Federal

Efforts Undertaken to Publicize Math Panel’s Results

By Sean Cavanagh — October 10, 2008 2 min read
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Federal officials, determined not to allow the work of a White House-commissioned report on mathematics to fade into obscurity, have launched a number of efforts designed to publicize its conclusions for policymakers, educators, and the general public.

Those steps were described at a conference held here last week, which focused on strategies for carrying out the recommendations of that study, released in March by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.

One step being undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education has been the distribution of 160,000 pamphlets, specifically written for parents, to elementary and middle schools around the country.

The pamphlets offer tips on how parents can cultivate their children’s math skills at an early age through simple games and activities and how they can build their sons’ and daughters’ confidence in their computational ability. That advice is grounded in the scholarly research on learning processes and other topics cited in the panel’s report.

Even parents who struggled in math themselves “can still help as [a child] progresses through school by asking the right questions, helping the child approach the problems with the right attitude, and getting the extra help from the teacher or a tutor as needed,” the pamphlet says.

Formed by President Bush in April 2006, the 24-member panel reviewed 16,000 research papers and studies. It’s 90-page report recommended that schools follow a more concentrated curriculum in the early grades and develop a strong grounding for students in whole numbers, fractions, and geometry and measurements. (“Panel Calls for Systematic, Basic Approach to Math,” March 19, 2008.)

New Web Venue

Carrying the report’s recommendations to a broader audience was the point of the Oct. 6-7 event, sponsored by the Education Department and the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, a Washington-based umbrella group made up of 17 math organizations. State and district policy officials, college faculty members, and others met in small groups to discuss the report’s conclusions and how its findings might influence their work.

Department officials also said they are highlighting the report’s findings by creating a new section on the agency’s year-old Doing What Works Web site, centered on “Critical Foundations of Algebra,” with audio, video features, and written information for educators.

The department plans to add another section in January on essential content in school algebra courses, said Jennifer Ballen Riccards, a management and program analyst at the agency who manages the Web site.

“We thought it was very important that we not just tell people, ‘Here’s what the research says—good luck,’ ” Ms. Riccards said of the site’s new math content. “We want teachers to understand what the research is and try to improve their practices.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 15, 2008 edition of Education Week

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