An Open Letter to Secretary Arne Duncan on Mathematics Reform

RACE TO THE TOP AND K-12 MATHEMATICS EDUCATION:

A Letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Introduction

If a first grade teacher read at the fifth grade level, we’d be outraged. But what if she had only third or fourth grade mathematics skills and lacked the conceptual understanding needed for teaching mathematics? Unfortunately, this is the reality for all too many licensed K – 8 teachers in this country. According to a recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the current training that prospective K-8 teachers receive in the vast majority of this country’s education schools assures that this appalling situation will continue unchanged.

We agree with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s statement: “… it is hard to teach what you don’t know. When we get to 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, we see a lot of students start to lose interest in math and science … because their teachers don’t know math and science“. For the United States to remain competitive, every part of K-12 mathematics education in this country must be strengthened: curriculum, textbooks, instruction, assessments, and, above all, the preparation and continuing professional development of those who teach mathematics and science, regardless of grade level and the kind of school in which they teach.

Teachers’ mathematical knowledge is particularly important in K-8, since students’ mathematical foundations are built there. The first priority must be rigorous mathematics courses for prospective teachers of elementary and middle school children, followed by state-approved licensing tests that fully assess their knowledge and conceptual understanding of elementary mathematics. We must radically upgrade the mathematical content of their professional development programs as well.

Recommendation 1. The United States Department of Education should fund only those states that present a plan to implement the recommendations of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in mathematics courses or programs for prospective or current teachers of mathematics and science in K-8 and on their licensing (certification) tests. The rigorously researched Panel’s 2008 report advises that teacher preparation programs and licensing tests for all K-8 mathematics teachers should fully address the foundational topics in arithmetic (including fractions, decimals, and percents), geometry, measurement, and algebra that are spelled out in the Panel’s report. Middle school teachers should know more than teachers in early grades. Other professions have state licensing requirements, whose purpose is to protect the public from practitioners without entry-level knowledge and skills. Good grades from law school do not exempt aspiring lawyers from having to pass state bar exams. Clearly the education of K-12 students should be considered as important to safeguard as the interests of a lawyer’s clients.

What are needed are serious college mathematics courses. The Massachusetts Department of Education’s guidelines for the mathematical preparation of elementary and special education teachers are a step toward describing the content of such courses. The courses must cover the core material that we should expect teachers to know in order to prepare our children to compete successfully in the world economy and to help their students avoid remedial coursework if and when they enter college.

Recommendation 2. The programs funded by the U.S.D.E. should require instructors of the mathematics courses for aspiring or current K-8 mathematics and science teachers, coaches, and supervisors to hold a Ph.D. in mathematics or a mathematics-dependent field (or at least be closely supervised by someone holding such a degree). All prospective K-8 mathematics and science teachers, coaches, and supervisors should be required to pass a solid test on the core mathematical material (especially arithmetic) for licensing. Mathematics supervisors and coaches should be required to have at least the mathematics qualifications of those they supervise.

Recommendation 3. The U.S.D.E., as part of the provision in Title II of the Higher Education Act, should require each state to report publicly by institution the pass/fail rates for all prospective elementary and special education teachers on a mathematics licensure test as demanding as the 40-item test now required in Massachusetts. This recommendation is fully supported by the report of the National Council on Teacher Quality documenting the inadequate preparation in mathematics of future elementary school teachers in 67 of the 77 colleges/universities surveyed.

Recommendation 4. The states funded by the U.S.D.E. should be required to align the courses in mathematics pedagogy taken by prospective K-5 teachers with the new mathematics coursework, as outlined in Recommendation 1. Current methods courses too often focus only on demonstrating how to teach very low level mathematics content.

Recommendation 5. The U.S.D.E. should fund content-rich professional development programs for current K-8 mathematics and science teachers, coaches, and supervisors, and for elementary and middle school principals. It should not fund professional development programs that do not have a significant arithmetic component.

Close cooperation between teachers in the field, mathematicians having an active interest in K-12 mathematics education, and mathematics educators, together with the active help of government and the business community, can turn our mathematics outcomes around, but time is of the essence.

