Over the course of my newslettering I think there has been only one time when the content of a newsletter was mostly written by someone other than myself. Today, however, I received a document that says so articulately and clearly the things I have been attempting to say that I am going to reproduce it whole. I need to explain the context a little first: earlier this year, President Bush put together a National Mathematics Panel whose mandate is to study the state of mathematics education in the United States and then to recommend "best practices" and how to encourage them. Since the panel is heavily populated with right wing members, it has been closely watched, with increasing distress on the part of many of us. Last week Sherry Fraser decided to set the record straight. I have not met Sherry, but she certainly has my admiration and undying gratitude.

For a concise sketch of the background of the current situation, and to build some understanding of why even those of us who set out determined to maintain our equanimity have wound up deeply angry and have at times even appeared paranoid, read Sherry's testimony:

National Math Panel Testimony

Stanford, California

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

in mathematics.

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

you.