Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 2017

January 2017
  • Presidents' Message
  • Equity in Math Education in Vermont
  • Statewide Math Fair Comes to UVM in March
  • Nominate a Vermont Rookie of the Year Math Teacher
  • Expanding Horizons
  • Moody's Mega Math Challenge

Editor's Note:  Congratulations to VCTM Co-president Kate McCann on being named the 2017 Vermont Teacher of the Year!

Presidents' Message
Happy New Year Math Educators!

Thank you to all who participated in the VCTM fall conference at VTC in October.  It was another successful gathering with excited registrants, enthusiastic presenters, gracious volunteers, and enough profit to sponsor another event next fall.  We really appreciate all of you who completed the conference survey.  Your feedback is valuable in shaping our future conferences.  Congratulations to Kendra Christiana, Nicole Plimpton, and Amelia Burns for being named Rookie of the Year 2015-16!  Please consider nominating someone in their first 3 years of teaching mathematics for Rookie of the Year 2016-17.
We are pleased to welcome Laura Botte (2014 Presidential Award Winner), and Kendra Christiana (2015-16 Rookie of the Year) to the VCTM Board.  They join us as much needed Zone 3 representatives.  We are very lucky to have these women join the team and are very proud of the work we are doing to increase the capacity of the Board to better serve our membership. We currently have a vacancy for the VCTM Secretary position, and are always looking for additional help!
In other news, VCTM has voted in agreement to subsume the Vermont Math Leadership Council.  Former paid VMLC members have been welcomed into the VCTM fold and are encouraged to take an active role in the organization. We are hopeful this will provide an opportunity to focus all energies in VT dedicated to math education in one place-- please let us know how VCTM can support math leaders!

At our annual membership meeting in October 2016, VCTM members voted for two important changes to how we do business. First, we approved amendments to our VCTM bylaws, which can be found at: https://vctm.wildapricot.org/page-18052. Second, we agreed to raise our VCTM annual membership dues from $15 to $25. Both changes attempt to keep our policies current and reflective of the work we are doing today, and make an effort to bring VCTM in better alignment with other New England NCTM Affiliates.

As always, we look forward to your input. Let us know how VCTM can support you and your students.
Best wishes for 2017,
Christine Latulippe and Kate McCann

Important Upcoming Dates
January 23, 2017 Release of the final talent search problem set of the school year
February 17, 2017 Registration Deadline for Statewide Math Fair
March 15, 2017 VCTM Board Meeting by phone (if you’d like to join us, let us know
March 25, 2017 Statewide Math Fair, UVM
April 5-8, 2017 NCTM Annual Meeting and Exposition, San Antonio
July 9-12, 2017 New Cubed Summer Conference, Siena College Loudonville NY
November 2-3 2017 ATMNE Fall Conference, Marlborough MA


Vermont Math Fair

Don’t miss out!  Encourage your students to participate in the first Vermont Math Fair to take place at UVM on March 25, 2017.  The registration deadline is February 17.  Goals for this event include:
  • stimulating excitement around math
  • providing low stakes competition
  • reaching a wide audience
  • creating a public outlet for math while building community involvement
  • and presenting an opportunity for High School students to attain evidence to demonstrate proficiency in transferable skills and math proficiency through a flexible pathway
For more information and an extensive list of project ideas, visit the VCTM website

Would you like to be involved but don't have students to bring?  How about volunteering!  We need people to help out from being judges to helping make the day more smoothly.  The time of the event is 8 AM to noon.  Take a moment and fill out the form!

VCTM  Rookie of the Year Nominations are OPEN!

Do you have a new colleague in your school who is doing an amazing job with their students and think they should be recognized?  Here's your chance to give them their due for their hard work and enthusiasm!  There will be three recipients; one in each of the following categories- Elementary (K-5), Middle (6-8) and High School (9-12).  Awardees will be given a cash prize and plaque, a year's membership to VCTM, and be expected to share their experiences with the VT math community in its eNewsletter and be invited to present the following year at the VCTM fall conference.  To qualify, the nominees must be in the first three calendar years of their teaching (either part or full-time), and be nominated by a VCTM member.  The nomination form has room for your nomination letter to be cut/pasted, or if you prefer, it can be emailed in as well (details are in the nomination form).  Nominations are open until June 1, 2017.  The recipients will be announced at our Fall 2017 Conference.  


