Saturday, February 3, 2007

Latest Communication to the National Math Panel and a Special Request

As I promised a few weeks ago, I plan to publish my correspondences with the National Math Panel.
I will begin with an email I sent on 1-31-07. As of today, 2-3-07, I have not received a reply. In keeping with my policy of not posting email replies without the permission of the sender, I will not include any of the replies I've received from the panel' s administration.

Currently , the panel consists of only one public school educator (Vern Williams, Math Teacher, Longfellow Middle School, Fairfax, Va.). There is no K-5 or secondary school mathematics educator on this panel. Therefore, I am urging those of my readers, who believe that this commission must include more representation from our most qualified classroom educators, to email the panel: or or
formally requesting immediate appointment of at least one additional panel member, a secondary mathematics educator from our public schools.

panel has ONE more year to conclude their work and issue a final report which may have a significant impact on math education for the next two decades. However, without the direct participation of frontline teachers, this report in my opinion will lack credibility and validity in the eyes of those who are most directly affected, our teachers, and, in turn, our children.

I am asking you to email this post to your colleagues in education or whomever you feel would be interested in supporting this request. Feel free to add a link to this post and/or to reprint this post. This is an opportunity for all concerned citizens, educators in particular, to participate in this process and be heard. My lone voice cannot make a difference. Together, our voices cannot be ignored.

Your comments to this posting will give me some idea of the support I can anticipate. I realize this is quite different from the Problem of the Day you've been expecting from me, but on 2-3-07, this is, for me. the only Problem of the Day that I cannot solve without your help.

My email follows:

Dear Ida and Jennifer,

First, I am formally asking on 1-31-07 for permission to reprint replies to my emails from the Panel in my blog MathNotations. Ida, you have been gracious and supportive of my requests, choosing to respond in a humane way rather than in a form letter or an impersonal invitation (as I received from others) to open meetings which most could not attend. Please reply with your decision as soon as possible. Regardless of this decision, I plan to reprint all of my emails sent to the Panel.

I have maintained from the outset that it is imperative that the Panel establish lines of communication enabling the broadest possible spectrum of views, particularly those of other K-8 educators, but, most importantly, from a secondary math perspective.

Repeated requests for an electronic forum, live chat or similar means of communication have been denied.

I’ve read the Executive order to which you referred and I will excerpt it below:

(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 assessment 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;
(e) the training, selection, placement, and professional development of teachers of mathematics in order to enhance students' learning of mathematics;
(f) the role and appropriate design of systems for delivering instruction in mathematics that combine the different elements of learning processes, curricula, instruction, teacher training and support, and standards, assessments, and accountability;
(g) needs for research in support of mathematics education;
(h) ideas for strengthening capabilities to teach children and youth basic mathematics, geometry, algebra, and calculus and other mathematical disciplines;

Nothing in this order precludes having a secondary math educator on this Panel. In fact, it is a glaring omission. The AP ‘vertical team’ concept suggests we work backwards from calculus to determine what skills and concepts students need coming out of Precalculus. This follows logically to Algebra 2 and Algebra 1 as they are often termed. A secondary educator was not deemed appropriate for this?

Therefore, my second request:
I am formally requesting that there be an immediate reconstituting of the Panel to include at least one secondary math educator. Without such representation, any report would be considered invalid by myself and thousands of other educators in my opinion. It is never too late to get the job done right, is it?

Pls confirm receipt of this email.

Dave Marain


Anonymous said...

Dave, what are the qualifications of those on the panel?

I vaguely remember looking at credentials/qualifications when they were first appointed some time ago and seeing only two mathematicians.

Dave Marain said...

here's the link:
There are some strong individuals on this panel and some who have little experience with mathematics curriculum or the classroom.
I don't engage in the usual rhetoric of bias or the Math Wars, that's one of the reasons I started this blog -- to get away from that. I simply will call my shots as I see them. This Panel has tremendous clout and, since NCTM, is represented, its report will have far-reaching consequences. It has the power to recommend a standardized curriculum, of which, as you may know, I am an ardent advocate. Also check the links I placed in the post (if they work) - from there you can get all the info you want.

e said...

I did not realize that the chair is a chemist. That makes sense. In fact, if I did my count right, and without taking ex officio members into count, we have 4 psychology PhD's, 6 education PhD's (not limited to math education), 2 educational psychology PhDs, 2 mathematicians and one math teacher!

Dan Richman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Richman said...

Looking at calculus and evaluating it for its prerequisites is not a bad idea. I would go even further to say that students should know where what they are studying fits in, both on the road to calculus, and in mathematics in general. I think one of the largest problems with math education, particularly before high school, is that years of math class go by with dozens of little topics seemingly random in order and purpose, without context. Or at least no one is telling the students where things fit in. The topics in math--all the principles and techniques that are slowly aggregated over elementary, middle, and secondary schooling--must be categorized, otherwise students will make no connections among topics, and it will be a hard slog because they won't even know the ultimate goal nor realize that they can even understand something cohesive. Tell them something of the form: "the emphasis of this marking period/year is a subject called functions... by the end you'll be able to... the larger picture is..."

Or maybe there is none of this because it isn't even specified in curriculum or understood by curriculum authors? Well it should be.

Dave Marain said...

