine a variety of reading approaches into teaching strategies. It also led to the creation of a federal reading program for schools serving low-income students.
Spelling said she hoped Thursday's report would lead to the creation of a similar math program. "I think, like the reading panel, this can be a seminal moment in math education," Spelling said.
Read the Final Report of the National Math Panel
The Wall Street Journal Weighs In
Effort to Fix 'Broken' System Sets Targets for Each Grade, Avoids Taking Sides on Method
By JOHN HECHINGERMarch 5, 2008; Page D1
A presidential panel, warning that a "broken" system of mathematics education threatens U.S. pre-eminence, says it has found the fix: A laserlike focus on the essentials.
The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, appointed by President Bush in 2006, is expected to urge the nation's teachers to promote "quick and effortless" recall of arithmetic facts in early grades, mastery of fractions in middle school, and rigorous algebra courses in high school or even earlier. Targeting such key elements of math would mark a sharp departure from the diverse priorities that now govern teaching of the subject in U.S. public schools.
The panel took up its work amid widespread alarm at the sorry state of math achievement in America. In the most recent testing by the Program for International Student Assessment, released late last year, U.S. 15-year-olds achieved sub-par results among developed nations in math literacy and problem-solving, behind such countries as Finland, South Korea and the Netherlands. "Without substantial and sustained changes to the educational system, the United States will relinquish its leadership in the twenty-first century," reads a draft of the final report, due to be released next week by the Department of Education.
Unlike most countries that outperform the U.S., America leaves education decisions largely to state and local governments and has no national curriculum. School boards and state education departments across the country are likely to pore over the math panel's findings and adjust their teaching to make sure it aligns with the nation's best thinking on math instruction. The federal government could also use the report to launch a national program in math instruction, as the government did for literacy after findings from a similar advisory panel on reading in 2000.
The math panel's draft report comes amid the so-called math wars raging in the nation's public classrooms. For two decades, advocates of what has come to be known as "reform math" have promoted conceptual understanding over drilling in, say, multiplication and division. For example, to solve a basic division problem, 150 divided by 50, students might cross off groups of circles to "discover" that the answer was three. Some parents and mathematicians have complained about "fuzzy math," and public school systems have encountered a growing backlash.
The advisory panel's 19 members include eminent mathematicians and educators representing both sides of the math wars. The draft of the final report declines to take sides, saying the group agreed only on the content that students must master, not the best way to teach it.
The group said it could find no "high-quality" research backing either traditional or reform math instruction. The draft report calls a rigid adherence to either method "misguided" and says understanding, which is the priority of reform teachers, and computation skills, emphasized by traditionalists, are "mutually supported."
Larry Faulkner, the panel's chairman and president of the Houston Endowment, a philanthropic foundation, said in an interview that the group had "internal battles" but decided "it's time to cool the passions along that divide." The panel held 12 meetings around the country, reviewed 16,000 research publications and public-policy reports and heard testimony from 110 individuals.
The advisory group also doesn't take a position on calculator use in early grades, a contentious issue among educators and parents. The draft says the panel reviewed 11 studies that found "limited to no impact of calculators on calculation skills, problem-solving or conceptual development." But the panel, noting that almost all the studies were more than 20 years old and otherwise limited, recommended more research on whether calculators undermine "fluency in computation."
Still, the draft report says calculators shouldn't be used on tests used to assess computation skills. Some states allow disabled children to use calculators on tests of arithmetic.
The draft report urges educators to focus on "critical" topics, as is common in higher-performing countries. The panel's draft report says students should be proficient with the addition and subtraction of whole numbers by the end of third grade and with multiplication and division by the end of fifth. In terms of geometry, children by the end of sixth grade should be able to solve problems involving perimeter, area and volume.
Students should begin working with fractions in fourth grade and, by the end of seventh, be able to solve problems involving percent, ratio and rate. "Difficulty with fractions [including decimals and percents] is pervasive and is a major obstacle to further progress in mathematics, including algebra," the draft report says.
These benchmarks mirror closely a September 2006 report by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which many viewed as a turning point in the math wars because it recognized the importance of teaching the basics after the group for years had placed more emphasis on conceptual understanding.
Francis Fennell, president of the math teachers group and a panel member, said the group's specific recommendations could help parents determine whether their kids are on the right track.
The draft report recommends a revamp of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a widely followed test administered by the Education Department, to emphasize material needed for the mastery of algebra, especially fractions. The draft calls for similar changes to the state tests children must take under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.
The document urges publishers to shorten elementary and middle-school math textbooks that currently can run on for 700 to 1,000 pages and cover a dizzying array of topics. Publishers say textbooks often must cover a patchwork of state standards.
How the Report Plays in the NYTimes
Panel Proposes Streamlining Math
By TAMAR LEWIN
American students’ math achievement is “at a mediocre level” compared with that of their peers worldwide, according to a new report by a federal panel. The panel said that math curriculums from preschool to eighth grade should be streamlined to focus on key skills — the handling of whole numbers and fractions, and certain aspects of geometry and measurement — to prepare students to learn algebra.
“The sharp falloff in mathematics achievement in the U.S. begins as students reach late middle school, where, for more and more students, algebra course work begins,” said the report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, appointed two years ago by President Bush. “Students who complete Algebra II are more than twice as likely to graduate from college, compared to students with less mathematical preparation.”
The report, to be released Thursday, spells out specific goals for students. For example, it says that by the end of the third grade, students should be proficient in adding and subtracting whole numbers; two years later, they should be proficient in multiplying and dividing them. By the end of sixth grade, it says, students should have mastered the multiplication and division of fractions and decimals.
The report tries to put to rest the long and heated debate over math teaching methods. Parents and teachers in school districts across the country have fought passionately over the relative merits of traditional, or teacher-directed, instruction, in which students are told how to solve problems and then are drilled on them, as opposed to reform or child-centered instruction, which emphasizes student exploration and conceptual understanding. The panel said both methods have a role.
“There is no basis in research for favoring teacher-based or student-centered instruction,” said Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, the chairman of the panel, at a briefing for reporters on Wednesday. “People may retain their strongly held philosophical inclinations, but the research does not show that either is better than the other.”
Districts that have made ‘’all-encompassing decisions to go one way or the other,” he said, should rethink those decisions, and intertwine different methods of instruction to help students develop a broad understanding of math.