References

National Council on Teacher Quality. (2008). No common denominator: The preparation of elementary teachers in mathematics by America’s education schools. NCTQ: Washington, DC: http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_ttmath_exec_summ_20090208042841.pdf

National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for Success: Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. U.S. Department of Education: Washington, D.C. http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf

We, the undersigned, support this letter:

Writing group and signers of submission to RACE TO THE TOP comments section of the federal government website, http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs; details at end.

Richard Askey
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Edyth May Sliffe Award for Distinguished Teaching
Member, National Academy of Sciences

Scott Baldridge
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Louisiana State University
Co-author of two textbooks: “Elementary Mathematics for Teachers” and “Elementary Geometry for Teachers”
Adviser and mathematics professor in the Geaux Teach Program at LSU for prospective middle and high school mathematics teachers; co-founder of the content-based master’s program for mathematics teachers

Richard Bisk
Chair and Professor of Mathematics, Worcester State College
Mathematics Adviser on Guidelines for the Mathematical Preparation of Elementary Teachers, Massachusetts Department of Education 2006-2008

Andrew Chen
President, EduTron Corporation
Member, Advisory Panel for the report by the National Center for Teacher Quality on the mathematical preparation of elementary school teachers.

Jerome Dancis
Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Mathematics, University of Maryland at College Park
Member, Content Review Panel for Primary Textbook Adoption in Mathematics, California Department of Education 2007

Solomon Friedberg
Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics, Boston College

Bert Fristedt
Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Mathematics, University of Minnesota at Twin Cities
Member, National Mathematics Advisory Panel 2007-2008

Thomas E. Fortmann
Mathematics Consultant and Educator
Former Engineer and Executive, BBN Technologies

Madge Rosenbaum Goldman
President, Gabriella and Paul Rosenbaum Foundation

Roger Howe
William Kenan Jr. Professor of Mathematics, Yale University
Member, International Commission on Mathematics Instruction (from 2010)
Former Chair, Committee on Education of the American Mathematical Society

Patricia Clark Kenschaft
Visiting Distinguished Professsor of Mathematics, Bloomfield College, New Jersey
Professor Emerita of Mathematics, Montclair State University, New Jersey
Author, “Racial Equity Requires Teaching Elementary School Teachers More Mathematics” at http://www.ams.org/notices/200502/fea-kenschaft.pdf

Steffen Lempp
Professor of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Co-chair, Mathematics Education Liaison Committee at the University of Wisconsin at Madison
Supervisor of Mathematics Courses for Elementary and Special Education Majors at the University of Wisconsin at Madison

R. James Milgram
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Stanford University

Ralph A. Raimi
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Rochester
Former Acting Chairman (twice) of the Department of Mathematics
Former Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, and Chairman of the Department of Sociology.
Co-author (with Lawrence Braden) of two Fordham Foundation reports on K-12 state mathematics standards

Wilfried Schmid
Dwight Parker Robinson Professor of Mathematics, Harvard University
Member, National Mathematics Advisory Panel 2006-2008
Mathematics Adviser, Massachusetts Department of Education 2000-2001

Yoram Sagher
Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Florida Atlantic University
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Chicago
Member, Advisory Panel for the report by the National Center for Teacher Quality on the mathematical preparation of elementary school teachers.

Martha Schwartz
Paleomagnetism Laboratory, University of Southern California
Mathematics and science education consultant
Member, California Mathematics Framework Committee 1997

Sandra Stotsky
Professor of Education Reform, 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality, University of Arkansas
Member, National Mathematics Advisory Panel 2006-2008

W. Stephen Wilson
Professor of Mathematics and Past Department Chair, Johns Hopkins University
Senior Advisor for Mathematics, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, USDE 2006

Hung-Hsi Wu
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of California at Berkeley
Member, National Mathematics Advisory Panel 2006-2008

Additional signers:

George Andrews
Evan Pugh Professor of Mathematics, Pennsylvania State University
Allegheny Section Distinguished Teaching Award, Mathematics Association of America
Member, National Academy of Sciences

Stuart S. Antman
Distinguished University Professor, Department of Mathematics, Institute for Physical Science and Technology, and
Institute for Systems Research, University of Maryland at College Park

Carlos A. Berenstein
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Maryland at College Park

Steven Blumsack
Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Florida State University
Mathematics consultant and professional development provider