Well, even a mighty deluge mist begin with a trickle...
I appreciate hte comments thus far. I certainly have many other concerns about the constituency of this panel. By providing the links to the background of panel members, I felt reasonably cetain that most of you would draw similar conclusions. At this point, I cannot even begin to address 'balance' on the panel, unless by balance one means representation from many disciplines outside of mathematics and mathematics education.

I have made many requests of the panel but my focus has been to maximize the opportunity for citizens and math educators in particular to voice their concerns about the current state of math education. I've suggested an electronic discussion group or message board giving panel members an opportunity to interact with math teachers, parents and others from around the country. I've suggested online chats as well. All of these ideas were rejected.

I can think of dozens of our most qualified educators and math specialists who belong on this panel and, of course, I know, that everyone could think of their favorites as well. But omitting someone like Professor Schmidt, whose email to me was posted a couple of weeks back, is glaring. This is the man who chaired our TIMSS study and characterized our math curriculum as 'an inch deep and a mile wide.' His input is essential to bring us out of the darkness of the current state of mathematics curriculum.

your reaction was similar to mine when i first saw the listing of panel members; there was justification given at that time for having a non-math person chair the panel, someone unbiased who could be objective and not caught up in the Math Wars. However, I believe there are mathematicians and mathematics specialists in education and curriculum who are capable of being objective!

I deeply appreciate d.e. richman's thoughtful comment; your analysis of the need for a coherent and clearly articulated set of objectives for each course and grade level seems so obvious -- no wonder no one has thought of it! In fact, many of us have been calling for this for the past 20 years or more. My goal is to continue shining the light allowing thoughtful individuals to see what is happening.

Listen, there are those out there who are already offended by the views i have been expressing. I do not expect everyone will agree with my call for a national math curriculum, even though I know in my heart its time has come and the ball will not stop rolling. That's ok.. But how can anyone believe that essentially omitting the classroom teacher from this process is acceptable. Ignoring the collective wisdom of those on the frontlines every day, those who directly impact on our children! Rather than engage in cynicism and negativity, I am trying to suggest a simple solution to rectify this. APPOINT JUST ONE EXPERIENCED AND HIGHLY QUALIFIED MATH TEACHER FROM GRADES 9-12. OK, I CAN WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW!

Anonymous said...

About a national math curriculum...
Do all the other TIMMS countries have one?

I'm wondering if it's possible that if the US got a national math curriculum that it would just be mediocre.

While I don't even begin to understand the politics of influence that this panel potentially I can't defer to their conclusions until I understand why the panelists are specially qualified to make the judgments they do. As a member of the general public I'd like them to know that a little clarification on their part of this issue would do a lot to establish the credibility of their conclusions and recommendations.

Dave Marain said...

i have a very simple belief about most issues: 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it...'
However, when Dr. Schmidt, the director of the US TIMSS study says we have chaos in math education, I know something is broken!
Yes, most countries that outperform us have a nationalized curriculum. They're far from ideal but at least a parent knows their child will be exposed to basically the same content no matter where they live.
Of course, the quality of instruction is an extremely significant variable here, but i don't want to address pedagogy until we AGREE ON WHAT TO TEACH AT EACH GRADE LEVEL AND IN EACH MATH COURSE THAT HAS A CONTENT-BASED TITLE! That's why I became involved with the National Math Panel. While most of those who are highly involved in these issues and who have well-known discussion groups have expressed deep skepticism about the Panel, I approached it the way I approach everything: Ok, let's see if this Panel can achieve what every other commission, committee, council, think tank, research project, etc., has failed to do, i.e., produce clear guidelines for the classroom teacher to follow. NO MORE MIXED SIGNALS, VAGUE RHETORIC, GENRALIZATIONS, EDUSPEAK... Just, here's what you need to cover, here's what students should know and be able to do, now use your god-given talents to deliver this while motivating our nation's children to love math while they're learning it! Sounds simple, huh? NOT!!
Finally, Myrtle, consistency and coherence does not have to result in mediocrity! Put the best people together, give them the TIME and RESOURCES, and, after the fur flies, a quality product can result! We may all be wary of governmental initiatives, but I look at the people on the committees. Are they the best? Do they reflect the most current knowledge we have about mathematics education? Differences of politics is fine, no problem. Get past the ideological differences and remember why we need to FIX THE PROBLEM!

Anonymous said...

When you talk about being in favor of a standardized curriculum, are you talking about a list of content for each grade level or named course, or a more rigid "curriculum" with prescribed materials, teaching methods, schedules, etc.?

I have concerns about an "over-standardized" curriculum that does not allow room for teachers to adjust to individual students' needs/abilities/learning styles. But hopefully that's not what you're looking for.

Dave Marain said...

Just a list of clearly defined curricular objectives similar to what is provided for AP teachers. No one tells me HOW to teach my Calc class. I choose the sequence, the materials, the examples, the modalities, etc. BUT I am expected to cover specific topics and concepts. That's all the structure I need...
Now, can this be applied to K-5 classrooms? Not easily, but we have to agree on what ALL students should be able to do by the end of a band of grade levels (allowing for individual differences, different rates of leearning, etc.). This doesn't have to be minimum skills by any means...

Anonymous said...

By the way, I think you're absolutely right about needing more active math educators on the panel. There is a more to being a great math teacher than being a great mathematician.

e said...


it would be a vast improvement if there were even more mathematicians on the panel. i don't know that the panel needs more math educators, but it does need more math teachers. the difference isn't small.