The NCTM Calls Them "Standards"

Chapter 2 of Understanding the Original NCTM Standards By Bill Quirk

The Political Side of K-12 Math Standards

  1. Standards are about content. K-12 math standards should clearly describe the "K-12 math subset", the specific math content that should be taught grade-by-grade.
  2. The NCTM doesn't want genuine content standards. They wants to pass off progressive teaching philosophy as "standards". Today's educationists will work to undermine any strategy that sets the stage for their own accountability. They'll say they support standands, but will continually redefine the meaning of words and drag their feet all the way. They excel at tactics that divide, confuse and delay.
  3. You'll hear a lot about calculators! Here's the key point. Calculator skills shouldn't be substituted for mastery of the traditional skills of arithmetic. The NCTM says they agree with this, but they really don't. They push the use of calculators beginning in kindergarten, and nowhere in the 258 pages of the NCTM Standards do they suggest that kids should remember any specific math facts.
  4. We can't start with "world class" for every grade. We could start with "world class" first grade standards. For example, we could adopt Japan's first grade math standards as the first version of our national first grade math standards beginning in the fall of 1997. But we can't adopt their fifth grade standards at the same time. If we did, our fifth graders would be lost. They wouldn't have the prerequisite background knowledge built up in the first four grades in Japan.
  5. We can evolve "world class" standards. To migrate to "world class" standards we need to annually revise the standards to be increasingly more challenging in every grade. For example, a topic that is initially taught in the eighth grade might eventually migrate down to the fourth grade, say after three annual revisions of the national math standards.

Characteristics of Genuine K-12 Math Standards

1. Characteristics of Individual Math Standards:


2. Characteristics of the Complete Set of Math Standards:


The NCTM Standards are not Genuine Math Standards

The NCTM Standards claim to describe K-12 math content. What kind of a description has the NCTM given? Note: The links in this section will take you to sections of chapters 3 and 4.

Benefits of Genuine K-12 Math Standards

  1. Clearly identify the subset of essential math knowledge that the student must master.
  2. Clearly identify the subset of math knowledge that the teacher must master.
  3. Lead to a "multiplier" effect in learning.
  4. Sets the stage for student accountability.
  5. Sets the stage for teacher accountability
  6. Clearly shows parents what is expected.
  7. Encourages math literate citizens, not just parents and teachers, to be actively involved with the math education of all our nation's math illiterate citizens.
  8. Improves the overall consistency of math teaching.
  9. Supports collaboration among teachers.
  10. Encourages the development of interactive software to support the teaching of mathematics.

Added Benefits of National K-12 Math Standards

"National" simply means that the same math standards are used everywhere in the United States. "National" does not mean "controlled by the federal government". It just means that each state agrees to use the same set of math standards. For example, all states could agree to begin with the Mathematics Content Standards for California Public Schools  as the first version of national math standards.  From this starting point we can evolve world-class math standards as discussed at the end of the first section of this chapter.

Note: Although "national" would be ideal, "broadly-accepted" would suffice. If enough states agree to share the same set of genuine math standards, this would trigger the "gold rush" described below and initiate the tidal wave that would revolutionize American math education.

National K-12 math standards offer the following added benefits:

  1. Avoids the redundant effort involved in developing math standards at the state level.
  2. Sets the stage for consistent and focused nationwide preparation of math teachers.
  3. Encourages consistent nationwide teaching of mathematics.
  4. Offers the greatest possible incentives for the development of interactive software to support the teaching of mathematics.

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Copyright 1997-2011  William G. Quirk, Ph.D.