Sadlier Conference on U.S. Mathematics Achievement
Part 1 of 2
In 2006, President Bush created a National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP), comprised of 20 expert panelists and five ex-officio members, to advise him and the Secretary of Education on the best use of scientifically-based research on the teaching and learning of math, with a specific focus on preparation for and success in learning algebra.
Recently, William H. Sadlier, Inc., the oldest educational publishing company in the United States, took an active role in convening its own National Mathematics Advisory Board to discuss the NMAP report and its effect on math teaching. “Ours is the only math program with such a distinguished board of advisors; and the key is we actually use them,” stated Frank S. Dinger, Chairman and COO of William H. Sadlier, Inc., as he introduced the board.
Sadlier Publications posed the question, “How are Educators and Policy Makers Responding to the Recommendations of the National Mathematics Panel Report?” to its panel members: R. James Milgram, Professor of Mathematics, Stanford University, Regina Panasuk, Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Massachusetts, Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education Reform, University of Arkansas, Vern Williams, Mathematics Department, Longfellow Middle School (VA), and others. Professor Stotsky and Ms. Williams both served on the original NMAP Panel.
Stotsky averred, “Parents have been very happy with the NMAP report and are doing as much as they can to bring the report to their own state departments of education and to local school systems. I have been involved in Connecticut, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Missouri. We haven’t had activist parents who are focused on a particular subject in the curriculum; typically, we’ve had parent activist groups about general issues like language or special ed. This parent activism focusing on math is a new issue that has not been looked at by press. These are not soccer moms; these are engineer moms. This group is very positive in its response to the NMAP.” She added that the NMAP emphasized and encouraged high quality research that they implied was lacking overall.
Milgram stated, “In over a hundred years there has been no real interaction between the professional math community and the K–12 math education community. This didn’t matter for a long time, and wasn’t even noticed, but as our society became more technological, and more math-based, it became more and more critical that there be a connection. There has been enormous resistance to this on the part of math educators. It is critical that there be more interaction between the math and the math education communities.” He further pointed out that the national and the state exam results are riddled with mathematical errors. He also indicated a need to improve the training and certification of teachers.
“Washington State’s economy is very dependent on only a very few industries—Boeing, Microsoft and tourism mostly, and two of them require highly prepared students coming from the Washington education system,” Milgram continued. “Boeing left, Microsoft is outsourcing to Beijing, and so the unemployment rate in Washington has been growing. I was talking to people at Microsoft and they were explaining that only 8 percent of their employees in Washington were from the state education system, and they couldn’t function in that state with that low a percentage of local employees. The result was that the superintendent of education was voted out of office. The legislature ultimately holds the power because they hold the purse strings; it and the governor are the actual final arbiters of the education system. They can, and sometimes are forced to, override the Superintendent of Education and the education schools, to say nothing of the school districts—but the education community is up in arms.”
Williams added, “Parents are relieved to finally have something in writing that we can take to our school districts to show that we were right. In my own county, Fairfax County, we are finally coming up with a new curriculum.” But, he adds, “We have many kids taking algebra who should not be taking it. They’re taking algebra based on the fallacious theory of research that any kid who takes algebra will succeed in college so put everyone in algebra.”
Stotsky reminded the board that the National Governors Association just announced that 46 states have signed an agreement to support a common core of math standards, the Common State Standards Initiative. The federal government, by law, cannot impose a standard or a test on the states. So states must all have their own processes and adopt some core: at least 85 percent of the state standards are in agreement. #
Part 2 will appear in our next issue.