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Standards Under Fire: Issues and Options in the Math Wars

Abstract

Prodded by a series of critical national advisory reports and by disappointing results from international comparisons of student mathematics achievement, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) over the last 15 years has formulated an agenda for reform in three volumes of professional Standards. The National Science Foundation provided extensive funding for math curriculum development at all levels and for dozens of large-scale systemic change projects to prepare the way for implementation of proposed reforms. But just as the new curricula, teaching methods, and assessment strategies are being tested in schools and universities across the country and beginning to show promise of reaching the reform objectives, critics have challenged the content goals, pedagogical principles, and assessment practices that are at the heart of the reform agenda. There seems a genuine risk that many schools will reject opportunities for much-needed change in mathematics education In the sort of emotionally charged atmosphere of the "Math Wars," it's easy to lose sight of the reasons that major reforms were called for in the first place, the rationale and supporting evidence for dominant reform proposals, and the evidence that recent reform initiatives improve the effectiveness of school and university mathematics for most students. Since the critics have gotten most attention in recent public discourse about school mathematics, it seems appropriate to review the situation from a broader perspective-to assess the case for change, the objections of critics, and the evidence supporting each position. (summary adapted from Fey's introduction)

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