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Topic: Sec Riley speech
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John Luczak

Posts: 3
Registered: 12/4/04
Sec Riley speech
Posted: Jan 19, 1998 6:09 PM
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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

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 cease-fire 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:

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 industry-wide 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 low-income
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
long-term 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 "cease-fire" 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 us not only
a wake-up 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

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 one-step problems," up from 65% in

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 after-school
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 world-class
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

We all want our students to have the opportunity to master challenging
mathematics -- which for K-12 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 real-world 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 K-8 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 top-performing
third of schools were almost 50% more likely to have majored in
mathematics or mathematics education than the teachers in the
bottom-performing 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 K-12 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 K-12 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

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