Date: Mar 15, 1995 9:20 AM
Author: Anne Wheelock
Subject: Everyone counts

4.  Why is it that mathematics education in the United States resists 
> change in spite of the many forces that are revolutionizing the nature
> and role of mathematics itself?

I visit many schools - mostly elementary and middle - across the country,
and I see multiple reasons for what appears to be resistance to change.
First, many teachers and parents of their students have a number of beliefs
based on their own schooling that stand in the way of reform. These include
the belief that basic skills precede thinking - that is that opportunities
to do mathematical thinking are privileges that students get access to only
after they have mastered basic skills. Some teachers and parents are also
intimidated by mathematics and think it is only for those with math genes.
Many don't see it as learning that can be developed. Second, it is only
just now that teachers are *beginning* to be exposed to curriculum and
textbooks that reflect alternative ways of thinking. Some are trying these
and liking them (and they are most likely to follow up and implement them
when the implementation is schoolwide or, even better, districtwide), but
then they face another hurdle and that is the challenge of explaining to
parents why their children's math work looks so different from the work they
grew up with. So, sometimes what looks like "resistance" is less that than
a lack of exposure and access to new ideas coupled with a lack of support
for professional development. This is especially true in poor schools.
(Has NCTM every done an analysis of its membership by teaching assignment?
I run into few teachers in poor urban schools who are members.) Finally,
many schools are still in the grip of policies that judge and rank schools
and kids on the basis of mindless, short-answer tests. That creates an
undertow even in schools that are trying to implement a different approach.
(Keep up the questions, Ron. They are worth taking seriously.) Anne Wheelock

Anne Wheelock
Boston, Massachusetts, USA