6 What Must Change?
In a practical sense, mathematics skills and understanding are of vital importance in determining the future success of today's young people. But unfortunately, their mathematics curriculum in too many cases does not prepare them for what the future will demand. …Change has not come far enough or fast enough to ensure that all of our 46 million public school students are afforded equal opportunity to learn everything they are capable of in school, to guarantee to the nation a well-skilled workforce, or to assure our continued economic standing in the world community, (p. 5, Every Child Mathematically Proficient)
Improving mathematics education means improving the mathematics programs offered to students. Schools, districts, and states should begin by reflecting on the kind of mathematical knowledge and skills that students can possess and by considering how to structure a program to enable students to learn this knowledge and develop these skills. Once stakeholders—teachers, administrators, and community members—agree to a mathematics program, the next step is to think about how to make the program a reality. Educators considering their mathematics programs, need to ask some critical questions:
What is the nature of the mathematics program?
Where can we begin to make improvements?
How do we cultivate support—both among our staff and from the community at large—for changes in our mathematics program?
How can we ensure that all students leave school mathematically proficient?
Every Child Mathematically Proficient: An Action Plan of the Learning First Alliance, November 1998.
OVERVIEW OF THE RESOURCE
Every Child Mathematically Proficient is an action plan that summarizes current conditions in mathematics education, sets forth a straightforward goal for improvement, and supports this goal with four objectives and a series of action steps. “Together,” the report notes, “we have a major challenge to raise achievement throughout our nation. The Learning First Alliance, therefore, advances this Action Plan to bring American students to world-class levels in mathematics” (p. 2). The Learning First Alliance, formed in January 1997, is a collaboration of 12 national organizations 1 working to improve student learning in America's public elementary and secondary schools. None of these organizations are directly connected to mathematics education and, as a consequence, this document arises outside of the mathematics education community. The statements, however, are supportive of and consistent with the findings of other, more specific, reports that are summarized in Improving Mathematics Education. The document was developed through consultation with diverse cross-sections of the mathematics education community. It has served as a focal point for efforts by members of the Learning First Alliance in their efforts to improve mathematics education and others have used its recommendations, for example, the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences in developing the Mathematical Education of Teachers.
The proposed action plan is predicated on the following:
Our goal is for virtually all students to successfully complete a challenging K–12 mathematics curriculum that includes mastery of the content included in the two one-year Algebra I and Geometry courses by the end of grade nine. (p. 7)
1American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Council of Chief State School Officers, Education Commission of the States, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National School Boards Association, National Parent Teacher Association, National Education Association.
An endnote explains that middle school students must be well grounded in Number Sense, Properties and Operations; Measurement; Data Analysis, Statistics, and Probability; Algebra and Functions; and Geometry and Spatial Sense, but the Alliance is focusing on Algebra and Geometry because they are powerful gatekeepers for access to post-secondary education studies and key jobs. The endnote also states that the use of the word “course” does not imply a preference for the existing course structure (p. 29).
The plan acknowledges that meeting this goal requires curricular changes, professional development, parental and public support, and research-based reforms. These lead to four objectives for schools, school districts, and states (p. 6):
“All our nation's students, regardless of where they live or their economic or racial and ethnic backgrounds, should have the opportunity to complete a challenging course of mathematics study that is consistent with specific benchmarks, including Algebra and Geometry by the end of the ninth grade.
Students must be taught by teachers who have a strong command of the subject and the best ways to teach it, which will require changes in preservice teacher education, increased entry requirements for the initial education of teachers, and continued professional development of teachers throughout the full range of their careers.
Parents and teachers must be brought into the process of change in school mathematics, including discussions of curricular goals, how teaching and assessments have changed in mathematics classrooms, and how they may help improve student achievement.
Finally, programs of research on curricular materials, student learning, and teaching of school mathematics should be expanded. More support should be given to the translation of findings from such research into the development of high quality materials and professional development opportunities for teachers.”
RECOMMENDATIONS MADE IN THE REPORT
To those seeking to achieve the four objectives, Every Child Mathematically Proficient proposes a series of practical recommendations, including the following:
“At the state and school district level, specify clear benchmarks and provide a more focused and challenging study of mathematics for each grade or group of grades. Teacher preparation, textbooks and other curriculum materials, assessments, and mechanisms for holding schools accountable should be aligned with these benchmarks.” (p. 14)
“Eliminate dead-end tracks in the school curriculum, such as ‘general mathematics.'” (p. 15)
“Develop clear, consistent, and regularly administered assessment programs for monitoring student progress toward curriculum benchmarks.” (p. 15)
“Continue to study how technology should be used to further student learning in mathematics.” (p. 15)
“Bring all pre-service teacher education programs into line with the standards for what teachers should know about mathematics and mathematics education established by the Mathematical Association of America, Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.” (p. 22)
“Develop, support, and require teacher professional development in mathematics and mathematics education over the full span of teaching careers, with special emphasis on the first years of induction into the profession and on continued growth in teaching mathematics.” (p. 22)
“All students of mathematics should be taught by teachers who have been well prepared in the content of mathematics and techniques of teaching mathematics; in particular, all mathematics teachers in grades five through nine should be mathematics specialists.” (p. 16)
“Carefully evaluate the relative effectiveness of varied approaches to achieving standards for school mathematics for students, for teachers, and for instructional programs as a whole.” (p. 27)
“Continue to monitor national and international achievement and curricular trends to provide a basis for comparison and targets for improvement.” (p. 28)
“Equip teachers with tools and supports to enable them to help children of all backgrounds complete a challenging mathematics curriculum.” (p. 22)
“Translate research findings into strategies to improve the effectiveness of various instructional approaches, commercial and project materials, and the use of technology to foster student achievement and increase rates of student retention in school mathematics programs.” (p. 28)
ACTIONS EDUCATORS MIGHT CONSIDER
The summaries of current practice and proposed actions laid out in Every Child Mathematically Proficient can be a starting point from which to initiate discussions of change and improvement of mathematics programs. To consider how to begin the process and to ensure that all students leave school mathematically proficient, educators and policy makers might do the following:
Analyze their existing mathematics program in light of the recommendations in Every Child Mathematically Proficient.
Work together to devise a research-based plan for changing and aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessments to raise standards and levels of achievement.
Bring school board members, administrators, and teachers together to use the summaries of current levels of achievement, curriculum organization, and teaching practice found in Sections 3 and 4 of Every Child Mathematically Proficient to initiate discussions, stimulate consideration of changes, and frame locally appropriate initiatives.
Review the recommended action steps to determine how to foster change and where the work of the Learning First Alliance might be of assistance.