Expanding Horizons

It’s not too late to bring a guest speaker from a Vermont college or university to address your students through the FREE Expanding Horizons program offered by the Vermont State Math Coalition.  Simply visit the website, choose a topic of interest from the list, and contact the presenter directly to set it up.  

Equity in Math Education in Vermont Meeting

Interested in equity in mathematics education in Vermont? There will be a meeting to discuss this from the perspective of identifying action steps to increase equity in the teaching and learning of mathematics in Vermont. We will discuss a working definition of equity to frame our discussions, and then discuss data (quantitative and qualitative) as well as effects of teacher bias on mathematics teaching and learning. 

We will meet online on Monday January 30 at 6 pm here is the meeting information:


Moody's Mega Math Challenge

The Moody's Mega Math Challenge is a great way to provide your juniors and seniors with an opportunity to participate in an authentic, real-world modeling experience. Teams usually meet indpendently outside of school for 14 hours to solve a modeling problem. This takes place at the team's convenience over the February 24th weekend, and there are cash prizes for winners. For details on how to register, deadlines, etc., check out their website 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 2016
  • Presidents' Message
  • VCTM Conference October 14 in Randolph:  Making Math Meaningful - Sign Up today!
  • ATMNE Fall Conference in Manchester NH
  • Presidential Award Winners Announced and Honored
  • Attention all Calculus Teachers!
  • T^3 International Conference Discount

Presidents' Message

Welcome to fall and welcome to a new school year! As teachers, we are so lucky to get two fresh starts each year—one in January, and one in September.  We are very excited to have opportunities for great state and regional math professional development two weeks in a row in October! Friday, October 14 is our fabulous VCTM Conference, “Making Math Meaningful” held in Randolph, VT. See below for more information.

Additionally, on October 20-21 in Manchester, NH is the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in New England (ATMNE) Conference. The conference theme is “Vote with Math! Developing Informed Citizens Through Mathematics” (schedules and information)  For a $20 savings, remember to register by 9/15/16. If you’re planning on attending, consider volunteering—organizations like VCTM and ATMNE depend on dedicated volunteers. Visit this site to sign up and donate an hour or two to this fabulous professional development opportunity.

Speaking of dedicated volunteers, a few very special members of our VCTM Board are getting ready to move on and pass the torch to the next generation of leaders in math education in Vermont. Could this be you? Are you willing to join us in our mission to build a math educators community and engage student learning throughout Vermont? We have openings for zone representatives, treasurer, membership chair, and president-elect. For more information about these positions and what it means to be on the board, please contact us—we’ll give you the straight scoop about commitment and payoffs!

We’re looking forward to seeing you in October,
Christine Latulippe (Norwich University) and Kate McCann (U-32 High School)
VCTM Co-Presidents  vctmpresident@gmail.com


VCTM Conference October 14 in Randolph: Making Math Meaningful-  Sign Up today!

The VCTM Fall Conference, Making Math Meaningful, will be held at the beautiful campus of Vermont Technical College in Randolph VT from 8:00-4:30 with a continental breakfast and lunch included, as well as door prizes.  There are sessions for all levels of teaching and many will be helpful for administrators and coaches as well.  You can sign up for the conference using at our website.  Those who have attended the VCTM conferences in the past have noted how incredible it is to meet colleagues from around the state, share ideas, put faces to names, and be part of a great math community whose ideas and energy are what make Vermont math education among the best in the country.  We will also be honoring and celebrating newer teachers in the state with the Vermont Rookies of the Year, as well as tell about the upcoming Vermont Math Fair to be held in the spring.  There is so much to learn and do- stay connected and be professionally inspired!