“To prepare students for algebra, the curriculum must simultaneously develop conceptual understanding, computational fluency and problem-solving skills,” the report said. “Debates regarding the relative importance of these aspects of mathematical knowledge are misguided. These capabilities are mutually supportive, .”
The president convened the panel to advise on how to improve math education for the nation’s children. Its members include math and psychology professors from leading universities, a middle-school math teacher and the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Closely tracking an influential 2006 report by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the panel said that the math curriculum should include fewer topics, and then spend enough time on each of them to make it is learned in depth and need not be revisited in later grades. This is how top-performing nations approach the curriculum.
After a similar advisory panel on reading made its recommendations in 2000, the federal government used the report as a guide for awarding $5 billion in federal grants to promote reading proficiency.
The new report does not call for a national math curriculum, or for new federal investment in math instruction. It does call for more research on successful math teaching, and recommends that the Secretary of Education convene an annual forum of leaders of the national associations concerned with math to develop an agenda for improving math instruction.
The report cites a number of troubling international comparisons, including a 2007 assessment finding that 15-year-olds in the United States ranked 25th among their peers in 30 developed nations in math literacy and problem solving.
The report says that Americans fell short, especially, in handling fractions. It pointed to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, standardized-test results that are known as the nation’s report card, which found that almost half the eighth graders tested could not solve a word problem that required dividing fractions.
After hearing testimony and comments from hundreds of organizations and individuals, and sifting through 16,000 research publications, the panelists shaped their report around recent research on how children learn.
For example, the panel found that it is important for students to master their basic math facts by heart.
“For all content areas, practice allows students to achieve automaticity of basic skills — the fast, accurate, and effortless processing of content information — which frees up working memory for more complex aspects of problem solving,” the report said.
Dr. Faulkner, a former president of the University of Texas at Austin, said the panel “buys the notion from cognitive science that kids have to know the facts.”
“In the language of cognitive science, working memory needs to be predominately dedicated to new material in order to have a learning progression, and previously addressed material needs to be in long-term memory,” he said.
The report also cites recent findings that students who depend on their native intelligence learn less than those who believe that success depends on how hard they work. Dr. Faulkner said the current “talent-driven approach to math, that either you can do it or you can’t, like playing the violin” needed to be changed.
“Experimental studies have demonstrated that changing children’s beliefs from a focus on ability to a focus on effort increases their engagement in mathematics learning, which in turn improves mathematics outcomes,” the report says “When children believe that their efforts to learn make them ‘smarter,’ they show greater persistence in mathematics learning.”
The report makes a plea for shorter and more accurate math textbooks. Given the shortage of elementary teachers with a solid grounding in math, the report recommends further research on the use of math specialists to teach several different elementary grades, as is done in many top-performing nations.
The report also recommends a revamping of the math content on the national assessment test, to focus on the same skills that the report emphasizes.
Here are the panel’s recommended benchmarks for elementary school math education:
Benchmarks in Math Education Fluency With Whole Numbers
1 By the end of Grade 3, students should be proficient with the addition and subtraction of whole numbers.
2 By the end of Grade 5, students should be proficient with multiplication and division of whole numbers.
Fluency With Fractions
1 By the end of Grade 4, students should be able to identify and represent fractions anddecimals, and compare them on a number line or with other common representations offractions and decimals.
2 By the end of Grade 5, students should be proficient with comparing fractions and decimalsand common percents, and with the addition and subtraction of fractions and decimals.
3 By the end of Grade 6, students should be proficient with multiplication and division offractions and decimals.
4 By the end of Grade 6, students should be proficient with all operations involving positiveand negative integers.
5 By the end of Grade 7, students should be proficient with all operations involving positiveand negative fractions.
6 By the end of Grade 7, students should be able to solve problems involving percent, ratio,and rate and extend this work to proportionality.
Geometry and Measurement
1 By the end of Grade 5, students should be able to solve problems involving perimeter andarea of triangles and all quadrilaterals having at least one pair of parallel sides (i.e.,trapezoids).
2 By the end of Grade 6, students should be able to analyze the properties of two-dimensional shapes and solve problems involving perimeter and area, and analyze the properties of three dimensional shapes and solve problems involving surface area and volume.
3 By the end of Grade 7, students should be familiar with the relationship between similar triangles and the concept of the slope of a line.
Source: National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008.
First of several responses to the Report
A colleague of ours in mathematics education pointed out that the panel should be the “National Arithmetic Advisory Panel” because they have developed guidelines for an arithmetic curriculum, not a modern mathematics curriculum. I wholeheartedly agree. The over-emphasis in the report of a narrow set of skills and procedures leading to algebra, including a set of procedures the panel has inappropriately named as “the” standard algorithms, limits the mathematical horizons of U.S. students and reduces the likelihood that they will be prepared for the mathematics that will drive scientific research and economies Ant the report’s definition of algebra is date and could have been written for the 19th Century. in the 21st Century. For instance, data analysis and statistics--basic skills of both the scientific and economic workforce—are completely ignored in the report. Mathematical modeling and problem solving are only given lip service.
This report of the Bush administration fails to recognize that the greatest impediment to progress in the mathematical achievement of our children is the underfunding of education in the U.S., especially scientific education and especially scientific education in our urban centers. Just as the next generation is likely to witness the extinction of many species in our habitats, without a major increase in resource commitment, the next generation is likely to witness the extinction of mathematics and science teachers in their classrooms. Working conditions are too poor and support is too inadequate to motivate young people to dedicate themselves to teaching mathematics and science. The narrowing of the mathematical field as advocated in the NMAP Final Report only exacerbates this problem. If I were charged with summarizing “what is known that could support a major national effort that could succeed in improving mathematics achievement,” I would have focused on the need to commit resources at the federal and state levels to scientific education.
While the report claims to have examined 16,000 research publications and policy reports in its examination of mathematics education, the report makes many claims that fly in the face of scientific evidence. The report is highly opinionated, subjective, and political. For instance in its claim that “high school students enrolled in courses using textbooks featuring an integrated approach may not be in a position to take more advanced coursework in their senior year,” the panel cites “an analysis of high school mathematics standards, and one state’s standards in particular,” not research. Much research has, in fact, been undertaken in this area and the scientific evidence points in the direction that students using integrated curricula study more advanced mathematics, not less. In its findings on the use of technology, the report ignores mention of the most researched and widely used classes of technology for mathematics, open-ended investigative and modeling tools like our own software, The Geometer’s Sketchpad, or graphing calculators.