Khristo N. Boyadzhiev,
Professor of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Ohio Northern University

Ward Canfield
Associate Professor, Chair, Department of Mathematics, National-Louis University, Wheeling, Illinois

Sylvain Cappell
Silver Professor, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University
Director of Mathematical Sciences Programs, Faculty Resource Network
Member of Advisory Board, Mathematics Museum Project

Jeff Cheeger
Professor of Mathematics and Silver Professor
Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, NYU

Joel M. Cohen
Professor of Mathematics, University of Maryland at College Park

Larry D’Antonio
Professor of Mathematics, Ramapo College of New Jersey
Past Chair, New Jersey Section, Mathematical Association of America

Jane M. Day
Professor of Mathematics, San Jose State University

Bruce T. Draine
Professor of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University
Member, National Academy of Sciences

Yakov Eliashberg,
Herald L. and Caroline L. Ritch Professor of Mathematics, Stanford University
Member of the National Academy of Sciences

Robert Ellis
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Maryland at College Park,
Author of several mathematics textbooks

Richard H. Escobales,Jr.
Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Canisius College

Bill Evers
Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, 2007-2009
Commissioner, California State Commission on Academic Content & Performance Standards, 1996-98

Lauretta Freeman
Education consultant

Terry Y. Fung
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Kean University

Eric Gaze
Director of the Quantitative Reasoning Program, Bowdoin College, Center for Learning and Teaching

Dina Gutkowicz-Krusin
Principal Scientist, Electro-Optical Sciences, Inc., Irvington, NY
Co-founder of Princeton Charter School, Princeton, NJ

Sheldon Kamienny
Professor of Mathematics, University of Southern California

Lisa Graham Keegan
Principal, The Keegan Company
Former Superintendent of Schools for Arizona

Semra Kilic-Bahi
Associate Professor of Mathematics , Colby-Sawyer College New London, New Hampshire

Donald N. Langenberg,
Chancellor Emeritus and retired Professor of Physics of the University System of Maryland,
Former Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania
Co-Principal Investigator of one of the first NSF MSP grants

Steffen Lempp
Professor of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Co-chair, Mathematics Education Liaison Committee at the University of Wisconsin at Madison
Supervisor of Mathematics Courses for Elementary and Special Education Majors at the University of Wisconsin at Madison

Edgar K. G. Lopez-Escobar
Professor of Mathematics, University of Maryland at College Park

Joanna Mitro
Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, University of Cincinnati
Advisory Board Member, FUSION Center (Furthering Urban STEM Innovation, Outreach and New Research)

Henri Moscovici
Professor, Alice Louise Ridenour Wood Chair in Mathematics
The Ohio State University

Charles M. Newman
Professor of Mathematics
Former Director, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University
Member, National Academy of Sciences

Donald S. Passman
Richard Brauer Professor of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Kenneth Ross
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Oregon
Past President, Mathematical Association of America

Albert Schwarz
Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, University of California at Davis,

Barry Simon
IBM Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics
Chair, Department of Mathematics, Caltech

Richard V. Snyder
Life Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers

Thomas P. Walsh
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education, Kean University
Editor-in-Chief, New Jersey Mathematics Teacher

Stephen Willoughby
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Arizona
Past President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Past Chair, Council of Scientific Society Presidents

James Yorke
Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics and Physics
Chair, Department of Mathematics, University of Maryland at College Park

This letter was posted, in August, 2009, to the RACE TO THE TOP comments section of the federal government website; the letter was divided into five parts to accommodate the limit of 2000 characters per comment. The five parts may be downloaded from the following five webpages by clicking on “Views” at the bottom of each page.

PART 1 of 5* is at

http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480a1795d

Click on Views on bottom.

PART 2 of 5*

http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480a1799f

PART 3 of 5

http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480a17985

PART 4 of 5*

http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480a179d2

PART 5 of 5*

http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480a179ab

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8 Responses to “An Open Letter to Secretary Arne Duncan on Mathematics Reform”

  1. Pro Blogger News Says:

    An Open Letter To Secretary Arne Duncan On Mathematics Reform…

    […]. states that present a plan to implement the recomendations of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in mathematics courses[…]…

  2. greg Says:

    This sounds great but will the colleges and university have the classes available to get the degrees? Will the teachers have to go on leave in order to attend classes? If so then the higher education institute should create a flexible schedule to allow the teachers to achieve the new requirement and continue to teach with a mentor.

