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Topic: [ME] From NCTM: Setting the Record Straight [Part III]
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 15,669
Registered: 12/3/04
[ME] From NCTM: Setting the Record Straight [Part III]
Posted: Mar 13, 2000 11:29 AM
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Note: This is Part III, the last of three, I am posting at the request of
NCTM. These can also be seen at

Setting the Record Straight about Changes in Mathematics Education

Commonsense Facts to Clear the Air

Much of the current controversy surrounding school mathematics centers on
the recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
(NCTM) regarding improvements in mathematics curriculum, instruction, and

Here are some facts:

FACT #1: School mathematics must meet the needs of a much greater
proportion of students than it has in the past. NCTM advocates a
mathematics curriculum that meets the needs of ALL students, without
shortchanging any student.

Why? Because for much of history mathematics has been an effective "sorter"
of human talent: few "got it," some mastered little more than arithmetic
basics, and many were left far behind. Today, however, changes in the
workplace, the demands of effective citizenship, and the mathematizing of
so much of our lives requires that school mathematics empower all students.
Meeting this goal of building mathematics programs that empower all
students implies changes in curricular expectations for students as well as
in instructional practices. Quality mathematics for all is an enriched
mathematics, not a watered-down mathematics.

FACT #2: Technology is a way of life. When used appropriately, it can
enhance learning as it has enhanced the quality of our lives. In light of
the accessibility, speed, and accuracy of calculators, NCTM advocates a
mathematics curriculum that balances an appropriate use of calculators with
an emphasis on mental calculations with one- and two-digit numbers,
estimation throughout the curriculum, and meaningful pencil-and-paper

Why? Because calculators and computers are unquestionably among the most
powerful forces for change in school mathematics. When calculators can do
multidigit long division in a microsecond, graph complicated functions at
the push of a button, and instantaneously calculate derivatives and
integrals, serious questions arise about what is important in the
mathematics curriculum and what it means to learn mathematics. More than
ever, mathematics must include the mastery of concepts instead of mere
memorization and the following of procedures. More than ever, school
mathematics must include an understanding of how to use technology to
arrive meaningfully at solutions to problems instead of endless attention
to increasingly outdated computational tedium. And more than ever, the
power of technology can help students develop stronger understandings of
essential mathematical concepts.

FACT #3: The most important skill that business and industry demand is an
ability to solve problems, particularly unfamiliar and nonroutine problems
that arise daily. NCTM advocates mathematics teaching that emphasizes
applications and problem solving.

Why? Because at its core, mathematics is a tool that helps us quantify the
many scientific, economic, and social phenomena of the world and solve
problems by applying mathematics. Mathematics arises from, and is learned
through, the exploration and study of such everyday activities as buying
and selling, comparing, measuring, visualizing, predicting, and
interpreting. Mathematics is more about modeling and predicting average
wait time at a fast-food establishment on the basis of the number of
cash-register lines in operation than it is about simplifying complex
polynomials. Mathematics is more about studying trajectories and predicting
accurately where objects will land than it is about memorizing the
quadratic formula. In short, mathematics must entail the study,
understanding, and application of a set of concepts and skills commonly
used by real people, in real settings, every day.
Brought to you by the 100,000 members of the National Council of Teachers
of Mathematics in the interest of common sense, moving forward, and helping
all children learn mathematics. This fact sheet on mathematics education
has been approved by the NCTM Board of Directors.
Permission is granted to quote or reproduce these statements or portions of

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)


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