2006 Archive‎ > ‎

Vol. 7, No. 8 - 1 March 2006

In This Article...


(1) National Science Board Reports on K-12 Mathematics and Science Education: "Science and Engineering Indicators 2006" and "America's Pressing Challenge"

Source: National Science Foundation
URL (Full Report--"Science and Engineering Indicators 2006"): http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/
URL ("S&E Indicators" Fact Sheet): http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=105858
URL (Companion Report--"America's Pressing Challenge-Building a Stronger Foundation"): http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsb0602/
URL ("Pressing Challenge" Fact Sheet): http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=105858

Citing a "changed world" in the global picture for science and technology (S&T), the National Science Board publicly released its biennial report, "Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2006," to the President, Congress and the nation last Thursday. In doing so, members of the board appearing in a Capitol Hill briefing said that the growing international competition in S&T, previously expressed in terms of  "potential," has now become "reality."  Against this backdrop, the panelists expressed concern that today's K-12 students in science and mathematics are not improving their learning relative to international peers, boding a potential loss for the United States of its global prominence in discovery and innovation. 

"It's a complicated picture, with a lot of positives.  But it's in the next decade that we have some real issues to confront, especially in our education system, if we are to maintain our world leadership in discovery, innovation and national security," said Steven C. Beering, Ph.D., who heads the Science Board's Subcommittee on Science and Engineering Indicators.  "We also cannot neglect the importance of these education issues if our country is to maintain a strong, literate work force for the production of goods and services."         

Addressing a gathering of the media, congressional staff and other interested individuals at the Longworth House Office Building, Beering said that while the new S&E Indicators concludes that the United States still maintains its very strong global position in research and innovation, he was also concerned over the nation's future ability to keep up with the global enterprise because of continued inconsistency in the performance of U.S. students in K-12 science and mathematics.

The 24 board members, consisting of some of the nation's preeminent scientists, engineers and educators, were especially vocal in their policy report, "America's Pressing Challenge--Building a Stronger Foundation," released simultaneously with S&E Indicators. This report was directed to the President and Congress, but was also aimed at the general public. It is is available as a 12-page downloadable PDF file at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsb0602/

Topics in "America's Pressing Challenge" include:

- Mathematics and Science Achievement is Critical

- Challenges for K-12 Science and Mathematics Education

- A High Quality Science and Mathematics Teaching Workforce Is Key

- Teacher Compensation Needs To Be Competitive

- Teacher Development Must Respond to Need

- New Communication Technologies Offer New Challenges and Opportunities for Educators

- Standards for Education: What Gets Measured Gets Taught

- Findings and Recommendations

Jo Anne Vasquez, the board's lead author of the new education policy report, took issue with a recent survey that expressed overwhelmingly parents' views that their children already receive enough science and math instruction in their schools.

"Our nation's pre-college students still continue to slip further behind in science achievement, and are just near average in mathematics compared to international peers.  And our very best 15-year-olds are near the bottom internationally on a test of practical applications of science and mathematical skills," Vasquez said, referring to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in which U.S. advanced students scored near the bottom among more average students of other nations taking the same test.

In recent years, mathematics scores have been rising slowly for U.S. students on national assessments, but they have not been doing the same in science.  And internationally, U.S. students in both science and math still perform near the middle of the pack among industrial nations on the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

The recommendations of the board's report were numerous, but a few directed emphasis to specific areas, such as encouraging higher education leaders to strengthen K-8 teacher education programs to reach the youngest students with enhanced content knowledge to maintain students' interest. Board members also said that equal time should be devoted to science, math and reading during the school day, particularly in grades K-8.

Vasquez said that as of 2002, almost one fourth of science teachers and a fifth of mathematics teachers lacked full certification in their teaching field. Teacher education programs lack rigor, low pay and job dissatisfaction are driving teachers from their profession, and there seems to be little momentum toward change that will attract future science teaching professionals.

The board recommends that resources be used to properly compensate teachers at a level comparable to similarly trained science and engineering professionals in other sectors. Teachers also need to have many more opportunities for summertime experiences working with scientists on inquiry-based projects that will help teachers transfer practical knowledge of the scientific process to their students, the board said.