2016 VCTM Conference Schedule
October 14, 2016 - Randolph Technical College, Randolph, Vermont
A - Room ***B - Room ***C - Room ***D - Room ***E - Room ***F - Room ***
8:00-8:30Registration / Continental Breakfast
Fostering Struggling Learners' Conceptual Understanding: Integrating direct and inquiry approaches - Regina QuinnData Stories to boost Your Instruction - Patricia Conway & Melissa SenecalMaking Middle School Math Come Alive with Games and Activities - Barbara WestFigurate Numbers and Finite Differences - Jean McKennyAssessing Graduation Standards - Michael RuppelCreating Performance Tasks the SBAC Way - Betty Young
Grades PreK-5, Admin/Math LeadersGrades 3-8, Admin./Math LeadersGrades 6-8Grades 6-12Grades 6-12, Admin./Math LeadersAdmin./Math Leaders, General Interest (All Levels)
Improve Student Learning with a Green Check, a Red X, and a Report - Andrew BurnettAlgebra in the Elementary Classroom - Patty PomerleauBringing Statistics to Life to Improve Statistical Literacy - Jennifer EricsonWhat is the Mandelbrot Set? - Stephen BadgleyMeaningful Approaches to New Teacher Coaching and Induction - Christine PereiraExploring Measurement with Roslyn Rutabaga - Betty Young
Grades 3-12, Admin./Math LeadersGrades PreK-5Grades 6-12Grades 9-12, Post Secondary, Admin./Math Leaders, General Interest (All Levels)General Interest (All Levels), Admin./Math LeadersGrades PreK-2, General Interest (All Levels)
11:30-12:15General Meeting - Awards, elections, announcements
1:15-1:45 Family Math Night - Laurie Birmingham1:15-1:45 Encourage Math Learning Through Statewide Math Fair - Kate McCann
Empowering Students to Make Mathematical Connections - Barbara West
Understanding Variables Using Tak-Tiles - Meagan Boucher
A Model for Proficiency Based Graduation at Montpelier High School - Sue Abrams & Michael McRaith
1:15-1:45 An Introduction to Dynamic Technology Through Pattern Sniffing - Alicia Gonzales
Grades PreK-5, Admin./math Leaders, General Interest (All Levels)General Interest (All Levels)Grades 9-12, General Interest (All Levels)
1:45-2:45 Integrating Art in Math for Project-Based Learning - Leslie Fry
2:00-2:30 Vermont State Talent Search - Jean Ohlson2:00- 2:30 Tried and True Open Source Lessons - Kate McCann
Grades 3-8Grades 6-12, Admin./Math Leaders, General Interest (All Levels)Grades 6-12Grades 6-12Grades 9-12, Admin./Math LeadersGrades 9-12
Literature in Mathematics - Rebecca MerrowOptimizing Google Classroom with Free Math Content - Andrew BurnettDeveloping a Continuum of Instruction for Mathematics within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports - Jennifer Patenaude & Jeanne BoninDocumenting and Implementing Interviews and Think-a-louds as Formative Diagnostic Assessments - Katie Westby & Betsy McEneanyWhy Develop a Math Vertical Team? - Sharon FaddenInstruments of Math Construction: How a Compass and Straightedge Provide a Concrete Foundation in Geometry - David Rome
Grades PreK-5Grades 3-12, Admin./Math LeadersGrades PreK-8, Admin./Math LeadersGrades 9-12Grades 3-12, Admin./Math LeadersGrades 9-12


ATMNE Fall Conference in Manchester NH
ATMNE 2016 is around the corner! 
CHECK OUT THE ATMNE 2016 Program! 

ATMNE 2016 Annual Conference
October 20-21, 2016
For Up-To-Date Information and Program Details

NCTM President Matthew R. Larson
and Margaret “Peg” Smith, NCTM author and Tom Reardon, Technology Guru
Large Exhibitor Showcase with Door Prizes from vendors and more.
Balomenos Memorial Lecture by Richard C. Evans



Radisson Hotel, Manchester, NH

Book your room by 9/28, code “ATMNE16” to guarantee the conference rates


Presidential Award Winners Announced and Honored

Submitted by Kate McCann

On Wednesday September 7, four distinguished math and science teachers from Vermont descended upon Washington DC to accept the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.  The 2014 K-6 awardees are Lisa Marks from Ludlow Elementary (science) and Laura Botte from Edmunds Middle School (math).  The 2015 7-12 awardees are Kate McCann from U-32 High School (math) and ML McLaughlin from Barre Town (science).  
Awardees from left to right: ML McLaughlin,
 Lisa Marks, Laura Botte, and Kate McCann
The three day event began with an awards dinner under a tent in the rain at Smithsonian’s National Zoo.  While the zoo was closed and the only animals that we saw were some deer, the dinner was elegant.  Dr. Margaret Honey, president and CEO of NYSCI, provided the keynote address.  On Thursday, awardees took part in a symposium on Active Learning in Stem Education.  During the short window between the symposium and the awards ceremony that evening, all four of the Vermont awardees visited with Senator Patrick Leahy at the US Capitol.  The awards ceremony took place at DAR Constitution Hall.  Both Dr. France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation, and Dr. John Holdren, senior advisor to President Barack Obama on science and technology issues provided opening remarks.  Friday morning there was a forum  held on Next Generation STEM High Schools and a White House visit.                     
The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the highest honors bestowed by the United States Government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching.  The award was established by Congress in 1983.  To learn more visit the PAEMST Site.  The organization will soon be taking nominations for teachers in grades 7-12 in Math and Science.


