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Sec Riley speech
Posted:
Jan 19, 1998 6:09 PM


NCSM listserv members, Attached are excerpts from Secretary Riley's 1/9 "State of Mathematics Education" address. Feel free to reproduce the speech in its entirety (see Website below) or to include any selected excerpts in newsletters, etc. Please also let us know if you have feedback on the speech, especially any constructive criticism. Thanks. John Luczak john_luczak@ed.gov ______________________________________________________________________ IN HIS STATE OF MATHEMATICS EDUCATION speech last week, Secretary Riley called on mathematics professors, teachers, and other mathematics professionals to "make the importance of mathematics for our nation clear, so that all teachers teach better mathematics and teach mathematics better." Also in his speech, delivered on January 9 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and Mathematical Association of America (MAA), the Secretary called for a ceasefire in the current "math wars" about how and what math should be taught. Below are excerpts from his remarks. For the entire speech and additional information on the Department's mathematics priority  that "all students will master challenging mathematics, including the foundations of algebra and geometry, by the end of 8th grade"  please see: http://www.ed.gov/inits.html#2 ===================================================================== Excerpts from "The State of Mathematics Education: Building a Strong Foundation for the 21st Century" (January 9, 1998) ===================================================================== Almost 90% of new jobs require more than a high school level of literacy and math skills. An entry level automobile worker, for instance, according to an industrywide standard, needs to be able to apply formulas from algebra and physics to properly wire the electrical circuits of a car. Indeed, almost every job today increasingly demands a combination of theoretical knowledge and skills that require learning throughout a lifetime. ... A recent U.S. Department of Education report demonstrates that a challenging mathematics education can build real opportunities for students who might not otherwise have them. It found, for example, that young people who have taken gateway courses like algebra I and geometry go on to college at much higher rates than those who do not  83% to 36%. The difference is particularly stark for lowincome students. These students are almost 3 times as likely  71% versus 27%  to attend college. In fact, taking the tough courses, including challenging mathematics, is a more important factor in determining college attendance than is either a student's family background or income. ... This undeniable and critical increase in the value of challenging mathematics for both individual opportunities and our society's longterm economic growth leads me to an issue about which I am very troubled  and that is the increasing polarization and fighting about how mathematics is taught and what mathematics should be taught.... It is perfectly appropriate to disagree on teaching methodologies and curriculum content. But what we need is a civil and constructive discourse. I am hopeful that we can have a "ceasefire" in this war  and instead harness the energies employed on these battles for a crusade for excellence in mathematics for every American student. One way to begin such a crusade is to start with the facts.... While our students are't yet performing at the level we want, they are in fact doing better than many Americans think. Mathematics scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the nation's report card, increased significantly from 1990 to 1996 at all levels tested. In addition, over the past two decades, more students are taking Advanced Placement mathematics courses, SAT and ACT mathematics scores are up, and more high school graduates are taking more years of mathematics  in 1994, 51% of students completed three years compared to only 13% in 1982. There is also some positive news when you compare our students with those of other nations. The recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the most extensive international comparison of education ever undertaken...[shows that] U.S. 4th graders scored above the international average in mathematics and science  in fact, they are near the very top in achievement in science and can compete with the best in the world. TIMSS also revealed...that the United States was the only country...whose students dropped from above average performance in mathematics at the fourth grade to below average performance in mathematics at the eighth grade.... I believe the evidence of this "math gap" and the careful analysis TIMSS provides...gives us not only a wakeup call, but also a road map for improvement. While the curriculum in our classrooms continues to focus on basic arithmetic in the years after fourth grade  fractions, decimals, and whole number operations  classrooms in Japan and Germany have shifted their emphasis to more advanced concepts  including algebra, geometry, and probability. Unfortunately, in too many cases our eighth grade curriculum looks like the curriculum of 7th grades elsewhere. Why is our competitive position dropping in the middle grades? It's surely not because our kids can't master challenging material. And it's not because most don't know the basic skills of arithmetic. In fact, NAEP trend data, released in August of this year, shows that fully 79% of eighth graders "can add, subtract, multiply, and divide using whole numbers, and solve onestep problems," up from 65% in 1978. These students are ready to move ahead to more challenging concepts. Of course, we should do whatever it takes to increase that 79% mastery of basic arithmetic concepts by the middle school years. Students should get the extra help they need, whether it is in afterschool tutoring or some other way. But, at the same time, we need to raise our standards higher and ensure that all students are learning more challenging concepts in addition to the traditional basics. That is one reason why we encourage the development of a voluntary national test in eighth grade mathematics. This test, which is based on NAEP, but which will provide individual student results, will help give all