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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Committee on Education and the Workforce/Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families and Postsecondary Education, Training, and Life-Long Learning, Federal Role in K-12 Mathematics Reform

February 2, 2000

The House Education and Workforce Committee listened to testimony on the role that federal agencies play in developing mathematics curricula. At issue is the recommendations recently made by the Department of Education and the procedures used by expert panels in selecting recommended curricula.

Dr. Judith Sunley, Interim Director for Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation, testified on the history of the development of mathematics standards and NSF's role in encouraging the use of standards-based mathematics curricula. The Statewide Systemic Initiatives served as an important NSF program to encourage the widespread adoption of standards-based curricula within a state.

Dr. Kent McGuire noted that a provision in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1994 required the Department of Education to establish expert panels to advise school districts on quality curricula. Although the time and work required of expert panels was underestimated, but they have performed a valuable service in identifying a variety of curricula that integrate math into life experiences.

The opponents of those selected by the expert panels criticized their rigor as well as the perceived pressure at the state and local to adopt curricula that had been "endorsed" by a federal agency. Proponents of the process noted that these curricula had been field tested and found promising and that they were recommended, not endorsed.

A number of Members pointed out that the traditional methods of teaching mathematics have not met the nation's educational needs, there was also concern over using students as guinea pigs.

Most witnesses agreed that a major concern in adopting any new curriculum is the need to ensure that there is a link between content and pedagogy - that teachers are well prepared to teach and that there is ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the curriculum over time.