Attention all Calculus Teachers!

St. Michael's College in Colchester is having a pretty amazing event October 1.  David Bressoud, former president of the Mathematical Association of America, has done a nation-wide multiyear NSF study on teaching calculus—best practices, what works in what settings, future trends, etc.  He will be giving a workshop on teaching calculus at SMC that is jointly supported by the MAA and open to math folks in the NE area.   It's worth checking out and is very reasonably priced!


T^3 International Conference                      submitted by Jean McKenny
March 10-12, 2017
Chicago, Illinois

As a National T^3 Instructor I am able to get a reduced registration rate for teachers attending this conference.  Here are the steps to follow to get the $100 reduced rate.
How the Discount Works
·         On the registration form, a registrant will be asked, “How did you hear about the T3 International Conference?” 
  • He/she should select “T3 Instructor” and indicate my name, “Jean McKenny”, in the comment field.
  • A registrant should then enter the code “T3100” in the “Coupon Code” field.
This rate is:
  • Equal to the back-to-school discounted rate in effect through October 15, 2016
  • 39% lower than the early bird registration price of $165 through January 31, 2017
  • 49% off the regular registration price of $195
Hopefully this special will enable many Vermont teachers to attend this wonderful conference in Chicago in March.

Jean McKenny, National T^3 Instructor

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May 2016

Inside this edition:

  • President's Message
  • VCTM Fall Conference:  Call for Proposals
  • NCTM National Conference San Francisco Overview
  • ATMNE Update
  • Upcoming Professional Opportunities
  • Feature Article:  "Math Education:  A Messy Problem" The current state of math education in America is certainly not ideal but mathematicians, researchers, policy makers and others are working on it -- and it is definitely a problem worth working on by Gizem Karaali, Pomona College  

Presidents' Message

Aaahhhh… spring. We’ve made it through the mud, and there are flowers blooming here in Washington County. As we push through the final weeks of teaching and testing, keep in mind that VCTM is here to build our community of math educators by facilitating conversation and sharing resources. We are very excited about our new website and its potential to fulfill our Mission here in Vermont. As always, if you have ideas or would like to join the Board of Directors, please reach out to us—we would love to have you help support our work.

Christine Latulippe and Kate McCann, VCTM Co-Presidents


VCTM Fall Conference:  Call for Proposals

Do you have something to share with your colleagues?  Do you have an idea or methodology that would benefit others?  Have you developed a something in Common Core or Proficiency Based Grading that other teachers could use?

The Vermont Council of Teachers of Mathematics (VCTM) will be hosting its annual conference on Friday, October 14, 2016 at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, VT. The title of the conference is "Making Math Meaningful," with presentations focused on instructional strategies to promote the Common Core Math Practices and Content Standards, growth mindset, proficiency-based learning, and multi-tiered systems of support.  
  • Sessions are available as 30 bursts, 60 minute sessions, or 90 minute workshops
  • The deadline for submitting proposals is July 15, 2016. Speakers will be notified by August 15, 2016. Please complete the form below.
  • If you have questions, please contact Patty Kelly at pkelly@ssdvt.org

NCTM National Conference 2016- by Patty Kelly, VT NCTM Representative 
The 2016 NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition was held from April 13-16 in San Francisco, California. As a math leader in my district, I knew the value of attending this conference, and the opportunity that I would have to share my new learning and impact the instructional practices of teachers in my district.

As the Vermont Council of Teachers of Mathematics representative at NCTM, I was excited to meet with New England math leaders and discuss issues facing our local affiliates.  My time at NCTM began with attending the Eastern Regional Caucus. The initial portion of this meeting drew attention to the resources that NCTM provides for its members and affiliates. Their online resources are being constantly updated, such as professional development resources that accompany NCTM’s Principles to Actions. NCTM President Diane Briars spoke about a new resource available on the NCTM web-site focusing on focus, rigor, and coherence. These lessons and activities are available at www.nctm.org/ARCs/ . The representatives for the eastern region then met to discuss ways in which we can build strong memberships within our affiliates by supporting new teachers to become members.

