EDITOR'S NOTE: Many readers reacted to our May 2007 report on the new National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' (NCTM) "Focal Points for Pre-K8 Math" which identify fewer topics to be studied in depth where we raised questions on how, when and even if the new curriculum recommendations would be implemented. It turns out that our readers are not all on the same page about the Focal Points, as you can see from the following letters.
Must Sell the States
On first glance at the NCTM Focal Points, we are taken with the idea of targeting fewer concepts at each grade level while developing mathematical thinking and more in- depth understanding of the concepts. Your report raises several pros and cons to this approach and aids the reader in understanding what must take place before it can be accepted across the nation. While states generally rely on NCTM for expertise in mathematics education, state and local educational agencies are bound by the constraints of their governing bodies. Focal Points are broad goals, and developing standards that reflect these goals at the state level is a time-consuming task.
In comparing Virginia's state standards to the Focal Points, I find many similarities. Problem solving, for example, is integrated throughout Virginia's six content standards and seems to be a common thread between our state standards and the Focal Points.
The NCTM Focal Points also combine several standards under each topic, resulting in the appearance of fewer standards, but there seems to be little difference between Virginia's current state standards and the Focal Points.
Bringing about change is always difficult. If NCTM is serious about the principles underlying the Focal Points, it will need to sell this concept to the states and back the ideas with research and data. This is the beginning of nationwide changes that will affect all levels of mathematics teaching, from pre-K through teacher training. Though the road may be long, I think it will be worth the effort.
Angela S. Turley, 2006 Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics Elementary Teacher of the Year
Identifying Math Big Ideas
The NCTM is highly regarded by mathematics teachers and is on the forefront for teaching and learning. By establishing Focal Points for pre kindergarten to grade 8, the "big ideas" or most important topics are set for students to move successfully from one grade to the next, with the emphasis on problem solving, reasoning, communication, making connections, and designing and analyzing representations along the entire continuum. The Focal Points, together with state standards in mathematics, will guide teacher instruction and student learning, and educators will know what needs to be taught.
Phyllis R. Bartoli, coordinator of mathematics K12, Danbury Public Schools, Danbury, Conn.
Missing Materials and Methods
NCTM's Focal Points provide a consistency to ensure that all students receive the best education possible, and having fewer math topics to study in depth is an idea that I embrace. I was pleased that addition, subtraction and numeration were given so much emphasis which many newer math programs water down but see that money and time are not included. The NCTM site shows that these are still to be taught, and that must be articulated for curriculum developers so it's not misconstrued and the topics are left out. I also wonder how different skill levels will be addressed.
Materials and methods need to be developed for educators to put the Focal Points in context and teach all the skills, strategies and algorithms essential to developing mathematical fluency and mastery.
Carol Goodrow, founder and director of KidsRunning.com, Fiskdale, Mass.
Antithetical to Student-Centered Teaching
My first reaction to the Focal Points report is that it seems to focus on "math as math," instead of math as a tool for understanding our world. Such instruction often begs the question, "Why do we need to know this?" asked by nearly every elementary school student. For society in general, and state assessments specifically, the related question might be, "Are we preparing future mathematicians or math-using citizens?"
I also feel that the report masks a fundamental truth from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that math achievement is a problem in U.S. high schools but not at the elementary level, where we are actually ahead on basic math preparation. Students may not ever see the use and value of mathematics and lose focus when advanced courses become optional in high school. Similarly, I question that what is needed is a prescribed daily curriculum based on general guidelines where instruction is the same for all students. This is antithetical to a student centered approach that differentiates curricula for diverse student populations and values the social construction of knowledge rather than dictation and recitation of the "truth."
Michael Young, Learning Technology Program coordinator, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.
New Opportunity to Improve
I concur with the claim that elementary school teachers and preservice teachers fear math because they don't know it well and they don't know how to teach it. Unfortunately, teachers are in the position to pass that fear along to their students. It is extremely difficult to teach something that you don't understand yourself and don't like.
As a mathematics and science program evaluator and science content specialist, I continue to see a lack of skills and lack of confidence among teachers who are teaching mathematics. Worse are the inaccuracies and misunderstandings that are passed along to students. The NCTM Focal Points offer us an opportunity to improve. Alignment of teacher education programs with the realities of classroom teaching and school and state standards and expectations has the potential to produce competent, confident mathematics teachers at the elementary level. The investment will take time, commitment and a concerted focus on what is important and what is peripheral, but the Focal Points offer a road map to reaching the goal of effective mathematics teachers.