The NMAP Final Report seems to believe that a targeted, magic “algebra pill” can address the crisis in mathematics education in the U.S. And they attempt to support a highly subjective and narrow definition of mathematical knowledge as the direction our field should move in. This narrowing of mathematics education will further undermine the interests of our children in pursuing scientific careers and under-prepare them for the economy of the future. It will drive good teachers out of the teaching profession and discourage young people from entering the profession.
Nothing in the report points to ways to create more engagement of students in the study of mathematics. In fact, if one were to follow its mandate, I believe that we would interest fewer, not more, citizens in the pursuit of mathematical careers. One of the central problems in our mathematical classrooms is shear boredom—and that applies to teachers as well as students. A rich curriculum, even if focused, can motivate children to study more mathematics, not less. Teaching and learning, are after all, are voluntary pursuits, and we have to be aware that the subjects must be inviting if we are going to attract new recruits to our field.
This passage below typically blames the abused and neglected for their problems, not pointing to the discriminatory application of national educational resources and the “opportunity gap” that exists in U.S. Schools.
Children’s goals and beliefs about learning are related to theirmathematics performance. Experimental studies have demonstrated thatchanging children’s beliefs from a focus on ability to a focus on effortincreases their engagement in mathematics learning, which in turnimproves mathematics outcomes: When children believe that their effortsto learn make them “smarter,” they show greater persistence inmathematics learning. Related research demonstrates that the engagementand sense of efficacy of African-American and Hispanic students inmathematical learning contexts not only tends to be lower than that ofwhite and Asian students but also that it can be significantly increased.
Teachers and other educational leaders should consistently help studentsand parents to understand that an increased emphasis on the importanceof effort is related to improved mathematics performance. This is acritical point because much of the public’s self-evident resignation aboutmathematics education (together with the common tendencies to dismissweak achievement and to give up early) seems rooted in the erroneousidea that success is largely a matter of inherent talent or ability, not effort.
The section of the report regarding textbooks talks about length and accuracy, two important (and obvious) aspects of textbooks, but hardly the most important factors in curriculum. The absence of any comment or analysis of pedagogy, instructional design, levels of depth, etc., in this section of the report is appalling.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Education Week April 4, 2007 Article
By Sean Cavanagh
When President Bush signed an executive order creating a National Mathematics Advisory Panel a year ago this month, his intent seemed plain enough.
The 17-member expert body was expected to produce a preliminary report by the end of January 2007 and a final report by the end of February 2008. Both of those reports, the order stated, were to contain recommendations based on “the best available scientific evidence” about strategies for improving math education, in areas such as instruction, testing, teacher training and placement, and help for students of different abilities and backgrounds.
Yet critics have noted that the 16-page preliminary report the panel released in January includes no such recommendations—only an overview of its mission, membership, and the process it has followed so far. ("Math Panel Issues Its First Report, But Holds Off on Policy Proposals," Jan. 17, 2007.)
A “Very Sad Joke,” reads a headline about the report on National Math Panel Watch, a Web site, at http://mathpanelwatch.blogspot.com, created by Steven Leinwand, a principal research scientist at the American Institutes for Research, in Washington.
“It raises real questions about what they’re going to be able to do for us,” Mr. Leinwand said in an interview, calling the report “16 pages of dribble.”
The site also includes comments from Steve Rasmussen, the president of Key Curriculum Press, a California-based education publishing company, who wondered whether internal disagreements were delaying the panel.
Issuing such a slim report “denies the public the opportunity to respond and comment thoughtfully” before the final report, Mr. Rasmussen wrote.
But math panel Chairman Larry R. Faulkner said the group was reluctant to put forward recommendations before completing its research, which he noted covers a broad list of topics. It is that workload, not any intrapanel division, that explains the brief initial report, he said.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and White House officials have told him they are satisfied with the panel’s progress, he added.
“It’s not of any service to convey recommendations we’re not secure about,” said Mr. Faulkner, the president of the Houston Endowment, a Texas philanthropy. “The value that the panel has is going to rest entirely on the quality of that final report.”
Monday, March 26, 2007
Key Curriculum Press Release
Devoid of any substance or even preliminary findings, The National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s Preliminary Report is a major disappointment, Key Curriculum Press President Steve Rasmussen said Tuesday. Like many individuals and organizations, Key offered testimony during the Panel’s public hearings.
Released to the public six weeks after it was due, the fifteen-page report provides a scant two paragraphs containing any new information. And even those don’t reveal much. “It is premature for the Panel to convey major findings and conclusions,” the document concludes.
Rasmussen sharply responded to the report:
By failing to offer any insight into its preliminary view, the Panel denies the public the opportunity to respond and comment thoughtfully throughout the next stage of the Panel’s deliberations prior to its final report. This is unacceptable.
Those of us devoting our careers and energies to making positive differences for our nation’s children deserve useful guidance and support. We deserve to hear from Panel members, even if they offer differing opinions. Undoubtedly, they are learning a lot from the data and testimony they have received. I hope we too get to learn from their experience. Our country needs a discussion of the critical issues facing mathematics educators.
Perhaps the Panel is too divided to issue a meaningful report. Perhaps politics has gotten in the way of their mission. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel was, after all, established by an administration with a highly questionable track record of using scientific evidence to make policy. The sad fact is that, over the past six years, politics has consistently trumped science in such areas ranging from global warming (Federal Climate Research) to education (Reading First). Given this record, and given the
composition of the Panel, it is entirely reasonable to raise serious questions about the Panel’s work. Despite the presence of highly respected individuals on the Panel, I worry that its final report will reflect the educational views of the administration that appointed it.
It is critical that Panel members whose views are not clouded by politics offer us their opinions, even if they contrast those held by other members. Meaningful proposals that could have a profound impact on the lives of students will not come without rigorous, un-politicized debate.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Very Sad Joke
What does the President’s Executive Order call for?