The board also felt that public support for science and mathematics needs a boost, by reaching mathematics and science education "gatekeepers," including school administrators and guidance counselors. At the administrator level, it's subject emphasis and content that's at stake. At the counselor level, it's influence over choosing careers or collegiate studies.

"We also have to raise parents' awareness of the importance of science education because their children, 10 years from now, will be asked to take on jobs in an economy that will likely look much different from today's, with much more competition globally, and an increased need for a science-literate workforce," Vasquez said...

"Indicators 2006" also reports that the number of science and engineering degrees awarded at all levels is rising. Graduate enrollments show an upward trend across all major U.S. demographic groups, and this occurred despite a decrease in enrollment figures for foreign-born students.


The National Science Board (http://www.nsf.gov/nsb) is an independent 24-member body of advisors to the President and Congress on matters of national science and engineering policy. S&E Indicators is updated every two years so that the NSB can advise the President on the current status of the nation's science and engineering enterprise. The board is also the policy making and oversight body for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that supports almost all areas of fundamental research conducted nationwide. 

(2) Resources from the Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum

URL: http://mathcurriculumcenter.org/

Project Goals:  The Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum (CSMC) is an NSF-funded project serving the K-12 educational community by focusing scholarly inquiry and professional development around issues of mathematics curriculum. Major areas of work include (a) understanding the influence and potential of mathematics curriculum materials,(b) enabling teacher learning through curriculum material investigation and implementation, and (c) building capacity for developing, implementing, and studying the impact of mathematics curriculum materials... [NOTE: Educators are encouraged to utilize and contribute to the Center's resource libraries--see below for more information.]

Project Management Team:

* Chris Hirsch (Western Michigan University): christian.hirsch@wmich.edu

* Glenda Lappan (Michigan State University): glappan@math.msu.edu

* Barbara Reys (University of Missouri): reysb@missouri.edu

Mathematics Curriculum Resources:
(a) Literature Database
URL: http://matheddb.missouri.edu/literature.php 

CSMC has compiled a literature database containing bibliographic information and abstracts on articles, books, book chapters, and dissertations related to mathematics curriculum. The database is searchable by words in the abstract, title, or author's name.

The CSMC Research Agenda categories (may be viewed at http://www.mathcurriculumcenter.org/ResearchFramework.html) are used to guide the selection of articles for inclusion.

If you are aware of other published, peer-reviewed materials that should be included, please forward recommendations to Glenda Lappan.

(b) Textbook Database
URL: http://matheddb.missouri.edu/textbooks.php

CSMC has compiled a collection of K-12 mathematics textbooks spanning the period from 1799 (Euclid's Elements) to contemporary textbooks used today in schools. These textbooks are physically housed at the Center's library at 104 Townsend Hall on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus.

A database including bibliographic information on all of the textbooks housed in the library is available at the above Web site. It is searchable by author, grade level, year of publication, subject/course, or by any words in the title...

If you have K-12 mathematics textbooks to donate please contact Robert Reys. 

(c)  State Standards
URL: http://matheddb.missouri.edu/states.php

CSMC has organized links to current online state-level mathematics curriculum frameworks. This set of documents represents the current set of curriculum recommendations or mandates from state departments of education to K-12 school districts. As noted, some states provide multiple documents to convey information to school districts regarding mathematics curriculum.

The CSMC staff monitors the currency of the links. However, if you are aware of missing or outdated links to current K-12 mathematics curriculum documents, please send a message to csmc@missouri.edu

(d) Curriculum Documents and Reports
URL: http://www.mathcurriculumcenter.org/CourseMaterials.html

Today's school mathematics curriculum has been influenced by many different factors.  One major factor has been reports and recommendations offered by professional organizations and groups of academics in mathematics and mathematics education. These reports vary in scope and specificity, but they have created ebbs and tides that have shaped the mathematics curriculum into the forms that exist today.

