Sunday, February 11, 2007

NML's Response and My Reply on 2-11-07

The following is the response from the National Math Panel to the email I sent on 1-31-07. My reply is underneath. The Panel granted permission for me to print all their replies to my emails sent over the past year. I would very much be interested in reader comments.

Dear Mr. Marain:

This letter is in response to your email sent January 31. I want to thank you for your on-going interest in the important work of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (Panel).

As we have stated previously, the National Math Panel and its staff have encouraged the public to communicate with us about the Panel’s activities. Consistent with that, we do not object to your reprinting of the e-mails we have sent you on your blog, MathNotations.

As you know, the Math Panel is committed to full and open communication with the public. Our website displays all public comments presented at each Panel meeting and invites the general public to email comments to the Panel at Panel’s Website address, Your messages (and all others we receive from the public) are shared with each Panel member and each Panel member receives also receives a summary of key issues presented by the public through email messages. Further, the Panel Website invites the public to sign up for the Math Panel listserv to receive periodic announcements sent out by the Panel broadcasting activities of the Panel.

Moreover, of particular importance to the Panel is hearing from the public in regards to mathematics education. To facilitate public comment, each Panel meeting has provided the opportunity for Panelists to hear testimony from individuals, organizations, and the general public that are interested in the work of the Panel. The public testimony proceedings of all meetings held to date are available on the Panel’s website.

These various methods of communication are most helpful in keeping the Panel informed by and connected with interested stakeholders. Finally, key announcements by the Panel are published in the Federal Register in keeping with the Panel’s commitment as a federal advisory board as required by the Federal Advisory Committee Act. As you can see, the Panel and the Department of Education are committed to serving the public by ensuring an open process for communications.

In regards to your concern that Panel consist of at least one secondary mathematics teacher, we agree that it is important that a range of experience related to pre-K through 12th grade in mathematics instruction be considered by the Panel. To this end, the Panel consists of several members with extensive classroom experience that total over 75 years combined experience in the classroom as well as experience serving as principals and supervisors of instruction. Moreover, several panelists are deans of schools of education directing pre-service training for secondary teachers. Further, the panel has representation from state commissioners of education and national representation including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. We believe that this broad range of expertise meets the requirements of pre-K to 12th grade teaching experience.

I have had an opportunity to look at your Math Notations Blogspot, and I want to compliment you on your efforts to support the learning of mathematics through your “problems of the day” feature supported by key discussions. Thanks again for your interest in the work of the National Math Panel -- I appreciate your most recent inquiry and hope that I have allayed your concerns. I value your efforts to further mathematics education.

Best regards,

Jennifer Graban
National Math Panel Staff
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-1200
202-260-1491 (Telephone)
202-401-9027 (Fax)
My response:

Dear Jennifer,
Thank you for your reply. Please share the following with Mr. Flawn, Ida and Panel members.
My concerns are NOT allayed for the following reasons:

