Learning to See Children's Mathematics: Crucial Challenges in Constructivist Reform
The United States of America has committed itself to educational reform. Nearly every state has enacted new legislation aimed at school improvement. Reports decrying the poor state of American education are released regularly. Our weak performance on international assessments has dealt our national pride a serious bout of shamefacedness, and our politicians leap to declare that school improvement must be a national priority. The calls for reform are easy to hear; what is critically less clear is what that vision for reform might be and how to achieve it in the second largest service profession, next to that of health. The changes must be systemwide, forceful, convincing, and rapid. However, like a swimmer stranded offshore without land in sight, choosing the wrong direction in which to move can lead to results equally as devastating as staying put.
Direction has been provided by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), which has responded gradually and persistently over the last five years to the warnings and has documented evidence within its community that serious change must be undertaken. In 1986, it established a Commission on Standards for School Mathematics that spent more than two years preparing the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics ( 1991) for publication and gaining the endorsement and/or support of every major organization of mathematics educators. These Standards expressly articulate their social goals: to create literate workers, to encourage lifelong learning, to provide opportunity for all, and to ensure an informed electorate. The Standards were submitted to an intensive review process by teachers, parents, researchers, teacher educators, and administrators for a period of two years. What the Standards offer is a vision of improvement in mathematics education. Coupled with such documents as Reshaping School Mathematics ( 1990) and Counting on You ( 1991) from the Mathematics Sciences Education Board, the Standards offer a definitive picture of math-