National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement. The sponsors were concerned about the shortage of reliable information on the learning of mathematics by schoolchildren that could be used to guide best practice in the early years of schooling. More specifically, the committee was given the following charge:

  • To synthesize the rich and diverse research on pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade mathematics learning.

  • To provide research-based recommendations for teaching, teacher education, and curriculum for improving student learning and to identify areas where research is needed.

  • To give advice and guidance to educators, researchers, publishers, policy makers, and parents.

We based our conclusions in this report on a careful review of the research literature on mathematics teaching and learning. Many educational questions, however, cannot be answered by research. Choices about the mathematics curriculum and the methods used to bring about that curriculum depend in part on what society wants educated adults to know and be able to do. Research can inform these decisions—for example, by demonstrating what knowledge, skills, and abilities employees need in the workplace. But ideas about what children need to know also depend on value judgments based on previous experience and convictions, and these judgments often fall outside the domain of research.

Once the learning objectives for mathematics education have been established, research can guide decisions about how to achieve these objectives. In preparing this report, we sought research that is relevant to important educational issues, sound in shedding light on the questions it sets out to answer, and generalizable in that it can be applied to circumstances beyond those of the study itself. We also looked for multiple lines of research that converge on a particular point and fit well within a larger network of evidence. Because studies that touch on a key question and yield unequivocal findings are rare in educational research, we have sought to point out when we have used professional judgment and reasoned argument to make connections, note patterns, and fill in gaps. In the final chapter of the report, we have also called for additional research in areas where it could improve educational practice.

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