Coordinating Improvement Efforts

In the late 1850s, the city of Chicago started a massive project to replace its dirt (and often mud) streets with a more permanent road and sidewalk system. The city had to raise the roadbed substantially and lift the existing buildings so that they were level with the new sidewalks. The zenith of this undertaking was the lifting of the Tremont Hotel in 1858, organized by George Pullman. While hotel patrons ate breakfast, Pullman’s crew of 1,200 men carefully turned some 5,000 jackscrews to raise the building evenly.

Improving the U.S. system of school mathematics demands not simply effort but coordination.

It requires a thorough, methodical overhaul.

As with raising the Tremont Hotel, improving the U.S. system of school mathematics demands not simply effort but coordination. Although many individuals have worked diligently over the past several decades to change the ways in which mathematics is taught and learned, the evidence clearly indicates that considerable improvement is still necessary. Across the country, schools and teachers face the substantial challenge of providing all children with the opportunity to become mathematically proficient. Much of the difficulty in meeting that challenge arises because the effort to date has not been concerted. The U.S. system of school mathematics cannot be made to operate better by fixing one tiny piece at a time; it requires a thorough, methodical overhaul.114

Authority in the U.S. system is widely dispersed, with states, districts, the federal government, textbook and test publishers, professional and political organizations, teachers, and parents and other caregivers each trying to exercise control of the part of the system within their purview. We urge, therefore, all who are attempting to improve mathematics learning in grades pre-K to 8 to reflect on the observations made in this report and to consider how they might connect and coordinate their efforts with those of others.

In subsequent chapters we set forth important research, theory, and organizing principles intended to ground future efforts in fact and principled argument, to make assumptions more explicit, and to bring greater coherence to the system. We would like to see an independent group of recognized standing conduct continuing, ongoing assessment of the progress made over the coming years in meeting the goal of mathematical proficiency for all U.S. schoolchildren. Such an assessment would help enormously in the coordination of efforts to make school mathematics a better functioning system for everyone.

Before considering the issues of learning and teaching that contribute to the development of mathematical proficiency, we devote the next chapter to considering the mathematical landscape upon which our later analyses are built. To understand how it is that students become proficient and the chal-



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