The following day began with the Delegate Assembly. There were no resolutions this year. This allowed us to network with affiliate representatives and gain ideas and insights into the successes and struggles of math educators and math organizations nationwide.

The rest of the week was spent attending dynamic presentations by the country’s leading math educators. In a session with Jo Boaler about the latest brain research, she discussed changing the way we assign homework and de-tracking students. Some of the most interesting research that she presented included research about finger counting. Her work shows that we often push kids towards not using their fingers, but that we should actually encourage students to use finger representations as a physical support for learning arithmetic problems.

I’m looking forward to using the tools and resources that I gained from the conference and thank VCTM for supporting our learning as math professionals in Vermont.


ATMNE News by Sue Abrams

Christine Latulippe, VCTM Co-President, and Sue Abrams, ATMNE Representative, recently attended the spring meeting of the ATMNE Board of Directors. Much of their time was spent drafting revisions to the ATMNE constitution and by-laws, which will be voted on by the affiliates like VCTM.
The Association of Teachers of Mathematics in New England is a consortium of affiliates of all the New England states. One purpose is to secure improvements in the teaching of mathematics and establish close relations among teachers of mathematics. See the ATMNE website for more information about ATMNE:  http://www.atmne.net/. To that end there is an annual ATMNE mathematics conference and there are some publications worth noting.
This year the ATMNE annual conference - Vote with Math! - will take place in Manchester, NH, on October 20-21st. See the NHVCTM website for more information: http://www.nhmathteachers.org/ATMNE-2016.

For VCTM members: Don’t forget that one of the benefits of joining VCTM is that you automatically become a member of ATMNE! As an ATMNE member you receive two annual newsletters and the New England Mathematics Journal (NEMJ), which is published every spring and fall. All ATMNE publications have gone GREEN so make sure you keep your email up to date. Soon you will receive information from VCTM about how to access the New England Mathematics Journal.


Upcoming Professional Opportunities

1. Vermont Mathematics Initiative (VMI) Conference “Mathematics Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century”. This one-day conference will be held at UVM’s Davis Center on Saturday May 7. The Keynote speaker is Steven Leinwand, and breakout session topics include formative assessment, instruction for struggling students, and leadership in mathematics education. 

2. The Dynamic Landscapes Conference, hosted at Champlain College in Burlington, May 23 and 24. If you want to explore classroom technology, maker spaces, creative scheduling, and even innovations in teaching mathematics, consider attending. Registration fees include 1-day and 2-day options. 

It’s never too early to plan ahead for some exciting professional development beyond the close of the school year.  Start marking your calendar for the following opportunities:

  • NEW Cubed Summer Conference, June 27-29 in New Rochelle, NY. The “NEW Cubed” is because this is a joint conference of NCTM Affiliates New York, New Jersey, and New England. The theme is Coming Together for Learning, Teaching, and Students. Registration is open now, and Steven Leinwand will be there, too…
  • VCTM’s Fall Conference, October 14, 2016—Look for more details in this newsletter!
  • The Association of Teachers of Mathematics in New England (ATMNE), Fall 2016 conference in Manchester, NH, October 20 and 21. As a member of VCTM, you are automatically a member of ATMNE. This year’s theme is “Vote with Math! Developing Informed Citizens through Mathematics”.

Math Education: A Messy Problem
Editors note:  The following article first appeared in Inside Higher Ed on May 2, 2016 and is reprinted with permission.
The current state of math education in America is certainly not ideal, writes Gizem Karaali, but mathematicians, researchers, policy makers and others are working on it -- and it is definitely a problem worth working on.

