Mathematics

Bush Administration Names Members to Serve on National Mathematics Panel

By Sean Cavanagh — May 15, 2006 3 min read

President Bush has announced the membership of an expert panel charged with identifying the most promising and effective ways of teaching mathematics, a group that includes researchers and scholars with backgrounds ranging from classroom teaching to psychology and child development.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings unveiled the names of 17 panelists and six ex-officio members May 15. The advisory group is modeled on the National Reading Panel, a collection of experts whose recommendations have shaped K-12 reading efforts supported with billions of dollars in federal funds.

Panel chairman: Larry Faulkner, president, Houston Endowment; president emeritus, University of Texas at Austin.

Panelists:

Deborah Ball, dean, school of education and college professor, University of Michigan.

Camilla Benbow, dean of education and human development, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College.

A. Wade Boykin, professor and director of the developmental psychology graduate program, department of psychology, Howard University.

Francis “Skip” Fennell, professor of education, McDaniel College, Westminster, Md.; president, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

David Geary, curators’ professor, department of psychological sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia.

Russell Gersten, executive director, Instructional Research Group; professor emeritus, college of education, University of Oregon.

Nancy Ichinaga, former principal, Bennett-Kew Elementary School, Inglewood, Calif.

Tom Loveless, director, Brown Center on Education Policy and senior fellow in governance studies, the Brookings Institution.

Liping Ma, senior scholar for the Advancement of Teaching, Carnegie Foundation.

Valerie Reyna, professor of human development and professor of psychology, Cornell University.

Wilfried Schmid, professor of mathematics, Harvard University.

Robert Siegler, Teresa Heinz Professor of Cognitive Psychology, department of psychology, Carnegie Mellon University.

Jim Simons, president of Renaissance Technologies Corp.; former chairman of the mathematics department, State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Sandra Stotsky, independent researcher consultant in education; former senior associate commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Education.

Vern Williams, math teacher, Longfellow Middle School, Fairfax, Va.

Hung-Hsi Wu, professor of mathematics, University of California, Berkeley.

Ex-officio members:

Dan Berch, associate chief of the child development and behavior branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

Diane Jones, deputy to the associate director for science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Tom Luce, assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Education.

Kathie Olsen, deputy director, National Science Foundation.

Raymond Simon, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Education.

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, director, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

The secretary linked the math panel’s mission to the overall need for the United States to produce students with stronger skills in math and science and stay economically competitive. “We must improve the way we teach math and we must give more students the chance to take advanced math and science courses in high school,” Ms. Spellings said in a statement.

The Bush administration has said the math panel will “empirically evaluate” the most effective teaching strategies in that subject, with the goal of establishing a broader base of research in that subject. Administration officials have supported similar efforts in reading in recent years, most notably through the $1 billion-a-year federal Reading First program, which has become mired in controversy. (“Inspector General to Conduct Broad Audits of Reading First,” Nov. 9, 2005.)

Leading the math panel will be Larry Faulkner, a president emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin, who is now the president of the Houston Endowment, a nonprofit based in that city that supports college-bound students, among other ventures.

The ex-officio members include a number of Bush administration officials, including Tom Luce, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development for the U.S. Department of Educa-tion; and Ray Simon, the deputy secretary at the department; and Diane Jones of the White House’s office of science and technology.

Sweeping Mission

Teachers, mathematicians, and parents have long debated the best way to teach math to students, particularly at early grade levels, a divide sometimes referred to as the “math wars.” (“Math Warriors, Lay Down Your Weapons,” Feb. 15, 2006.) The debate generally centers on whether American students need a stronger focus on basic skills or on conceptual and problem-solving skills. Many observers have said the panel would need to be balanced between advocates of both teaching approaches to have credibility.

At the same time, proponents of improved math instruction, including members of the business community, have said that the math-wars divide is overblown and tends to distract educators and the public from common goals.

Linda Rosen, an education consultant who worked as a top math and science adviser to former Education Secretary Richard Riley, said the merging of psychologists with mathematicians and K-12 officials could prove valuable. “This is bringing together a group of experts … who haven’t necessarily been at the same table before.”

Ms. Rosen said the panel’s success would depend partly on its members’ willingness to work cooperatively and use their expertise to address what seems like a fairly sweeping mission.

“It’s less about who they are than what they do and how they do it,” she said. “The charge is really broad. They have to define a charge that’s doable, and that is a contribution to moving math education forward.”

The math panel is scheduled to hold its first meeting May 22 at the offices of the National Academy of Sciences, in Washington. That organization is part of the National Academies, a federally chartered, independent organization of scholars that researches a broad range of science, technology, and other issues, including K-12 education, typically by pulling together committees of experts.

Mr. Bush has asked the panel to submit a preliminary report with recommendations to him by Jan. 31, 2007, and a final report by Feb. 28, 2008.

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