Section 4: A preliminary report not later than January 31, 2007, and a final report not later than February 28, 2008. BOTH REPORTS shall, at a minimum, contain recommendations, based on the best available scientific evidence, on the following:
a) the critical skills and skill progressions….
b) the role and appropriate design on standards and assessment…
c) the processes by which students of various abilities and backgrounds learn mathematics;
d) instructional practices, programs, and materials that are effective….
e) the training, selection, placement, and professional development of teachers of mathematics;
f) the role and appropriate design of systems for delivering instruction…
g) needs for research…
h) ideas for strengthening capabilities to teach children and youth basic mathematics…
i) such other matters.
What does the 16-page preliminary report, dated January, 2007 and not released until March 16, 2007 include?
- 3 pages of general background and reiteration of the panel’s charge;
- 2 pages listing the panel members, their affiliations and the staff;
- 2 pages on the fact that meetings were held and how they were organized and the membership of the 4 panel task groups;
- 13 lines on “Current Status” – see below;
- 6 references;
- 3 pages of Appendix presenting the Presidential Executive Order (obviously to pad the report and provide primary source material for the first 3 pages of the report;
- 3 pages of Appendix summarizing the dates, locations and organizations providing comments of the Panel’s Meetings
What is the substance of the Preliminary Report after millions of dollars and 8 months?
III. Current Status
At the time this report was accepted by the Panel at its New Orleans meeting in January 2007, progress was described as follows:
All four task groups are deeply engaged in their tasks, and are in the process of examining relevant literature and materials. The findings of the task groups will inform each other and will ultimately be aligned in forming conclusions. Accordingly, it is premature for the Panel to convey major finding and conclusions.
The Subcommittee on Standards of Evidence has made good progress toward a guide for use by task groups as they address their issues and the pertinent evidence. However, the Panel believes that methodological principles and details still must be refined as the members use them in reviews of the research. The Subcommittee of the Survey of Teachers has developed goals for the planned survey.
As the present agenda unfolds, the Panel expects to take up parts of the President’s charge that cannot be covered with the current task groups.
What are the inevitable questions that arise from this state of affairs?
- Is the Panel just not capable of reaching even a few general conclusions in 8 months?
- Is the Panel so divided that there is no substantive agreement yet?
- Why is the clear language of the Executive Order about the content of the Preliminary Report being ignored?
- Has the Panel, in fact, done so little that there is nothing to report?
- Is the Panel just hiding from input and criticism that the Preliminary Report was supposed to generate in order to craft a stronger Final Report?
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Common Sense Testimony to the Panel
Director, Interactive Mathematics Program
Network Coordinator, COMPASS POINTS
Faculty Member, Marilyn Burns Education Associates [firstname.lastname@example.org]
National Math Panel Testimony
November 6, 2006
Good morning. My name is Sherry Fraser and I have been involved in
mathematics education for over 30 years. I have a degree in mathematics and
taught high school in Buffalo, New York, Los Angeles, California, and in
the San Francisco Bay Area. I am one of the developers of the Equals
program and the Family Math program that originated at the Lawrence Hall of
Science, University of California at Berkeley. I am also one of the
developers of the Interactive Mathematics Program, a high school curriculum
designed to meet the needs of all high school students. All three of these
programs have spread worldwide and through these programs I've had the
opportunity to visit high schools and classrooms around the world. The
transcripts of the previous meetings of this panel trouble me and I want to
be certain several points about school mathematics education become part of
the record. That is why I am here today.
1) We have failed our kids in the past when we paid most of our attention
to the list of mathematical topics that should be included in a curriculum
without factoring in how students learn, without giving attention to what
might be the best teaching strategies to facilitate that learning, and
without giving serious attention to providing access to important
mathematics for all students.
How many of you remember your high school algebra? Close your eyes and
imagine your algebra class. Do you see students sitting in rows, listening
to a teacher at the front of the room, writing on the chalkboard and
demonstrating how to solve problems? Do you remember how boring and
mindless it was? Research has shown this type of instruction to be largely
ineffective. Too many mathematics classes have not prepared students to use
mathematics, to be real problem-solvers, both in the math classroom and
beyond as critical analyzers of their world.
Unfortunately my experience and probably most of yours is what we refer to
today as the "good old days." This was when students knew what was expected
of them, did exactly as they were told, and learned arithmetic and algebra
through direct instruction of rules and procedures. Some of us could add,
subtract, multiply, and divide quickly. But many of us just never
understood when to use these algorithms, why we might want to use them, how
they worked, or what they were good for. And it showed. In 1967, when U.S.
mathematics students were compared to their peers in the First
International Mathematics Study, the U. S. learned there was a positive
correlation between student achievement at the middle school and students'
view that mathematics learning is an open and inquiry-centered process. In
the Second International Mathematics Study, in 1981, teachers were still
using whole-class instructional techniques, relying heavily on prescribed
textbooks, and rarely giving differentiated instruction on assignments.
Twenty years later, the Third International Study just reinforced what we
should have already known. We were doing a poor job of educating our youth
2) This crisis in mathematics education is at least 25 years old. I
remember in the 1980's when the crisis in school mathematics became part of
the national agenda with such publications as An Agenda For Action (NCTM,
1980), A Nation at Risk (National Commission of Excellence in Education,
1983), and Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of
Mathematics Education (NRC, 1989). Those of you on the board who have been
involved with mathematics education should remember these documents as
well. Our country was in trouble. We were not preparing students for their
future. Sure, some could remember their basic facts, but that wasn't
enough. Something different needed to be done if our country was going to
compete in a global economy.
It was at the end of that decade that the National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics released their Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School
Mathematics (1989). Contrary to what you hear today, they were widely
accepted and endorsed. This set of standards had the potential to help the
American mathematics educational community begin to address the problems
articulated throughout the 1980's.
Shortly after publication, the National Science Foundation began funding
the development of large scale, multi-grade instructional materials in
mathematics to support the realization of the NCTM Standards in the
classroom. Thirteen projects were funded. Each of the projects included
updates in content and in the context in which mathematics topics are
presented. Each also affected the role of the teacher. Each has been
through rigorous development that included design, piloting, redesign,
field-testing, redesign, and publication. This amount of careful
development and evaluation is rarely seen in textbook production.
3) These NSF projects were developed to address the crisis in mathematics
education. They did not cause the problem; they were the solution to the
problem. Their focus went beyond memorizing basic skills to include
thinking and reasoning mathematically.
