Mathematics Education and "Scientific" Research

Editorial by W. Gary Martin

These days "scientific research" is the talk of the town (or at least Washington, D.C.) in education. No Child Left Behind and other federal programs mandate an emphasis on "evidence-based" instructional methods and curricula.

We certainly agree that it is important to have evidence for the effectiveness of the methods used. In fact, there exists a large body of evidence supporting the "reform" approach to mathematics education; check out the Evidence section of the Mathematically Sane web site. Methods and materials aligned with this new vision of mathematics education really work.

The reform curricula (a.k.a. "NSF curricula", since they were funded by the National Science Foundation) were designed to embody the new vision for mathematics. And they are posting impressive gains in student outcomes. Refereed journal articles, upholding the highest standards in research, have documented these positive effects at all levels:

A new book ( Standards-Based School Mathematics Curricula: What Are They? What Do Students Learn? ) carefully lays out much of the evidence supporting these curricula. Also, urban school districts that set out to systemically reform their mathematics instruction, generally using these new curricula, unanimously got significantly positive results... on whatever tests were mandated by the districts (see USI study ).

Indeed, none of the traditional skills-based curricula have undergone the rigorous testing that the reform curricula have. And even if such testing were done, the results are all but certain. These traditional instructional methods caused the low achievement which first motivated the reform movement more than three decades ago.

Moreover, we continue to see solid gains in mathematics nationwide on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (see NAEP results ), the long-term NAEP which measures basic skills (see Long-term NAEP ), and the SAT (see SAT Gap ). While we're not yet where we want to be, we are certainly headed in the right direction.

While some propose that we return to the "good old days", the evidence exists that those Good Old Days Never Were . It is time that we move forward. Thus, in answer to those suggesting that mathematics teaching be based on evidence, we say BRING IT ON! Because the evidence clearly supports the new vision of mathematics education.

This editorial was provided by W. Gary Martin, associate professor at Auburn University.
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