While current documents such as Principles and Standards for School Mathematics are easily accessed, many older yet important documents are more difficult to obtain for a variety of reasons. Some older documents are out of print. Some documents are available only in a few libraries. Some documents were never widely distributed. CSMC has created this online resource to help make some of these major documents accessible to interested parties.

CSMC faculty conducted an informal survey of a number of mathematics educators in an effort to identify documents that were instrumental in shaping mathematics curriculum as well as stimulating discussions and visions for mathematics curricula. The list compiled and resources were created for each entry:  see http://www.mathcurriculumcenter.org/CCM/ccmresources.html

For each entry on the list, three resources were created:

* A PDF of the actual report. Some reports were part of a larger report (such as the "Committee of Ten Report in 1894") and in those cases, the PDF is limited to the pertinent portions that discuss mathematics.

* A brief summary of the document. This summary report was compiled by teams of faculty and doctoral students and thus represents their judgment of the most salient elements of the report.

* PowerPoint presentations, developed to facilitate a presentation and discussion.

These resources are provided as a service by the CSMC. Permission is granted to use any or all of these resources for educational purposes. Our hope is that these resources will be useful in helping others in the mathematics education community become more knowledgeable about the history of the evolving school mathematics curriculum in the United States.

This CSMC curriculum resource collection is a work in progress. Comments and suggestions regarding these resources and recommendations for other resources to be included are most welcome: csmc@missouri.edu

(3) New Educator Astronauts are Available for Interviews this Thursday

Source: Johnson Space Center, Houston and NASA
URL: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/ and http://www.nasa.gov/

After 18 months of intense training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA's latest astronaut candidates graduated on February 13. This is NASA’s first astronaut class that focused from the beginning on realizing the Vision for Space Exploration, America’s long-term exploration strategy that includes extending a human presence across the solar system. Three of the 11 graduates are teachers and will work in the education and space station branch. Below are brief biographies of these three educators.

Joe Acaba, a Los Angeles native graduate of UC-Santa Barbara, is a former Peace Corps volunteer and a science teacher at Dunnellon Middle School in Dunnellon, Florida.

Richard Arnold taught mathematics and science at the American International School of Bucharest, Romania. He also taught at international American schools in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. He began his teaching career as a middle school science teacher in Maryland.

Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger taught high school science in Vancouver, Washington. She's the youngest of the 2004 class of astronaut candidates and recently completed the Boston Marathon.

Acaba and Arnold will be available for interviews via satellite from 12 p.m.-1 p.m. PST on Thursday, March 2. The interviews will be carried live on the NASA Television analog satellite (coordinates:  satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 5C, 3800 MHz, vertical polarization, with audio at 6.8 MHz). For digital downlink information and access to NASA TV's Public Channel on the Web, visit http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv

(4) "Watchdog of Test Industry Faces Economic Extinction" by Michael Winerip

Source: New York Times - 22 February 2006
URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/22/education/22education.html

For more than 20 years, FairTest, a small nonprofit group headquartered on the second floor of an old house [in Cambridge, MA], has been the No. 1 critic of America's big testing companies and their standardized tests.

In 1987, when FairTest began publishing its list of colleges that did not require applicants to submit SAT's, there were 51; today there are 730...

"The FairTest list provides an enormously valuable service for students looking at colleges who have proved themselves to everyone but the test agencies," said William Hiss, a Bates vice president.

A generation of education journalists, like Thomas Toch, who reported for Education Week and U.S. News & World Report, were schooled on the complexities and limitations of standardized testing by FairTest.

"They've helped me a lot," said Mr. Toch, who is now a director of Education Sector, a nonpartisan Washington policy research group...

A few years ago, California officials were considering ending their support of the National Merit Scholarship program because it relied exclusively on a single score on the College Board's PSAT test to pick semifinalists.

"We contacted the College Board about validity and fairness studies of the PSAT, but they didn't give us information that addressed our concerns," said Michael Brown, chairman of a state committee that makes recommendations on admissions policy for California's public colleges. "So I asked FairTest, which got back with significant information on the limited reliability of a single PSAT score." Last year, the University of California system ended its financial support of the National Merit program.