teachers, parents, and students the knowledge to evaluate achievement and develop challenging course work  at worldclass levels of performance in the basics as well as at more advanced levels of study. States that have developed challenging standards of learning, aligned their assessments to those standards, and provided substantial professional development for teachers have demonstrated improvement in student achievement. In North Carolina, for example, students improved dramatically after development of challenging standards of learning and a statewide assessment system aligned to those standards. After beginning the decade near the bottom of the state NAEP mathematics rankings, North Carolina posted the greatest achievement gain of any state in the nation. ... This leads me back to the need to bring an end to the shortsighted, politicized, and harmful bickering over the teaching and learning of mathematics. I will tell you that if we continue down this road of infighting, we will only negate the gains we have already made  and the real losers will be the students of America. I hope each of you will take the responsibility to bring an end to these battles, to begin to break down stereotypes, and make the importance of mathematics for our nation clear so that all teachers teach better mathematics and teach mathematics better. ... Indeed, all Americans should be able to agree on much about mathematics. We all want our students to master the traditional basics  to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and be accurate and comfortable with simple mental and pencil and paper computation. We all want our students to have the opportunity to master challenging mathematics  which for K12 students includes arithmetic and algebra, geometry, probability, statistics, data analysis, trigonometry, and calculus. We also want our students to master the basics of a new information age  problem solving, communicating mathematical concepts and applying mathematics in realworld settings as part of this challenging mathematics. ... There are many wonderful teachers across the nation who give of themselves and who inspire students.... We can do better, [however], particularly in subjects like mathematics, which can require a special degree of skill and expertise. Presently, 28% of high school mathematics teachers do not have a major or minor in mathematics. The average K8 teacher takes three or fewer mathematics or mathematics education courses in college. Furthermore, fewer than one half of 8th grade mathematics teachers have ever taken a course in the teaching of mathematics at this level. Equally distressing, the teacher qualifications are even lower in low income and minority schools. We must do better. Recent studies have shown that student achievement is most influenced by teacher expertise, accounting for as much as 40% of the measured variance in students' mathematics achievement. According to NAEP, at grade eight, the teachers in the topperforming third of schools were almost 50% more likely to have majored in mathematics or mathematics education than the teachers in the bottomperforming third of schools. It is time we took a good look at the way we train our teachers and the continuing support we give them. You have a direct impact on the future of the mathematics teachers this nation's schools turn out. According to the most recent survey figures available (Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences), at least 20% of mathematics majors completed high school teacher certification requirements. So the teachers of tomorrow are sitting in your classes today. So I urge all of you to take a leading role in meeting this challenge  and I offer several suggestions to achieve this. First, I hope you will make it a priority to prepare K12 teachers. Work with your colleges' Schools of Education to improve the mathematical preparation of our teachers by ensuring that courses focus on rigorous mathematical content that is tied to the content that K12 teachers will teach. Second, it is time for you take a critical look at the curriculum and teaching methods used in undergraduate mathematics courses. It is only natural that a teacher will teach as he or she was taught. By improving this instruction we can simultaneously provide good examples and build for the future. Third, we need to create more partnerships among your higher education institutions, teachers, and the many museums, technology centers, businesses, and other community institutions that are sources of learning. In this way we can take advantage of the other learning resources that are out there and help students see new ways that mathematics and other learning is applicable to daily life. I'm pleased to note that some of this has already begun. The U.S. Department of Education is funding an effort by the MAA, the AMS, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, as well as other CBMS learned societies, to develop over the next several years voluntary standards and a framework for the mathematical preparation of teachers of mathematics and for their induction into the profession. I hope you will work with them to expand this effort. We need to have faith in our teachers who, when given the proper resources and training, will teach to the highest standards. We need to have faith in our students who, when taught well at challenging levels, will be able to learn to the highest standards. And we need to have faith in the American public that, given the facts about a subject as important as mathematics, they will in turn put their creativity, discipline, energy and hard work to build a stronger future for America's students. Make no mistake about it. There is a disconnect about mathematics in this country. A recent Harris poll revealed that while more than 90% of parents expect their children to go to college and almost 90% of kids want to go to college; fully half of those kids want to drop mathematics as soon as they can. It is time to impress upon a nation eager for learning and achievement the importance of advanced study in this field. As the statistics I have related to you today make clear  "Mathematics Equals Opportunity." There could be no more crucial message to send to the parents and students of America as we prepare for the coming century. For more information, please contact john_luczak@ed.gov



