Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Mathematics Curricula Based on Rigorous National Standards What, Why, and How?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Mathematics Curricula Based on Rigorous National Standards What, Why, and How?

Article excerpt

Teachers, administrators, and parents need to become informed about the unique characteristics of the mathematics curricula based on the NCTM Standards and about the support structures that are being established to make it easier for schools to adopt them. For sources of such information, read on.

OVER THE past two years, the release of data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has focused national attention on the need for a thoughtful and informed reshaping of both what and how mathematics is taught at all levels of American schooling.1 While most of the national press has focused on the relative standings of nations, one of the often-overlooked purposes of TIMSS was to gather information about the education systems and curricula of the participating nations. At grade 8, for example, the content of curriculum materials in the U.S. is a full year behind that of many higher-achieving countries.

Both constructive proposals for change in the typical U.S. mathematics curriculum and a litany of attacks on current reform efforts have proliferated, aided by the unprecedented access to the Internet, by discussions in professional journals, and by extensive coverage in other media. These discussions have been characterized by a variety of charges and countercharges.2 In his 9 January 1998 "State of Mathematics Education" speech to the joint meetings of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley called for a cease-fire in the current "math wars." He asked that mathematics professors, teachers, and other professional educators "make the importance of mathematics for our nation clear, so that all teachers teach better mathematics and teach mathematics better."3

Data for TIMSS were gathered in the early 1990s, well before the Standards documents of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) had all been published and long before the recommendations had been implemented to any great extent.4 The NCTM Standards documents provide specifications for curriculum and instruction that call for significant change from current practice - both in content and in pedagogy. These recommendations emphasize that all students should learn important mathematics, and they set forth standards by which local school districts can judge their own curricula. They call for curriculum and instruction that engage and challenge students and prepare them for continued study and growth in mathematical skill and understanding. They call for the development of mathematical habits of mind and of understanding and appreciation of the important role of mathematics in scientific applications and in daily life. The intent of the Standards is to help students become mathematically literate, which includes being able to explore, to conjecture, to reason logically, and to use a variety of mathematical methods to solve problems.

In the early 1990s the National Science Foundation funded the development of several comprehensive curriculum programs at each level of schooling that are based on rigorous mathematical standards. These new comprehensive, multigrade mathematics curricula are now available for school use. (See the accompanying sidebar, listing the 13 curriculum projects funded by the National Science Foundation.) Although each curriculum is different, all represent specific interpretations of the vision outlined in the NCTM Standards. These curriculum materials:

* introduce and connect significant mathematical concepts, consistent with the curricula of other countries whose students scored well in the TIMSS testing;

* emphasize mathematical understanding, problem solving, and reasoning;

* use applications and learning contexts that interest and challenge students and motivate student investigation;

* provide all students with opportunities to learn important mathematical ideas and skills;

* provide opportunities for significant interactions of students and teachers, using a variety of communication methods (e. …

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