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TOWARD EXCELLENCE IN K-8 MATHEMATICS A letter report of the Mathematical Sciences Education Board, prepared for the National Science Foundation/U.S. Department of Education Interagency Working Group May 1997 INTRODUCTION In his 1997 State of the Union Address, the President of the United States of America asked the Secretary of Education to develop a voluntary national test for individual eighth grade students, to be based on widely accepted, challenging national standards in mathematics. To support that endeavor, President Clinton directed the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and the Director of the National Science Foundation to form an interagency Working Group to develop an action strategy for using Federal resources to assist States and local school systems to prepare students to meet challenging math standards in the eighth grade, and for involving the mathematical, scientific, and technical communities in support of these efforts. The action strategy should include recommendations for the use of Federal resources to help States, local school districts, and schools improve teaching, upgrade curriculum, and integrate technology and high-quality instructional materials into the classroom, as well as motivate students and help them understand how math concepts are applied in the real world (Clinton, 1997). The National Research Council (NRC) is charged to advise the Federal government in several areas. Situated in the NRC, the Mathematical Sciences Education Board (MSEB), with its close ties to all aspects of mathematical sciences education, has been asked by the Working Group to provide recommendations for the action strategy, in the following four areas: improving teaching through professional development and teacher preparation, accelerating the adoption and implementation of high-quality curriculum materials, integrating technology into the classroom, and building public support. Given the MSEB’s mission to promote high quality mathematics education, we are pleased to provide recommendations in the form of this report. We regard the eighth grade as a key point in the mathematics education experience. At this juncture, students make critical choices about their futures in mathematics, and their beliefs about their own potential are
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solidifying. The mathematics community welcomes the focus on excellence in K-8 mathematics education that will be generated by the national test. The MSEB has contributed several reports raising issues about mathematics education and standards in mathematics education, including The Preparation of Teachers of Mathematics: Considerations and Challenges, A Letter Report (National Research Council [NRC], 1996b), Everybody Counts (NRC, 1989), Reshaping School Mathematics (NRC, 1990), Measuring What Counts (NRC, 1993c), and Measuring Up (NRC, 1993b). The standards prepared by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics—the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 1989), the Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (NCTM, 1991), and the Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 1995)—constitute “widely accepted 1 , challenging national standards in mathematics,” and have been endorsed and promoted by the MSEB (NRC, 1989; NRC, 1993a). The MSEB has not been asked to make comments directly about the proposed national test in mathematics. Nonetheless, the very existence of the Working Group coincides with the President’s intention of having a voluntary eighth grade test. The action plan and strategies to be developed by the Working Group seem to be intended as the mechanisms for achieving excellence in mathematics education that will work in concert with the national test. Thus our recommendations are not generic recommendations about the improvement of mathematics education. Rather, they are recommendations that reflect the government’s intention to institute a test, and to use that test as an occasion for improving mathematics education. Following the recommendations, we discuss the underlying considerations about the context in which the action strategy will be developed and undertaken. RECOMMENDATIONS This report begins with a set of overarching recommendations. Then, within the four specific areas under consideration by the Working Group, we provide recommendations, as requested, for the action strategy. Overarching Recommendations Construct and sustain a Federal effort that brings together, in a coherent framework for decision-making, the various National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education programs that will significantly influence K-8 mathematics education. 1 The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) found that 95% of US teachers were either “very aware” or “aware” of current ideas about teaching and learning mathematics; 75% felt their teaching was in accord with current ideas. Weiss et al. (1994) find 56% of secondary school teachers aware of the NCTM Standards (Office of Educational Research and Improvement [OERI], 1997).
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