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Topic: Glenda Lappan: Letter to LAUSD Supt.
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,291
Registered: 12/3/04
Glenda Lappan: Letter to LAUSD Supt.
Posted: Mar 14, 2000 12:06 PM
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From California Online Mathematics Education Times (COMET), Vol.1, No.7,
March 14, 2000. Carol Fry Bohlin, Editor (carolb@csufresno.edu). See also

Letter to the Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and
Los Angeles Unified School Board Members

February 21, 2000

Ramon Cortinez
Los Angeles Unified School District
P.O. Box 3307
Los Angeles, CA 90051

Dear Superintendent Cortinez:

I write to you on behalf of the over 100,000 members of the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics. We have been following the events in
the Los Angeles School District with growing concern. We see that once
again groups with interests in the issues advocate for their perspective,
with very different ideas about claims and what counts as evidence for
those claims. The result is a community divided. The arguments become
polarized and those who give their time, experience, and energy in schools
teaching our children are ignored. This is not the environment in which
decisions that affect the lives of our children should be made.

The improvement of mathematics teaching and learning is a very complex
enterprise. Improvement in students' mathematics learning is not simply a
matter of changing curriculum. Yes, the curriculummatters, but so do
teaching, community/parent support, administrative support, and a host of
other variables such as poverty, primary language, motivation,
expectations, etc. Just as important as any of these is the time and
support given to teachers to work on improving curriculum,instruction, and
assessment. Change does not happen overnight. It takes a concerted effort
over a long time to effect real change. Trying to change systems by decree
from the top disenfranchises teachers who have been working so hard over
the past few years to reach more students in mathematics.

Here are some common sense facts: The traditional mathematics curriculum,
which promotes the status quo, is not working. Too many adults suffer math
phobia and avoidance. International comparisons leave us well behind our
economic competitors. The achievement gap between white and non-white and
between wealthy and poor students is large and unacceptable. We are not yet
where we want to be. However, a return to methods and curriculum that have
produced a nation of adults who avoid mathematics and find it mysterious is
certainly not a solution to our problems.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has worked for over a
decade to provide some starting points for consideration in building local
school mathematics programs. The NCTM Standards documents provide focus and
direction to long-term efforts to improve mathematics teaching and
learning. States such as Connecticut, Michigan, Texas, and North Carolina
have made strong and consistent investments in state standards and
assessments that reflect the NCTM Standards. These states have shown some
of the greatest student gains in mathematics over the past decade. The
rising NAEP scores, representing approximately a grade level of improvement
between 1990 and 1996, and increasing SAT scores provide a clear and
consistent message that the direction of change is working. Furthermore,
these increases are only two of the many measures - some at local, district
and state levels-that support this message.

In your own school district, Los Angeles Unified, the data are also clear.
The schools using integrated mathematics materials that are more in the
spirit of the NCTM Standards, are working for students. The scores for
African American and Latino students show very positive gains in these
schools. In those same schools the scores of white students are increasing
as well. Why would you want to force all integrated materials from the
system and take the heart out of the teachers who have worked so hard to
help students make these gains? This makes no sense.

We urge you to listen to all sides, not just professional mathematicians
who have little knowledge of or experience in teaching students in schools.
Their knowledge and their voice should be heard, but it should not be the
only voice, nor even the primary voice to which you attend. Look at your
own district's data. Consider the damage you will do to progress underway
if you mandate a different direction. Remember that the problems we are
facing are not new. Our mathematics programs have traditionally served to
privilege some students over others by concentrating more on sorting than
on enabling. We are trying to change this because we believe that all
students should be afforded the opportunity to learn mathematics. We
believe in inclusion rather than exclusion. In the year 2000 it is
unacceptable to deny any child an excellent mathematics program that
enables him or her to learn.

We know that the issues you are facing are difficult. The political
environment in which you have to make this decision makes common sense
solutions harder to find. We hope that you listen to your teachers and to
those who support teachers. Look at the data from their work over the past
few years. Support them to continue working to build excellence in
mathematics for every child in your district. Help break the spiral of
failure facing poor, non-white, and non-English speaking children. We know
this will be hard, and we wish you well in making a decision that will be
in the best interest of the students in your district.

Sincerely yours,

Glenda Lappan
President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

cc. Los Angeles Unified School Board President
Los Angeles Unified School Board Members

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)
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu


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