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Carnegie Corporation on “Transforming” Math, Science Ed

By Sean Cavanagh — June 10, 2009 3 min read

A commission, formed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Institute for Advanced Study, released a report today that calls for government, philanthropic, college, and K-12 officials to work together to raise both public awareness and student performance in math and science.

Those two goals, the report says, are firmly connected. To get there, the report’s authors call for action from major players in the public and private sectors. They also endorse the recent multistate “Common Core” standards venture launched by governors and schools chiefs, and say the federal government and all states should do the same thing. It so happens that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was expected to attend an event today in Washington to coincide with the report’s unveiling.

While the “Common Core” effort is now focused on math and language arts, the report urges that the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers take on science as the next subject. In an interview this week, Gene Wilhoit of CCSSO told me there is strong interest among state officials in that subject. “I’m pretty sure there will be an initiative around science,” he said.

If the Common Core undertaking moves ahead in science, the report recommends organizing the document around a report issued a few years ago by the National Research Council, titled “Taking Science to School,” which identified “strands” for student proficiency in science.

The report calls for significant changes in how colleges train aspiring math and science teachers, asking them to redesign courses to align with the curricular priorities outlined in the report. It also asks those institutions to revamp their programs to encourage more of their students to enter math and science teaching, and to do much more to track their experiences, and their success, after graduation.

Philanthropies are asked to fund research “that strengthens the evidence base” in math and science, and the federal government is asked to back research on the effects of new standards and assessments on student performance and classroom instruction. Many people and organizations, including the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, have called for higher-quality research on what strategies in curriculum, pedagogy, and evaluating teacher quality work best. Many panelists were surprised by the lack of such research, given the strong national interest in improving math teaching.

One more intriguing item about math. The report is one of the first I’ve seen that calls for government officials, colleges, and K-12 leaders to create a pathway to college that doesn’t necessarily involve going through calculus. This path should be “equally rigorous” to the calculus path, and it could feature a deep study of statistics, data analysis, and applied math, the report says.

There’s been growing interest among organizations like Achieve in creating these alternative-to-calculus high school courses. It’s a tricky issue. As I reported last year, some researchers and K-12 officials believe the push to get more students into calculus is in fact scaring students away from taking rigorous math late in high school and in college. Some high school seniors worry they’re not ready for calculus, but they don’t have any other options—like, say, a demanding applied-math class. So they take no math as a senior, and struggle with college-level math (or avoid it entirely) as a result.

After you’ve looked at the report, give me your thoughts. Could the momentum that has built around the Common Core effort also occur with the priorities identified in the report? Or are their goals unrealistic?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.