Back to the Future in Mathematics Education
Recent reports show that little has changed in mathematics instruction.
Just over 20 years ago, A Nation at Risk proclaimed the "imperative of educational reform," arguing (in 1983) that in the two decades since Sputnik, the United States had committed "an act of unthinking unilateral educational disarmament." In the subsequent two decades, K-12 education has been in a constant state of reform, often bordering on upheaval. Nonetheless, both higher education and high-performance industries still complain about "mediocre educational performance," the very issue that animated the authors of A Nation at Risk .
Recent reports dealing with the mathematical expectations of higher education and the world of work show that little has changed in the last 20 years. One report, from the American Association of Universities, focuses on skills required for undergraduate success in research universities; the other, from the American Diploma Project, emphasizes broader skills required for success in high-performance jobs or postsecondary education. Despite their differences—which are important for readers to recognize—the very need for these reports reveals that we are still very much a nation at risk.
Mathematics is central to K-12 education and has played a leading role in all education reform efforts of the last half- century. A Nation at Risk was clear and specific about the importance of mathematics, along with closely related subjects such as science, economics, and computing: The authors’ primary recommendation was that "at a minimum, all students seeking a diploma be required [to take], during their four years of high school, four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, three years of social studies, and one-half...
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