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Mathematics Reform

Most educators will point to the October 4, 1957 launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I as the flash point for reform initiatives in mathematics and science education in the United States. However, reform initiatives have been proposed throughout the history of education in this country – whenever the purpose of public education and the results of educators' efforts have been debated. The 1878 call for pragmatism by Charles Sanders Peirce, the 1893 Committee of Ten's high school curriculum proposals, early 20th century John Dewey's progressive education initiatives, and the visionary writings of James Bryant Conant in the 1950s and 1960s on school reform, national goals, professionalizing teachers, and comprehensive high schools were all major reform efforts that had an impact on mathematics instruction (Parker, 1993).

It has been only since the 1980s, however, that reform efforts have been truly national in scope with intense public scrutiny. The 1983 report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, ironically initiated as justification for dismantling the Department of Education in the Reagan administration, was the catalyst for national educational reform (NCEE). Citing dismal performance data on the achievement of students in the United States as compared with those of the rest of the industrialized world, the report called for more rigorous high school studies. It initiated higher standards for college admission, a nationwide system of standardized achievement testing, more homework, longer school days and years, career ladders and other incentives to attract better qualified teachers, and more state and local financing for school reforms. Dozens of other national reports on various aspects of education followed in the next few years. Most called for increased standards for students, better teacher preparation, and accountability to the community.

The reform initiatives of the mid-1980s represented a convergence of attention on standards-based curriculum development, accountability, and needs of employers in a technological world. For educational evaluation, they represented a shift from the traditional focus on input measures such as per-pupil spending and teacher-student ratio to outcome measures of student achievement. These initiatives spurred the 1989 and 2000 NCTM curriculum standards for mathematics, the Goals 2000 challenges (1990), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (since 1995), and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001.

Although the reform documents mention students with disabilities only in general terms, the impact on these students has been significant. The 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), with its 1999 regulations, made mandatory the inclusion of students with disabilities in state and district assessments and the related standards-based curricula. The 2001 NCLB Act and 2004 IDEA required special education teachers to be highly qualified in the content areas, such as mathematics, that they teach.

Further enhance your math curriculum with more Professional Development Resources for Teaching Measurement, Grades K-5.

Math Instruction for Students with Learning Problems, by Susan P. Gurganus, is a field-tested and research-based approach to mathematics instruction for students with learning problems. It is designed to build the confidence and competence of pre-service and in-service teachers (Pre-K-12). Field-testing over a three-year period showed the approaches in this text resulted in significantly improved teacher candidate attitudes about mathematics, increased mathematics content understanding, and professional-level skills in mathematics assessment and instruction.


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