1. My request clearly implied a CURRENT 9-12 mathematics teacher on this panel, not one who might have once been in the classroom. It is exceptionally important to have someone who can bring both their past and current experiences to the table, since the issues of curriculum, instruction, assessment and most of all the problems associated with teaching TODAY’s children require someone who is teaching TODAY’s children. Further, it would make even more sense to include 2-3 such teachers who represent classrooms of varying demographics. I’m sure you would agree that the problems facing urban teachers is a bit different from those who teach in the suburbs.
2. A combined 75 years of K-12 classroom experience on this panel suggests an average of 75 divided by 30 = 2.5 yrs of experience per panel member. Although the mean is obviously not the best measure of central tendency here, the 75 years seems less than significant to me.
3. Panel members’ titles, degrees, awards, number of publications, etc., do not change the fact that there is only one current K-12 math teacher on this panel. I personally feel that this omission is an expression of disrespect to myself and all other K-12 mathematics teachers.
4. While NCTM may represent a large body of mathematics teachers across the country, they do not replace a current Algebra 2 or Geometry teacher. Nor does their collective thinking necessarily reflect my points of view.
5. Who on this Panel daily confronts the challenges of motivating up to 6 classes of children who often present a myriad of problems that affect their ability to learn? Who on this Panel daily confronts children who come to us with different backgrounds in math because of differences in prior instruction and/or differences in parental support and/or differences in learning style and/or differences in attitude and motivation? Who on this Panel can bring their current experiences in helping children who have a wide range of learning disabilities and who are mainstreamed in our classes? Yes, kids are kids, however the interests and motivations of today’s children reflect today’s post 9-11 society. Teaching conditions have changed and to some degree so have our students.
6. When this Panel makes their recommendations, who will be the ones who will be told to implement the changes? Who will it most directly affect? Who on this Panel will say, STOP: “What you’re suggesting seems to make sense mathematically or pedagogically, but it simply won’t work in real classrooms and here’s why.”
7. There is an accepted truism that the further one is removed from the classroom, the less in touch one is with the realities of teaching children. Yes, we need visionaries and experts who bring a research base to the table. However, nothing replaces the research base of the teacher who has lived through all of the recommendations of all of the experts from the past 30-40 years. The new math of the 60’s following this country’s reaction to Sputnik, the new new math of the 90’s that emphasizes conceptual understanding, problem-solving and communication — yes, many of us have lived through this and much much more. Children continue to learn because of dedicated teachers who have strong convictions of WHAT children need to know despite the latest state or federal initiative or assessment program. Teachers who know how to BALANCE conceptual understanding with computational and procedural proficiency. Teachers who have brought more technology into the classroom but know when to tell children to turn off their calculators or who know how to balance the kinesthetic advantages of using the compass, ruler and straightedge with ‘virtual’ constructions in geometry.
8. I appreciate your nice comments about the Problems of the Day on my blog. However, you did not mention your feelings about all of my other postings regarding critical issues in mathematics education. I would really like your thoughts on those as well. The Problems of the Day are somewhat ephemeral. The real Problems of the Day are the problems this panel is being asked to confront and ‘solve.’

And I’m just scratching the surface here, Jennifer. My single voice on one of hundreds of math teacher blogs is not going to have a seismic effect on the National Math Panel. Of course I knew that when I wrote you. You have already received thousands of emails and statements from concerned educators. Some will agree with my positions and some will not. That is not the point. Even if EVERY email is read and taken seriously by every Panel member, it will not change the constituency of this panel and their perspectives. When a jury makes a decision about the fate of a defendant, the jury is supposed to be of one’s peers. The recommendations of this panel will impact on the ‘fate’ of our classroom mathematics teachers for many years. Where are their peers?

I will have much more to say on these issues. No, Jennifer, my concerns are not allayed...
Thank you for your thoughtful comments and the time you took to reply personally.

Dave Marain


jonathan said...

Her response certainly is a non-response, as far as I am concerned.

I am not so sure about teachers on the panel. One or two more would hardly make a difference. There would still be at least one working group without a pedagogue.

I have been thinking about suggesting that they appoint a larger number of teachers, not as full panel members, but rather to be present through all meetings, full panel and working group, so that all ideas and proposals were subject to teacher scrutiny before being released for public comment. Maybe that would take 20 teachers; maybe 50.

Dave Marain said...

i like that idea, jonathan!
i certainly knew that one or two would make little difference unless the one or two had very loud voices and were intimidated by no one - i wonder who might fit that description!
Actually your approach makes much more sense than mine - go for it - compose it and send it and i will also support it loudly! just think, we're being ignored by some very important people here!
Better yet, jonathan, why don't we start our own National Math Teacher Panel. We don't need to be sanctioned by NCTM or the NFL for that matter; I'll appoint you as Chairman if you'll appoint me as Co-Chair. We will meet electronically and invite classroom math teachers to submit their ideas. We will need an electronic forum to handle the messages but our Panel of 75 can handle it. Panel members must be current K-12 classroom teachers or out of the classroom for no more than one year. We will accept nominations up to March 31st and select twenty-five K-5, twenty-five 6-8 and twenty-five 9-12 teachers, including ourselves of course. Panel members should have at least 5 years of math teaching experience and should represent a variety of demographic and school configurations. Anyone else want to be part of our Steering Committee? Members of the National Math Panel who qualify are welcome to apply! I will give my sincerest personal consideration to each of them...

e said...

Lovely idea. Maybe I could be appointed not as a panel member, but rather as somebody "to be present through all meetings, full panel and working group" and who can ask questions and offer opinions.

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