Sharon Rendon, Director of Professional Learning, firstname.lastname@example.org
The math community has long been aware of the concerns about the systems and practices facing high school mathematics in the United States. All you need to do at dinner is bring up a conversation about algebra and there will be someone with the response, “I wasn’t any good at high school math,” or “When do you ever use algebra anyway?”
I recently had the opportunity to attend the national meetings for both the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in Washington D.C. Both groups of mathematicians are calling for a renewed commitment to creating equitable classrooms that allow every student to engage in meaningful mathematics each and every day. All students need to see themselves as capable, lifelong learners and confident doers of math. When we look back on the past couple of decades, there seems to be improvement at the K-8 levels, however there is consensus that high school mathematics programs are in need of change. NCTM has published a new book with the hopes that stakeholders at all levels will have courageous conversations that are critical to providing high school students with more meaningful mathematics experiences. Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics is a call for everyone involved in secondary mathematics to start spirited, yet critical, conversations encouraging change in high school mathematics programs. Too many students are leaving high school without quantitative literacy and critical thinking processes needed to make wise decisions in their personal lives.
The council outlines four key recommendations:
- Each and every student should learn the Essential Concepts in order to expand professional opportunities, understand and critique the world, and experience the joy, wonder, and beauty of mathematics.
- High school mathematics should discontinue the practice of tracking teachers as well as the practice of tracking students into qualitatively different or dead-end course pathways.
- Classroom instruction should be consistent with research-informed and equitable teaching practices.
- High schools should offer continuous, four-year mathematics pathways with all students studying mathematics each year, including two to three years of mathematics in a common shared pathway focusing on the Essential Concepts, to ensure high-quality mathematics education for all students.
Each of these recommendations is expounded upon in the book. NCTM has taken this bold step to provide those involved in secondary education with a guide to step up and begin the conversations. There are great inequities happening right now and these can begin to be addressed simply by looking at our systems and structures and asking questions.
Both Past President Matt Larson and the keynote speaker Christopher Emdin, spoke about returning the joy and wonder of mathematics to the high school classroom. The experiences in high school mathematics need to bring a sense of empowerment to our students. Students must have the ability to expand their professional opportunities, understand and critique the world, and experience the wonder, joy, and beauty of mathematics. Our society needs quantitatively literate members who can productively contribute to a democratic society. The Essential Concepts that are described in the book are designed to support students with this vision. The concepts are embedded in the domains: number, algebra and functions, statistics and probability, and geometry and measurement. “These concepts represent the most critical content from these domains—the deep understandings that are important for students to remember long after they have forgotten how to carry out specific techniques or apply particular formulas.” . It is mentioned several times, that the concepts are not another set of standards or disjointed list of topics to be taught. The Essential Concepts are designed, so that all high school students are given the opportunity to fully experience them, regardless of the standards.
This book will serve as a great resource to those of us influencing high school mathematics classrooms. We can begin to open up these necessary and serious conversations that will improve learning experiences and outcomes for each and every high school student. Will you make the commitment to join me?
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc., Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations, (2018), 37.