The presidential Mathematics Advisory Panel is supposed to come to some conclusion about what works in teaching math, but constructivists think the group is tilted toward traditionalists.
The panel, which will begin meeting next week, includes several prominent players from both sides of the ongoing debate over whether recent curricular reforms provide students with enough mathematical rigor while also fostering a deeper understanding of the subject.
One camp is represented by two professional mathematicians — Harvard’s Wilfried Schmid and Hung-His Wu of the University of California, Berkeley — who have been vocal critics of the reforms. The other camp’s roster includes Francis “Skip” Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s leading math education organization, which has championed many of those reforms, and math educator Deborah Loewenberg Ball of the University of Michigan. But Ball and Schmid are also members of a small group that has pushed to find common ground between the reformers and their critics.
On Edspresso, Barry Garelick argues that teaching content is what matters.
The real issue is about math content, but few people get that yet. Instead, the arguments center around pedagogy and how the brain works—anything except what are the basic facts, skills and concepts of math that students must master (like they do in Asian countries). Maybe that’s why the panel has five psychologists but only two mathematicians. It doesn’t take a PhD in cognitive science to know that to teach students how to think you need to teach them things to think about. Nevertheless, the panel’s discussions about content may be eclipsed by discussions about learning and teaching theory.
. . . What I hope does not happen is that the panel ends up in polite agreement that it’s important to learn facts but then publishes a report recommending that students continue to discover what they haven’t been taught.
The national reading panel’s report proved to be the end of major combat operations in the reading wars. It’s possible this panel could have a similar impact.