By emphasizing depth, understanding, and usefulness in mathematics, the Focal Points hone in on what is both important and manageable. With their emphasis on mastery of a limited number of key objectives in order to facilitate seamless transition from grade to grade, the Focal Points provide a reasonable strategy for helping students and teachers develop and appreciate mathematical knowledge.
Diane Tomlinson,Virginia co-director, Coalfield Rural Systemic Initiative, Edvantia, Charleston, W. Va.
Fun Without Fear
I so commend you for your bonus section of DA in April, "The MUSTy Bookshelf." You touched on many educational issues that without humor are sometimes hard to discuss. You took valuable space in your journal without fear, showed fun, and I as a reader loved it. The magazine is touching on some vital issues, and keeping my interest in new ways.
Nick Glass, founder and principal, TeachingBooks.net, Madison, Wis.
Stager off the Mark
In response to your article over using anatomically correct words in children's books, I wanted to simply give my opinion, which you asked for at the end. It is not my job to introduce male/female body parts to other people's children. I do not wish to have my children introduced to this by others, as well. If parents allow their children to watch The Maury Show or any other show, it is their concern. My children do not watch such things, and I will not tolerate other adults allowing them to do so either. God forbid that your freedom should make my bondage, as Elizabeth I so eloquently put it.
Holly E. Kelley, eighth grade U.S. history teacher, Buna Junior High School, Buna, Texas
Stager on the Mark
Your article on "Good Books and Bad Reactions" in April was right on the mark. It amazes me that the adults in our organizations don't realize that overreactions to these types of things prompt the same in students, who are emulating their behavior. Keep up the good work and keep us on our toes!
John Morton, superintendent, Newton Public Schools USD 373, Newton, Kan.
Hoot and Holler
"Curriculum Crassifieds" in the March issue was a real hoot and is sure to show up in some of my presentations with your name attached. You should add to this on a regular basis. I also liked the two new editors' comments on district Web sites ("Do These Web Sites Work?"), and I read it word for word. This should be a regular column too.
Cheryl C. Gray, coordinator, Leadership Curriculum Development and Training, Southern Regional Education Board, Atlanta, Ga.
My district coordinator sent me your article "Teaching Techniques for Supervisors," because I dislike using manipulatives and hands-on activities in class. The reason is they take up too much time. In addition, I don't believe that kids draw their own conclusions, so concepts are not learned. I would like to read this "research" you refer to.
Name and district withheld
I just finished reading your article "Teaching Techniques for Supervisors" in the January issue of District Administration I found it to be direct, succinct and eminently useful. I'm wondering if I might share it with my mentoring group of school library media specialists?
Allison S. Wheeler, school library system director, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, Norwood, N.Y.
Kinnaman's Call Long Overdue
Your call to action on designing and building "School 2.0" in January 2007 was long overdue. Thank you for taking the leadership that is the first step for making this happen. No doubt you have already heard from naysayers eager to throw the first roadblock into the path of progress. I can anticipate the first question: "Where will the money come from to finance this transformation?"
Here's part of the answer: school districts can generate substantial cost savings right away by letting go of the premise of physical co-location of students, teachers and curriculum. Presenting School 2.0 as a break-even proposition disarms critics and opens minds to the possibilities.
Kyle Martin, vice president, TransPar Group, Lee's Summit, Mo.
Help for Engineering
We're delighted that the Engineering K12 Center www.engineeringk12.org was selected as your "Dr. Hotlist Site of the Week." We've worked hard to reach K12 audiences with our message about how engineering can be a valuable resource for the science, math and technology curriculum. This is a great help to us in this task.
Eric Iversen, manager for outreach, American Society for Engineering Education, Washington, D.C.
High Marks from Bush (Neil, That Is)
Your January issue of District Administration is filled with useful information. I particularly like your piece "Teaching Techniques for Supervisors," advising teachers how to manage their classrooms. The underlying assumption that kids learn best in an active environment is insightful and your practical advice on how to create that environment useful. Keep up the good work. I look forward to my District Administration every month.
Neil Bush, chairman and CEO, Ignite! Learning, Houston, Texas
Instructional Technology for All Students
We are pleased the editors selected the Center for Implementing Technology in Education www.cited.org Web site to be featured in District Administration as the "Dr. Hotlist Site of the Week." CITEd supports leadership at state and local education agencies to integrate instructional technology for all students to achieve high educational standards.
Mary Thorngren, deputy director, Center for Implementing Technology in Education, American Institutes for Research, Washington, D.C.