Andrew Hacker’s The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions simply continues to promote the misguided path he got on several years ago, and it’s difficult to see how it could lead us anywhere productive. Hacker started the business of attacking school mathematics in a New York Times op-ed  where he argued, in sync with gimmicky T-shirts claiming the same, that algebra was unnecessary, or perhaps even detrimental to our future. In a national scene where mathphobia is rampant and most people’s memories of school mathematics remain unpleasant at best, he struck a chord. Then, of course, come book contracts and even more adulation.
Thoughtful people have already responded authoritatively to the various errors in Hacker’s argument -- see here for another scathing review. A short and quick reply is here. For this audience of college and university educators, some of whom might be tempted by Hacker’s bravado and wonder about implications for higher education, I’d like to also point out that Hacker seems to forget why we educate our young. Even if as students years ago we may have had difficulty in certain subjects, as parents we want to ensure that our children go beyond what we ourselves have achieved. We expect that what they learn will be beneficial to their growth and future opportunities. We also hope that they will gain certain personal characteristics that, together with their knowledge and skills, will help them build a better future for our society and the world.

The Western tradition starts this conversation in ancient Greece with Socrates arguing that virtue is central to the education of the young. Aristotle teaches us that the ultimate goal of education should be happiness -- the durable contentment of a creative and intellectual life. St. Augustine shows us that we should not depend on teachers to teach us everything, that there is much to be learned from the internal wisdom of the heart, which itself is cultivated by our moral compass. Rousseau argues that children need to be exposed to the world as they grow to learn to live within the society to which they belong. Locke and Mill teach us that education should be well-rounded, cultivating an intellectually capable mind aware of the complexities of the world.

Mathematics educators agree. We know that in mathematics, as in any other knowledge system that builds on itself, the procedures that work so well are only part of the package. That in the center is the student, but always situated in the midst of a society that is constantly evolving. That students learn best when encouraged and supported by knowledgeable teachers who help them explore and understand underlying concepts. That intellectual stimulation and growth are possible and enjoyable for all children. That in our classrooms, we can help students sharpen their ability to persist in the face of apparent failure. That today’s students need to learn to tackle complex and ill-defined problems requiring both individual and collaborative effort.

And to these ends, we have been working to improve what we do. Mathematics teachers, mathematics education researchers and mathematicians are working together in classrooms, in math circles, in conferences and workshops, in curricular reform efforts and in policy discussions. We are working to create meaningful mathematical experiences for students to encourage critical thinking, foster creative reasoning and enhance problem-solving abilities. (See here and here for two collections of mathematics lesson plans and modules that were developed by or in collaboration with researchers. See here for a college-level initiative for revamping the mathematics curriculum.)
We are working to engender the sense of wonder and accomplishment that mathematics -- when done right -- naturally inspires. We are working to develop and support a coherent set of curricular standards that will help tomorrow’s adults live up to the expectations of this nation from its children. We are working to discover and share with parents, teachers and educators what works well in the classroom even if it is not typical, and what doesn’t work even if it “just makes sense” and “it’s the way I learned things.” (How many people believe that the point of multiplication tables is to torture students till they can recite them at the speed of light? Linda Gojak, past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, is one among many educators speaking out about fluency in mathematics and how it is no longer acceptable to equate it with “fast and accurate.”)

Admittedly, we mathematics instructors don’t always help our own cause. People remember how their middle school math teacher made them feel, and I don’t need to tell you that it’s generally not a good memory. (I was lucky -- mine made me feel like there wasn’t a problem I couldn’t solve if I put in the time and effort.) But dropping mathematics from the required K-12 curriculum would be a perfect example of the cliché of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. (While I myself have argued elsewhere that we might just do that, my tongue was decidedly set in my cheek, and my concern was the essence of what is lost in most mainstream experiences of school mathematics. Now, can I get a book contract, too?)

The current state of mathematics education in the United States is certainly not ideal. Yet the fact is that teachers, parents, mathematicians, mathematics education researchers and policy makers are working on it. Furthermore, this is definitely a problem worth working on. It is tough, it is messy and there are many nuances to the issue and many implications to any avenue of resolution.
Hacker writes of high school graduates unable to perform simple numeracy tasks. I’d venture to guess that more than a handful of high school grads are also incapable of understanding IRS publications, may occasionally be unable to interpret correctly the user manuals of their DVD players and can’t foresee all repercussions of a ballot measure they are willing to vote for or against. But we do not blame all of these insufficiencies on K-12 English teachers. Nor do we suggest replacing English courses with courses on reading ballot measures or user manuals. What do we do? We demand that English Language Arts curricula be developed that are more sensitive to the range of literacy demands of our daily lives.