4) These model curriculum programs show potential for improving school
mathematics education. When implemented as intended, research has shown a
different picture of mathematics education to be more effective. In fact,
the U.S. Dept of Education, through an act of Congress, evaluated
mathematics programs, K-12, and in 1999 found five programs that deserved
exemplary status. One of the criteria was that the program must have
evidence that it made a measurable difference in student learning. The
program had to provide evidence of gains in student understanding of
mathematics, evidence of gains in inquiry, reasoning, and problem solving
skills, evidence of improvements in course enrollments, graduation rates,
and post-secondary school attendance and evidence of improved attitudes
towards learning. Three NSF curriculum projects met all the criteria and
received exemplary awards from the U.S. Department of Education.
Another study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS) evaluated 24 algebra textbooks for the potential to help students
understand algebra and, once again, the NSF-funded curriculum programs
rated at the top of the list. And in 2004 the National Academy of Sciences
released a book, On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the
Quality of K-12 Mathematics Programs, which looked at the evaluation
studies for the thirteen NSF projects and six commercial textbooks. Based
on the 147 research studies accepted it is quite clear which curriculum
programs have promise to improve mathematics education in our country. They
are the NSF-funded curriculum projects.
5) You might be asking yourself why hasn't mathematics education improved
if we have all this promising data from these promising programs?
Let me use California as an example.
In 1997 California was developing a set of mathematics standards for K-12.
A State Board member hijacked the process. She gave the standards, which
had been developed through a public process, to a group of four
mathematicians to fix. She wanted California's standards to address just
content and content that was easily measurable by multiple-choice exams.
The NCTM standards, which the original CA standards were based on, were
banned and a new set of CA standards was adopted instead. This new set
punished students who were in secondary integrated programs and called for
Algebra 1 for all 8th grade students, even though the rest of the world,
including Singapore, teaches an integrated curriculum in 8th grade and
throughout high school. The four mathematicians and a few others called
California's standards "world class". But saying something is world class
doesn't make it so. In fact, we now have data to show these standards
haven't improved mathematics education at all. Most of California's
students have had all of their instruction based on these standards since
they were adopted almost ten years ago. Yet, if you go to the California
Department of Education's website on testing and look at the 2006 data you
will find that only 23% of students are proficient in Algebra I by the end
of high school, a gain of 2 points over four years. At the Algebra II
level, only 45% of California's students actually take the course and only
25% of those are proficient. This is a loss of four percentage points over
the last four years. (www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/yr06rel89summ.pdf)
Three years of college preparatory mathematics is required, four
recommended, for entrance into our colleges and universities, yet less than
12% of California's high school graduates now have the minimum
proficiencies expected by higher institutions. And these numbers don't even
take into account the 30% of California students who drop out of high
school. World class? Hardly. California is one state you do not want to
emulate or look to for solutions to the problems in mathematics education.
Why, then, do you read in newspapers about how terrible the mathematics
programs developed in the 1990's are and how successful California is? It
has to do with an organization called Mathematically Correct, whose
membership and funding is secret. Their goal is to have schools, districts,
and states adopt the California standards and they recommend Saxon
materials as the answer to today's problems. They are radicals, out of the
mainstream, who use fear to get their way.
I urge this panel to look at the data and make recommendations based on the
desire to improve mathematics education for all of our students. Direct
instruction of basic skills does not suffice. Moving backwards to
ineffective habits does not make sense. Our children deserve more. Thank
Sunday, October 22, 2006
A most interesting interchange
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
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NATIONAL MATHEMATICS ADVISORY PANEL
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September 14, 2006
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7 Cambridge Center
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MR. GARFUNKEL: Good morning. My name is Sol Garfunkel. I'm the Executive Director of the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications. I have a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin. And I have been a principle investigator on one or more National Science Foundation projects and in mathematics education continuously since 1976.
Basically, my comment to this panel is don't do this, don't write the report that we all expect to come out of this Panel, because I think it will set back mathematics education for a number of years. Don't write a report that says there is a lot we don't know, or a seemingly reasonable report that says there is a lot we don't know about mathematics education. There is a lot of research that needs to be done. It should be funded by the Department of Education. And until that research is complete, we should stop innovation in curriculum development, except if we adopt something like the Singapore Program, and that we should cut off funding for that curriculum development, we should cut off funding for the National Science Foundation. I suspect that that's what this report will eventually say and it's a terrible mistake. I think people forget, purposely possibly, why the standards were written in 1989 by a much more courageous National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. They were written because we were here. The problems were there, we recognized them and things were not working. And to be honest,there was a remarkable consensus about that. Everyone came up and said the kinds of things you are hearing today, students don't learn, teachers don't know any mathematics, nothing good is happening. By the way, nothing good is happening at the low end and the high end and we've got to do something about it. The NCTM Commission issued standards with their own funding. It was a very brave act. What the standards said and what I think gets lost, by the way, is that those standards were supported by every major mathematics organization at the time, including the American Mathematic Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). And what those standards said was we need to innovate, and we need to look at content, pedagogy, applications, and technology. We have to think hard about the choices we've made and the choices we might make.
Yes, they made some suggestions about ways to go, but the point was dissatisfaction with where we were and a desire to try some new things. The National Science Foundation supported a lot of grants, a lot of work of innovators, of content developers, not, and I say this at every possible opportunity, not with the sense that we've got to replace where we were. We've got to take the pre 1989 materials, throw it out and replace it with these new curriculum just to see whether we could, on a day to day basis, make the vision of NCTM extend, that we could actually create materials that embodied that vision, those ideals, and to experiment with them, to innovate, to try things, to see what worked, to give researchers a body of material that they could work with to see in fact whether this was going to do any good.
And I think what's happened is that there is evidence, a significant amount of evidence, that some of those innovations, some of the changes that we've made in content, some of the changes that we've made in applications, in pedagogy and technology have done some good. Look at the ARC Center report. Look at Joe Boehler's research. I'm not saying it says take this curriculum and replace it with that one, but it does say that there is a place for that innovation.
What this panel should not do is, in their report, cut off that funding, cut off that generation of people who have started doing this work, who you will need when it comes time to do the kind of actual changes, homemade, not imported, real change, with real innovation, with the American mathematics educators who have been working on this problem for 20, 30, 40 years. And that's all I have to say.