But for all FairTest's impact, its days may be numbered. Never before has standardized testing so dominated American public education, thanks to the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Law. Every child from grade 3 to high school must now take state tests. And the Bush administration is considering extending those tests to colleges.

"With N.C.L.B., a lot of people feel the debate is over," said Monty Neill, director of FairTest, officially the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. "The attitude seems to be, 'Testing is so pervasive, what's the point?' " Support from foundations has virtually dried up and individual donations have not made up the difference. "Our board has seriously discussed whether to fold the operation," Mr. Neill said.

Mr. Toch...and Mr. Brown...said this would be a major loss.

"There is no watchdog over the testing industry except FairTest," Mr. Brown said.

Christopher Hooker-Haring, dean of admissions at Muhlenberg College, called FairTest "an important voice that pushes back against the test mania in the U.S"...

Four companies--Pearson, McGraw Hill, Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin--along with the nonprofit Educational Testing Service, dominate the nation's $2.3 billion testing industry. They will shed no tears if FairTest disappears.

Kurt Landgraf, the president of the testing service, which administers the SAT, wrote in an e-mail message: "Perhaps if they had been more attuned to the public's support for using tests to help teachers teach and students learn, then they might have had wider support"...

Mr. Schaeffer said it was not so much the tests that FairTest opposed, as the overreliance on them to make decisions about which students get promoted and graduate, which schools are failing under federal law and who gets a teacher's license. The test companies' own research indicates that the margin of error is too great to use the tests this way, he said.

FairTest has always been a David versus the testing industry. At its high point in the mid-1990's, FairTest had seven staff members and a budget of half a million dollars. Today it is down to one full-time worker, Mr. Neill; one half-time employee, Mr. Schaeffer; two phone lines; a one-room office; and a $168,000 budget.

That has not quieted them. Mr. Schaeffer pointed out after examining Educational Testing Service's most recent public disclosure forms that at least 21 E.T.S. executives make salaries larger than FairTest's entire budget, starting with Mr. Landgraf, who earned $1.07 million in 2004, and three vice presidents, who each earned over half a million.

"Those are outrageous salaries for a nonprofit," Mr. Schaeffer said.

Mr. Landgraf countered, "The salaries we pay are benchmarked against other organizations in the nonprofit sector and reflect our commitment to hiring the best and brightest."

FairTest has a knack for catching the testing companies at their worst, sometimes by using the companies' own research.

In a recent newsletter, FairTest printed an analysis of SAT results, using, and crediting, College Board research showing the direct correlation between family income and SAT scores. For every extra $10,000 a family earns, children's combined math and verbal scores go up 12 to 31 points. So children whose parents earn $50,000 score better on average (a combined 996 SAT) than students from families who earn $40,000 (967) but worse than students from families who earn $60,000 (1014).

For politicians and testing executives bragging about how No Child's testing emphasis is closing the achievement gap, these are not promising numbers...

Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the College Board, which develops the PSAT, said the group worked hard to address California's concerns about that test, and stood by it. She was more generous about FairTest than her E.T.S. counterparts. Though FairTest's criticisms are painful, she said, "every industry needs a watchdog."

Mr. Schaeffer, who is a good tester himself (his 800 math SAT helped get him into M.I.T.), plans to keep watch until the money runs out.

(5) Update: International Mathematics Education Conferences

Source: Alan Rogerson - arogerson@inetia.pl

The 23 January 2006 issue of COMET contained information about upcoming international conferences in mathematics education (see http://csmp.ucop.edu/cmp/comet/2006/01_23_2006.html#B3). The contact for these conferences and coordinator of the Mathematics Education into the 21st Century Project, Alan Rogerson, has a new email address: arogerson@inetia.pl

Dr. Rogerson would greatly appreciate your assistance in publicizing the conference announcements via relevant journals, reviews, and e-lists and to contact him with any questions regarding these conferences

COMET is sponsored in part by a grant from the California Mathematics Project.

COMET is produced by:

    Carol Fry Bohlin, Ph.D.
    Professor, Mathematics Education
    California State University, Fresno
    5005 N. Maple Ave. M/S 2
    Fresno, CA 93740-8025

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