Hacker gets it right at least in one instance; quantitative literacy is crucial in today’s society. And it should be one of the essential outcomes we expect from our education system, as I argue elsewhere. However, the role of mathematics in our education system goes beyond quantitative literacy. (And conversely, quantitative literacy as a goal itself should not be limited to the mathematics classroom. Most science and social studies classrooms offer excellent contexts for quantitative literacy.)
During this election year, I offer you another analogy. Today there are many, including some reading this, who worry that the American democratic machine is not producing the results they would like. So shall we give up on democracy? I’d like to believe that the overwhelming majority would agree with me when I say no. Instead, we continue working to improve our system; we continue to fight for broader access; we continue to work to further political and social justice.
Mathematics education is perhaps not on the same level of importance and urgency, but the solutions are the same. We must work to improve the system. We must fight for broader access. And we must work to further political and social justice.

Today mathematics acts as a gateway (or a gatekeeper, depending on your perspective) in terms of who has access to the lucrative STEM jobs that many aspire to. Students who learn mathematics as far as their school contexts allow have many more opportunities open to them when they graduate from high school. Knowing the fundamental building blocks of mathematics today leads well-prepared high school graduates to a range of rigorous paths of college-level study in many disciplines. And those are also the students who will become the adults who will create the new mathematical, statistical and computational tools we will need in the future.

What would happen if we dropped mathematics? Which schools and school districts would not be offering those “now optional” advanced mathematics courses? Which students would be deprived of the opportunity to learn, and, can I suggest, find meaning, confidence and opportunity through advanced mathematics? And which students would be able to move forward with those STEM careers that many parents dream of?

People can succeed without mathematics in their lives. You can also choose to never try sushi, to vacation only within the continental United States despite being able to afford international travel, to never wear flip-flops or learn to ride a bike, and still lead a happy and productive life. But nobody’s job prospects are affected by their decision to avoid sushi (unless you want to be a sushi chef, which would be odd if you didn’t like sushi to start with). And having the choice to decline comes out of privilege. Can this nation afford to make such a decision for all its children? When people choose to drop mathematics later in their academic paths, we can say they made a decision knowing their options and the opportunities they are letting go. But do we want to make these decisions ahead of time for all students?

The American education system differs from many of the nations that are touted as high performers. In most of those countries, students are channeled into various tracks early on. This nation does not regiment its schoolchildren, because we believe that all children have potential and that they can make choices once they are old enough to know what is out there.
And the American education system is still one of the best in the world. I know the international test scores and rankings, but I also know to read the fine print. Therein you learn that once you restrict to schools where less than 50 percent of the class is in the free lunch program, the performance of students is in par with those high-performing nations. The schools that are “failing” are the ones that have 75 percent or more of their students in free lunch programs. So our schools are not failing our students; it is our society that is failing them. As most education researchers (and teachers in classrooms across the nation) will agree, the problem of public education in the United States is one of poverty. And that problem is not going to get solved by dropping the mathematics requirement in the K-12 curriculum.

In fact mathematics can help. Here is where Plato’s virtue and St. Augustine’s moral compass come back into school mathematics. Brazilian mathematician Ubiratan D’Ambrosio has been telling us for years that it is mathematics that will help our children solve the varied problems of today and tomorrow -- if we can teach them to see the inherent mathematics involved. Mathematics, historian Judith Grabinerpoints out, has evolved precisely to describe social, environmental and political, as well as industrial and scientific, problems that a society happens to confront. And it remains, to this day, our most successful method to seek out creative and productive solutions for them. (Readers perplexed by my inclusion of social, environmental and political problems above might like to google “mathematics for social justice” or “mathematics of sustainability.”)

I write this with the hope that some good may come out of Hacker’s simplistic recommendations. Students reciting their multiplication tables as fast as a bullet train are not the desired outcome of mathematics education. We want students to understand the power and limitations of the mathematics they are learning. We want students to move flexibly from one specific model of a situation to another. We want students to be able to find unexpected and novel solutions to problems that are ever-growing in their complexity.

Mathematics is where we can train young minds to do all these things. Mathematics is where we can teach that critical ability to reason analytically. Mathematics is also where we can encourage creative exploration of the multitude of options a problem solver invariably has. As college and university educators, these are points we must not forget when the next cycle of general education debates begins to shake things up on our campuses.

Gizem Karaali is an associate professor of mathematics at Pomona College, editor of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, associate editor of Mathematical Intelligencer and associate editor of Numeracy. Follow her on Twitter @GizemKaraali_