MR. FAULKNER: Questions or comments from the panel? MR. SIEGLER: Why is it relevant if a program was developed in the United States or in Singapore?
MR. GARFUNKEL: Well I will say the relevance is there are two kinds of --. By the way, the people in Singapore, I go there, I talk to them. They come here to look for innovation. They come here to look for creativity. They argue that their students can do lots of very nice and manipulative technical things that we test for, but they can't create. They are not the students who come to MIT. They are the students who do well on these exams, fine. But I'm worried about that pipeline as much as anybody else here and unless we have that innovation, unless we have that creativity, unless we build in the things that Americans are actually good at, then we are just doomed to having kids who do well on tests. Fine, if we want kids who do well on tests but can't compete in the society. People from Singapore come here to learn how we get creativity.
MR. WU: Sol, there are just a few points of factual error. One is that AMS, yes, approved of the NCTM standards in 1989, but the fact had been documented that it was approved with actually no reading of the standards, that's number one.
Number two, about Joe Boehler's research, it's in great
dispute, and there are scholarly concerns about the quality and the methodology. Number three, about Singapore, indeed Japanese educators and Singapore educators came here to look for answers. They looked for answers and in the case of Japanese educators. They took a lot of information back, and I believe that three or four years ago they have since made a U-turn and decided that it couldn't be done, so I think I should stop here.
MR. SCHMID: I mean of course there is a frequent complaint that somehow the East Asian countries emphasize calculation at the expense of mathematical thinking. You should be very careful when you say that Singapore children don't get mathematical understanding and then they have no ability to excel, let's say, at a higher level.
First of all, Singapore of course is rather small, so if you talk about the number of people who do various things, we have to be careful in making such comparisons. Take South Korea, South Korea has a curriculum that in many ways has similar characteristics to the Singapore curriculum. Of
course it isn't written in English, it is therefore not as well known as the Singapore curriculum. At Harvard, we see a very large number of graduate students from South Korea, who have gone through a curricula of that sort, who are certainly capable of functioning at the highest level. What you said about the Singapore curriculum is a slur.
MR. GARFUNKEL: My point is that the answer is not to simply import a curriculum because you find it to your liking. We have in mathematics education in the United States, we are quite capable
of taking the best of those other curricula and the best of what's done here. You wouldn't do it with other things. You only do it here because this curriculum happens to be to your liking. I will say that you should not cut off the research and the development of materials that are going on by homemade people just because one curriculum happens 14
to appeal. It's a mistake.
MR. SCHMID: This committee cannot cut off funding for curricular innovation in the United
States and even if we could, we would not ask for that, that is not the point. It is, as you say, one needs to be guided also by international comparisons, that is one reason for focusing, let's say, on the Singapore curriculum, to see what is good there and that that be properly appreciated. It does not mean that there has to be a wholesale importation of
MR. GARFUNKEL: But you don't focus on
the Dutch curriculum, for example.
MR. FAULKNER: Let me go to Tom. I think we are not going to get to everyone who is signed up if we aren't crisp with our comments
MR. LOVELESS: Just one quick question. I assume you heard the testimony of Holly Horrigan just before you. As someone who supports these new curricula, how would you respond to her, as a parent, with her concerns?
MR. GARFUNKEL: I want to be careful about this. What I am supporting is not any one curriculum, what I am supporting, what I am supporting are the ideas behind a number of those curricula. There were horror stories in 1989. You think you couldn't come up with a parent in 1988 who said that their kids, who were very bright at home, weren't doing well at school, hated math, aren't going into math. Read those reports, read those articles, we could easily, of course that's going to happen with any experimentation, we don't have the right, the one curriculum. But if you look at data over large numbers of students, take the ARC Center report, for instance, you do see positive effects. I think a horror story here, a horror story there, it's just anecdotal. It doesn't do any good, it doesn't tell
you what the policy should be.
MR. FAULKNER: Thank you, Dr. Garfunkel, I appreciate your being here.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Schedule of Meetings
However, for those planning to monitor the Panel, here is the latest schedule of meetings (not from any public document or site, but from the Panel's RFP for logistical and technical assistance):
Meeting 3: September 13-14, 2006, Cambridge, MA
Meeting 4: November 6-7, 2006, Palo Alto, CA
Meeting 5: January 10-11, 2007 Pre-release meeting, DC area
Meeting 6: January 31, 2007 Preliminary Report release meeting, DC area
Meeting 7: April 19-20, 2007, Chicago, IL
Meeting 8: June, 2007 TBD
Meeting 9: August, 2007 TBD
Meeting 10: October, 2007 TBD
Meeting 11: January, 2008 TBD, pre-release meeting
Meetingi 12: February 28, 2008 Final Report release meeting
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Stimulating the Evidence Discussion
Larry and I thought that we needed to arrive at and articulate some standards for the evidence that we will drawing upon to formulate our recommendations and report. To start the dialogue and to prepare for the meeting, I came up with some suggestions. This is a sacrificial and surely incomplete draft; so please do not hesitate to weigh in.
Our recommendations need to be grounded in the evidence drawn from scientific studies. We will not limit ourselves to data from just one type of methodological design but the design must be scientific, must be consistent with best practices, and results should be triangulated and replicated.
When comparing curricula or instructional practices:
control or comparison groups are utilized.
pre- and post-testing are part of design.
differences in relevant student characteristics predictive of learning outcomes are assessed prior to or simultaneously with pre-testing.
the temporal gap between pre- and post-testing is sufficient to ensure appreciable learning.
Multiple post-test criteria are utilized to establish confidence in capturing focal constructs through methodological triangulation.
Differences or results are quantified in terms of effect sizes, a standard metric.
Sample sizes are sufficient to establish confidence in statistical conclusions, with the statistical power of the design reported or amenable to calculation.
For findings to be considered anything but suggestive, results must be replicated.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
If they won't share it, we will
National Math Panel
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
June 27-29, 2006
Tuesday, June 27
Panelists arrive at the Carolina Inn, Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill, NC and have dinner on their own.
