Thursday, September 20, 2007

Comments to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel

COMMENTS addressed to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, September 6, 2007:

I represent a parent group in Columbia, Missouri. Our community is a microcosm of the national math debate, albeit perhaps a late blooming one. All the players are assembled for yet another season of "mathematics on the verge of a nervous breakdown."

The math education department at the state university located in Columbia is heavily funded by the NSF to promote teacher development using particular math curricula. Many of their graduate students earn master's degrees by participating in the implementation of these curricula in the public schools. The local public school implemented these curricula in 2001, in part to gain access to MU graduate students for CPS classrooms.

But who evaluates the effectiveness of these curricula? It goes without saying that public school administrators like to present student achievement in the best possible light. Students and faculty at MU's math education department have published numerous papers, not surprisingly, supporting the effectiveness of their own efforts; however many of these same papers have been found to lack sound research by the What Works Clearinghouse.

At the same time, nationally-normed, standard assessments of student achievement are being ignored. An eight-year record of CPS student scores on the Iowa Algebra Aptitude Test spanning the period of implementation of CMP seems to indicate a significant drop in algebra readiness but has not been carefully examined by the school district or university researchers. ACT test scores have dropped and remedial math rates of students attending state universities have escalated since adopting these math curricula.

Parents are justifiably concerned. Many parents who work at the University of Missouri in the math, engineering, food science, economics, psychology, and other departments have signed a petition opposing the current math curricula used in the public schools. These scientists, engineers, mathematicians, technicians and physicians know intimately the demands of a career requiring mastery of mathematics and they are speaking up to say the local public schools are failing students who have aspirations to follow a STEM career path.

Likely, this script is is all too familiar to the panel. You have been tasked with advising the President and Secretary Spellings "on the best use of scientifically based research on the teaching and learning of mathematics."

I conclude with one important point, the cliffhanger for the season: how best can evaluations of effectiveness and assessment of student performance be separated from and independent of development and implementation of curricula? The basic tenet of slightly adversarial, peer-reviewed research is lost when researchers are paid by textbook publishers and administrators play dual roles implementing curricula and assessing their impact.

I thank you for the crucial and urgent work you are doing on behalf of our students, families and nation.


Michelle Pruitt
Columbia Parents for Real Math

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