January 6, 2000
Dr. David Klein
Dear Dr. Klein:
I am writing in response to the open letter that you and your cosigners recently sent regarding the work of the Mathematics and Science Expert Panel.
We certainly appreciate the interest that you and other research mathematicians are taking in the mathematics achievement of America's children. While our students are not yet performing at the level we want, they are doing better than many Americans think. Mathematics scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Nation's report card, increased significantly at grades 4, 8 and 12 between 1990 and 1996. Several states, including Connecticut, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas, are reporting significant gains in mathematics scores. Moreover, during the past two decades, high school students are taking more years of mathematics, more students are taking advanced placement mathematics courses, and SAT and ACT mathematics scores are increasing.
Nonetheless, results on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study indicate that we do not yet generally have a world-class mathematics education in place. We must harness the energies and expertise of many stakeholders to turn this around.
We should start by identifying areas of agreement and working collaboratively on areas of disagreement. One area of agreement, for example, is that the very best mathematics programs must include mastery of basic skills and the use of those skills in solving complex problems. Another is that America's children need: traditional basics -- being able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and be accurate with simple mental computation; and the basics of a new information age -- communicating mathematical ideas, applying mathematics in real-world settings, and problem solving.
The recent decision of the Expert Panel is clearly an area of disagreement. We certainly respect that there are different and deeply held viewpoints on this issue. However, we do not agree with your assertion that both the panel and the criteria it used were outside of the existing mathematics education mainstream. It is important to note that the Panel concluded that each of the ten programs had demonstrated a measurable difference in student learning. Undoubtedly
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there are other materials that can or will demonstrate achievement gains in both basic skills and problem solving. If you or others cosigning the letter have such materials or programs, we welcome their submission in the next round.
Another concern voiced in your letter centered on the representation of active research mathematicians on the panel. Input from the public, including those who have signed your letter, on the future composition of the panel is welcome. We agree that additional representation of research mathematicians knowledgeable about K-12 mathematics education would strengthen panel deliberations.
Most important, of course, the final decision of what program to use rests in the hands of local educators. We hope that the work of the Panel, along with evaluations from other groups, informs this critical decision.
Much remains to be done to improve student achievement in mathematics. The Department of Education is prepared to work with all parties in this most important effort.
Richard W. Riley
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This page last updated January 7, 2000 (pjk)