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Foundations for Success: Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel

Abstract

This report has sparked varying reactions. Please share your comments with the community.

On March 13, 2008, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel presented its Final Report to the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education. The following is an excerpt from the report, detailing core recommendations of the panel.

Core Recommendations

The Definition of Algebra
"The panel developed a clear concept of school algebra" courses, which the report says should include coverage of: symbols and expressions; linear equations; quadratic equations, functions, algebra of polynomials; and combinatorics and finite probability. These should be the focus of state curriculum frameworks, algebra courses, textbooks, and end-of-course exams.

Struggles with Fractions
"A major goal for K-8 mathematics education should be proficiency with fractions (including decimals, percents, and negative fractions), for such proficiency is foundational for algebra and, at the present time, seems to be severely underdeveloped."

Math Wars
"To prepare students for algebra, the curriculum must simultaneously develop conceptual understanding, computational fluency, and problem-solving skills. Debates regarding the relative importance of these aspects of mathematical knowledge are misguided. These capabilities are mutually supportive, each facilitating the learning of the others."

Helping Disadvantaged Students
"Children's goals and beliefs about learning are related to their mathematics performance. Experimental studies have demonstrated that changing children's beliefs from a focus on ability to a focus on effort increases their engagement in mathematics learning, which in turn improves mathematics outcomes. [Research shows] that the engagement and sense of efficacy of African-American and Hispanic students in mathematical learning contexts tend to be lower than that of white and Asian students, but also that it can be significantly increased.

Teacher- vs. Student-Centered Instruction
"All-encompassing recommendations that instruction should be entirely 'child-centered' or 'teacher-directed' are not supported by researchHigh-quality research does not support the exclusive use of either approach."

'Explicit' Instruction
"Explicit instruction with students who have mathematical difficulties has shown consistently positive effects on performance with word problems and computation." The panel defines that term to mean "that teachers provide clear models for solving a problem type using an array of examples, students receive extensive practice in use of newly learned strategies and skills, students are provided with opportunities to think aloud [talking through decisions they make and steps they take], and students are provided with extensive feedback."

What Research Says (or Does Not Say)
"As in all fields of education, the large quantity of studies on important topics in mathematics education is reduced appreciably once contemporary criteria for rigor and generalizability are applied." Government agencies should increase their support for research on math education, the report states, and emphasize "stringent methodological criteria," such as randomized controlled designs and methodologically rigorous quasi-experimental studies.

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