    I believe that the US Department of Education should pay for the education upfront as a loan to the teacher and the teacher would do either one of the following.

    1) make a five year commitment to teach the subject obtained as a loan forgiveness.
    2) repay the full loan.

    • pwceducationreform Says:

      When examining the practices on other countries around the world, it is interesting to note the differences in what is expected of prospective teachers. In France, for instance, prospective teachers have to take exams to qualify for slots in education degree programs, and competition for those slots is fierce. Once a prospective teacher qualifies for a slot in an “education” degree program, he / she is put on the Ministry of Education’s payroll and paid while he / she attends school.

  3. An Open Letter to Secretary Arne Duncan on Mathematics Reform (via PWC Education Reform Blog) | Citizen Tom Says:

    […] make a point, the PWC Education Reform Blog posted a public letter written in 2009 by a bunch of education experts. These people expressed […]

  4. Moon-Howler Says:

    I agree that standards for elementary teachers and middle school teachers should be stiffer in mathematics. If that cannot be done then specialists should be hired to teach these classes. That might be a better plan. You wouldn’t be hiring more teachers, just more experts.

    All teachers have to have a content college level math course for certification purposes. I expect breadth is more important than breadth. NoVA has several excellent courses that cover a wide variety of mathematical topics. If there is too much depth, there will be no elementary teachers.

    • pwceducationreform Says:

      You make a really good point, and one I’ve wondered about for some time. Why is it that elementary students don’t rotate for their core academic classes, like they do for Encore? Certainly for Math and Reading / Language Arts the argument could be made that being taught by experts in Math or Reading / language Arts would benefit younger students. I can’t imagine that moving children from classroom A to classroom B would be that difficult, even young children. We do it for PE and Music and Art, why not for Math and English as well?

  5. Fan of Teachers Says:

    Hey folks, the problem is that the ills of society are being blamed on teachers.

    The truth of the matter is that the citizens of this country do not value teachers. Take a look at the Bracey Reports. Every year one of the most consistent information is that the public consider their neighborhood schools to be great, and all the rest of the schools (other than their neighborhood schools) to be horrid. What is wrong with this picture folks? This means we have great neighborhood schools, and our schools are doing well, that is until GW’s NCLB and now the Duncan/Obama ever more repressive policies. People say that Obama saved schools…well, he bribed them. His secretary of education, Duncan, made school districts and states sign repressive rules in order to get that money. Does this smack of extortion? Think.

    If you all really value math education, the provide teacher directed staff development in math and at the same time require that teachers take mathematics courses. Of course, teachers have to be knowledgeable about so many areas, that they would have to end up with at least a master’s or doctorate degree before they are truly prepared to teach. Ready to pay for this folks?

    The CCSS won’t cure anything. In fact, CCSS is put in place for private corporations and testing companies to make big money. Mandated curricula are…wowees for the publishing and testing companies.

    One last advice: Follow the MONEY!

  6. pwceducationreform Says:

    Fan – you make a lot of really good points, though I’m not sure about the valuing teachers point. Within a given community, especially with parents, good teachers are like manna from Heaven.

    I agree with your point an teacher certification. In this county elementary teachers are generalists, not subject matter experts (the standards for certification to teach above elementary level are subject specific). I’ve heard more than a few teachers openly admit that they hated and never really got math when they were children.

    One reform we could implement fairly easily would be to have elementary teachers be certified for specific subjects and have elementary students rotate teachers for their core subjects. That way elementary students would be taught math by teachers who genuinely like and get math or taught reading / language arts by teachers who genuinely like and get reading / language arts.

    I also agree that our professional development needs to be focused on content as opposed to instructional style or philosophy. I’ve been shocked beyond belief to hear seasoned teachers tell me that they have no idea what the standards and expectations are for the grade level immediately above the one they teach. I’m sorry to say this, but that level of incompetence is unacceptable.

    You are absolutely right that the CCSS won’t change a darn thing and will make big $$$$ for textbook publishers, testing organizations, and education research organizations.


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