Wednesday, June 28
8:00 a.m. Assemble in the Carolina Inn lobby for transportation to Kenan Center, Kenan Drive, Building 498, Chapel Hill, NC
8:15-9:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast at the Kenan Center
9:00-10:00 a.m. Open Session for entire Panel to discuss methodology
10:00-12:00 noon Subgroups work in breakout rooms
12:00-1:00 p.m. Lunch at the Kenan Center
1:00-2:30 p.m. Subgroup work continues
2:30-3:00 p.m. Break
3:00-4:30 p.m. Open Session for entire panel to discuss subgroup progress and coordination of subgroup agendas
4:30 p.m. Transportation back to Carolina Inn
6:15 p.m. Assemble in the Carolina Inn lobby for transportation to reception and dinner
6:30-9:00 p.m. Reception and dinner on UNC campus
9:00 p.m. Transportation back to Carolina Inn
Thursday, June 29
8:00 a.m. Assemble in Carolina Inn lobby for transportation to Kenan Center
8:15-9:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast at the Kenan Center
9:00-11:45 p.m. Subgroup work continues
11:45 a.m. Transportation back to Carolina Inn
12:00 noon-1:00 p.m. Lunch at the Carolina Inn (North Parlor)
1:00-4:00 p.m. Open session with public comment (Carolina Inn Ballroom)
4:00 p.m. Adjourn meeting
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Selected Highlights and Lowlights of the Panel’s First Meeting
Chairman Faulkner set a very positive and realistic tone in his opening remarks regarding the Panel’s charge reminding the panel that is should:
- consider mathematics education up to and into instruction in algebra and succeeding in algebra, the gateway to future success;
- develop guidelines useful for broad coordination of effort; and
- address scalable options, capable of being implemented in the near-term.
Vice Chair Benbow was the first to raise the critical issue of identifying two parallel, but different, paths: the need to raise literacy levels of all and the need to raise the top and produce more STEM professionals. She laid down an important marker by noting that they are not the same.
The highlight of the morning session was clearly Department of Education Deputy Secretary Ray Simon’s “Dept. of Education Overview.” Simon’s 15 minute presentation was a thoroughly engaging, articulate and foresighted presentation framed by the transition from his trusty slide rule to his pocket calculator. His message to the panel was that we “can’t afford to send young people on with slide rule skills into a world of calculator and computer requirements.” He lamented that today’s students cannot be “cool” with a calculator the way he was with his slide rule, and that for too many students, being cool and being good in math continue to be mutually exclusive. This led him to urge the committee to explore ways to inculcate a culture where math is valued and where kids ask to do SuDoKu at night as readily as they ask for a book.
But the fun began during the give and take that followed Russ Whitehurst and Dan Berch’s parsing of the president’s charge to the panel. This is where questions and comments revealed insights, styles and personal agendas. For example:
- Not surprisingly, Harvard’s Wilfried Schmid of recent “Common Ground” infamy was bluntest on the issues of NAEP (“clearly an inadequate test”), NSF (“the panel must address issues of NSF’s EHR continuing to support inappropriate curricula and wasting so much money”), and the critical prerequisites for algebra (“number sense, calculating relatively early, and calculating with fractions”). Note the irony of a panel charged with looking at the evidence being asked to ignore some of this evidence in light of personal biases against NSF programs, and note the conspicuous absence of patterns and generalizing in the list of algebra prerequisites.
- Most discouraging was the unvarnished bitterness and anger of Vern Williams, the panel’s only classroom teacher and a rabid traditionalist. Vern’s mantra throughout the day was “what is algebra?” “We need real algebra!” Responding to Liping Ma’s comment that algebra is taught in 8th grade all over the world, Vern snidely added: “Maybe direct instruction isn’t so bad after all.” He stated that we need to define algebra to move away from the “basic mush in 7th and 8th grade.” To which Deborah Ball, patiently and wisely suggested that if the panel reduced its work to “defining a curriculum” there was little chance of it fulfilling its mission.
- Among the more insightful comments came from Carnegie Mellon’s Bob Siegler who, noting the one year readiness gap already evident in Kindergarten, asked “how far back do we need to go,” clearly indicating that the solutions the panel would be seeking needed to extend beyond just school.
By the end of the day, four key themes had emerged that the Panel will apparently need to grapple with and that panel members appear to have significant interest in:
- Algebra – what is it, what’s needed to be successful in it, when should it be taught and learned, is it for all or for some and are their more than one algebras?
- Testing – what adverse impact does it have, how can it be strengthened?
- Teaching – what is it that successful teachers do?
- One math or two (math for all or math for some) – how do we raise broad quantitative literacy for all and also provide a formal, traditional rigorous mathematics preparation for the few?
There is no question that the panel’s work is going to be fascinating. This watcher, despite his initial concerns with the overall make-up of the panel, left the first meeting surprisingly optimistic that reason and good will prevail and that the panel will be able to come together to truly strengthen the U.S. school mathematics enterprise.
Monday, May 22, 2006
First Meeting Facts
In closed session from 9:00 a.m. to 9:45 the panel received an ethics briefing, a Federal Advisory Committee Act briefing and a briefing on travel policy. The meeting opened to the pubic and the panel then circled the room with self-introductions, followed by a brief intermission to await the arrival of Energy Sec'y Bodman for remarks and swearing in. This was followed by the obligatory National Math Panel Photograph (really about a dozen) and the individual signing and notorizing of Appointment Affidavits by each panel member.
Finally at 10:45, the panel got down to business with a morning session that included initial comments by Larry Faulkner, Panel Chair and Camilla Benbow, Panel Vice Chair; a very well crafted and humorous presentation by Deputy Sec'y Ray Simon of the Dept of Education providing the Department's perspective, a tag-team presentation by Diane Jones and Martha Snyder from the White House; and the NSF perspective by Deputy Direction Kathie Olsen.
Things finally got going at about 11:15 when IES's Russ Whitehurst and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Dan Berch opened discussion of the President's charge to the panel by providing initial perspectives on the meaning of:
a. the critical skills and skill progressions for students to acquire competence in algebra and readiness for higher levels of mathematics;
b. the role and appropriate design of standards and assessments in promoting mathematical competence;
c. the processes by which students of various abilities and backgrounds learn mathematics;
d. instructional practices, programs, and materials that are effective for improving mathematics learning; and
e. the training, selection, placement, and professional development of teachers of mathematics in order to enhance students' learning of mathematics.
Each of the five topics engendered brief panel discussion.
Following lunch, the panel went from 1:40 to 2:40 on the subject of next steps, finally agreeing to constitute 4 task groups:
- Conceptual knowledge and skills
- Learning processes
- Instructional practices
The panel then adjourned leaving staff to follow-up on task group preferences and appointments and next meetings.
First meeting perceptions of PanelWatcher to follow.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Ed Week on "potential bias on national math panel
Some Worry About Potential Bias on the National Math Panel
By Sean Cavanagh
Supporters of a new expert panel on mathematics are confident it will help identify national strategies for improving student learning in that subject—even as critics ask whether its members have the classroom teaching experience, and the objectivity, needed to accomplish that mission.
The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, whose 17 voting members President Bush named last week, includes a number of mathematicians and cognitive and developmental psychologists from across the country.
But the advisory group, which was scheduled to meet for the first time May 22 in Washington, has only one member who currently teaches in a K-12 school, a lack of representation that some observers find puzzling, given the panel’s stated purpose of exploring math teaching and learning from basic math through subjects such as calculus.
Others worry that the panelists’ backgrounds suggest they will favor a particular approach to teaching math—generally speaking, one that stresses the need for drill and practice in basic computation at early grade levels, at the expense of problem solving.
“It does not represent a balanced view of mathematics,” contended Steven Leinwand, a principal research analyst at the American Institutes for Research, a private research organization in Washington that studies behavior and social-science issues. He believes that teachers should cultivate students’ skills in understanding broader math concepts, along with basic skills.
The panel needs a stronger voice from “the excellent classroom teachers working with students day in, day out,” Mr. Leinwand added. “We instead have experts on teaching mathematics at the college level.”
‘Cut Through the Noise’
Similar charges of bias dogged the National Reading Panel, formed in 1997, which Bush administration officials have said is a model for the math group. ("White House Suggests Model Used in Reading To Elevate Math Skills," Feb. 15, 2006.)
The reading panel ended up recommending a strong emphasis on teaching phonics, a classroom strategy using a basic-skills approach that critics say the administration tends to favor in the awarding of billions of dollars in federal reading grants. ("Inspector General to Conduct Broad Audits of Reading First," Nov. 9, 2005.)
Others, however, say worries about a biased math panel are overblown. Tom Loveless, a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution who was selected for the panel, has written about American students’ weaknesses in arithmetic, and he acknowledges that some skeptics are likely to question his objectivity. But Mr. Loveless, a former 6th grade public school teacher, said he favors building a range of student math skills, and he believes other panelists are similarly broad-minded.
“It’s very clear that our jobs here are not to go in with any kind of an agenda,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to cut through a lot of the noise surrounding math.”
President Bush established the panel as part of a broader, $380 million proposal aimed at improving student performance in math and science and making the United States more competitive internationally. A second piece of that proposal would have the federal government take a stronger role in promoting instructional strategies in that subject that are backed up by research.
For years, disputes over how to teach math, known as the “math wars,” have pitted those who say students need more grounding in basic skills against those who argue that more attention should be paid to building their problem-solving abilities.
Many educators and researchers who once fought those battles have called for détente. While disagreements remain, they say, educators generally agree that students need a balance between knowing number facts and basic procedures and having a broad understanding of math concepts.
Various factions of math educators have long accused the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, an influential, 100,000-member organization in Reston, Va., of placing too little emphasis on the basics.
But NCTM President Francis M. “Skip” Fennell, who was named to the panel, said he is willing to believe the commission could work past disagreements. “I’m certainly going into it with an open mind,” he said. “I have to be positive.”
One panelist and past critic of the NCTM, Harvard University mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid, reiterated his view that students should be “computationally fluent.” But he also believes that advocates from different camps are working more cooperatively today. He noted that he had joined other scholars and business representatives in identifying skills that individuals on different sides of past “math wars” would regard as crucial—from students’ understanding of fractions and algorithms to their proper use of calculators and their ability to do problems in real-world contexts. “We can see some consensus emerging,” he said.
Several panelists and outside observers said they believe far less research is available on effective K-12 math teaching than in subjects such as reading. A major charge of the panel will be to identify the existing research and where more study is needed.
Vern S. Williams, a math teacher at Longfellow Middle School in the 164,000-student Fairfax County, Va., school system, is the only panelist who is now a K-12 teacher.
On a Web site he set up on math topics, Mr. Williams has criticized the NCTM for promoting what he sees as “fuzzy” math standards. In an interview, he suggested the panel could encourage schools to require more demanding math lessons of elementary and middle school students. Many educators today, he said, wrongly assume that children cannot handle that work.
“We’ve been focusing for so long on pedagogy and teaching methods,” Mr. Williams said. “We need to focus on what to teach.”
* Dr. Deborah Ball, Dean, School of Education and Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan
* Dr. Camilla Benbow, Dean of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College
* Dr. A. Wade Boykin, Professor and Director of the Developmental Psychology Graduate Program in the Department of Psychology, Howard University
* Dr. Francis "Skip" Fennell, Professor of Education, McDaniel College (Md.); President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
* Dr. David Geary, Curators' Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri at Columbia
* Dr. Russell Gersten, Executive Director, Instructional Research Group; Professor Emeritus, College for Education, University of Oregon
* Nancy Ichinaga, former Principal, Bennett-Kew Elementary School, Inglewood, Calif.
* Dr. Tom Loveless, Director, Brown Center on Education Policy and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution
* Dr. Liping Ma, Senior Scholar for the Advancement of Teaching, Carnegie Foundation
* Dr. Valerie Reyna, Professor of Human Development and Professor of Psychology, Cornell University
* Dr. Wilfried Schmid, Professor of Mathematics, Harvard University
* Dr. Robert Siegler, Teresa Heinz Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University
* Dr. Jim Simons, President of Renaissance Technologies Corporation; former Chairman of the Mathematics Department, State University of New York at Stony Brook
* Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Independent researcher and consultant in education; former Senior Associate Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Education
* Vern Williams, Math Teacher, Longfellow Middle School, Fairfax, Va.
* Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu, Professor of Mathematics, University of California at Berkeley
* Dan Berch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health
* Diane Jones, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
* Tom Luce, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
* Kathie Olsen, Deputy Director, National Science Foundation
* Raymond Simon, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
* Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Director, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education