COMET • Vol. 9, No. 19 – 15 September 2008


(1) “Teacher to Teacher” Resources

Source: U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher-to-Teacher (T2T) Initiative has been created by and for America’s teachers. It supports teachers’ efforts in the classroom through professional development and digital workshops and by sharing relevant information through email updates. The Initiative is comprised of the following components:

Teacher Workshops

Teacher Workshops offer classroom teachers the opportunity to participate in free high-quality professional development…  Participants share instructional strategies with prominent teachers from around the country in each content area and for each grade level. For more information, see

Materials from over 50 presentations are available online at
Presentation titles include the following: “Connecting Patterns and Algebra” (, “Learning to Use Graphing Calculators to Develop Key Concepts” (, and “Number Sense” (, among many others.

Teacher Training Corps

The Training Corps consists of effective teachers and practitioners experienced in scientifically based instruction who provide on-site technical assistance and regional workshops for teachers and school district personnel. See for more information and a list (and photos) of the math trainers.

American Stars of Teaching

American Stars recognizes and honors superior teachers with a track record of improving student achievement, using innovative instructional strategies, and making a difference in the lives of their students. Nominations are accepted January-March for this honor (

Digital Workshops

Digital workshops provide educators free access to professional development anytime, anywhere. They model successful classroom teaching strategies and support mastery of academic content combined with classroom application and relevant follow-up activities.

Digital Teacher Workshops for Teachers of Native American Students includes materials for K-2 mathematics:

Doing What Works: The Department is collaborating with the Institute of Education Sciences to identify research in particular content areas and determine effective classroom practices through Doing What Works ( T2T’s digital workshop, “Doing What Works for English Language Learners,” is currently available at  “Girls in Math and Science” will be launched later this year.

National Math Panel: T2T has developed a short informational movie that teachers can share with parents and members of their communities about the recommendations of the National Math Panel. A digital workshop on the recommendations is being developed for teachers. See

Teacher Updates

Teachers can receive electronic updates by signing up on the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative’s website. These e-bytes share developments in federal education policy; provide links to classroom teaching and learning resources; and communicate information about American Stars, Teacher Workshops and Digital Workshops. Visit to register.


(2) “A Nation Still at Risk” by Anthony Ralston

Source: MAA [Mathematical Association of America] FOCUS – August/September 2008
URL (pp. 18-19)

In A Nation at Risk, published 25 years ago, a committee of eminent Americans reported on the then well-recognized deficiencies in American school education.  The report was well-received and, seemingly, quite influential.  But a quarter of a century after it was published, few would claim that school education in the US has not declined still further from its state in 1983.

The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) comes at a time when there is general agreement that mathematics education in American schools is in a parlous state.  There is, however, no general agreement among the major players–mathematics educators and mathematicians–on what needs to be done.  Indeed, the Math Wars that have rumbled on for some years now still involve often bitter disagreements between those I have called (in a previous article in MAA FOCUS) traditional math warriors (TMWs) and reform math warriors (RMWs).

It is, therefore, at first glance remarkable that the NMAP report was agreed unanimously by a committee of 19.   But whereas the NMAP included among its members some heavyweight TMWs, it included no significant RMWs.

Since the committee also included a number of people not on the extremes of the Math Wars, who were able to provide leavening in the Final Report, that report is relatively restrained but still enunciates pretty clearly the TMW position.  An example:  The Report refers favorably to a Fordham Foundation report on state mathematical standards; but the committee that produced this report was stacked with TMWs and the six state standards that received highest grades in the Fordham Foundation report all reflect a TMW perspective. Of course, if there had been any prominent RMWs on the NMAP, there would have been no possibility of a unanimous report.

Because of the need for compromise, much of the report is unexceptionable, even bland.  But there are several aspects of the Report that are neither bland nor unexceptionable.  I will focus upon some of these in the remainder of this review.

[Ralston’s piece, which is available for download from, includes sections on research, standard algorithms, and teachers. It concludes with this statement about the Math Wars:]

Since the publication of the Final Report in March, various members of the NMAP have expressed the hope that the Final Report would signal an end to the Math Wars.  That is not going to happen, of course.  The Math Wars will rumble on until, I believe, a new generation of mathematicians weaned on computer technology hold the major posts in American mathematics.  Only then, using the terminology of Thomas Kuhn, will there be a paradigm shift from traditional elementary school mathematics to one in which technology plays a full role at all levels of instruction.

The NMAP Final Report is then largely bland and unexceptionable but, where it is not, it is seriously biased toward the viewpoint of TMWs.  It also displays no sense of urgency about the serious problems of American school mathematics education.  It will likely have little or no impact on the future of American school mathematics education.


(3) Study Investigating Gender Differences in Performance on State Math Tests Reveals Low Test Item Complexity

Source: Tony Phillips – American Mathematical Society (Math in the Media)

“Gender Similarities Characterize Math Performance” was the…title for an Education Forum piece in the July 25, 2008 issue of Science. The authors, a Berkeley-Wisconsin team of five led by Janet S. Hyde, analyzed the math performances of some 7 million students (grades 2 through 11) in a representative 10 states, assembled in the context of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. Their main conclusion: “Our analysis shows that, for grades 2 to 11, the general population no longer shows a gender difference in math skills…”

The authors also focused on the upper tail of the distribution. Here it turns out that the large (and unexplained) difference in variance (at least 10% larger for males, at every level) has a significant impact. For example in Minnesota, a boy is twice as likely as a girl to place in the 99th percentile on the tests. They remark: “Gender differences in math performance, even among high scorers, are insufficient to explain lopsided gender patterns in participation in some STEM fields” (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics); they calculate that a 2 to 1 ratio of males in the top percentile could predict a 67%-33% split in STEM careers, while the actual proportion in engineering Ph.D. programs is around 85% to 15%.

When the authors attempted to measure different performances on more complex questions, they made a discouraging discovery: after sorting questions on a 4-point scale [(1 = recall; 2 = skill/concept; 3 = strategic thinking–i.e., “reason, plan and use information”; and 4 = extended thinking–“require complex reasoning over an extended period of time and require students to connect ideas within or across content areas as they develop one among alternate approaches”)] they reported: “For most states and most grade levels, none of the items were at levels 3 or 4. Therefore, it was impossible to determine whether there was a gender difference in performance at levels 3 and 4.” Their comment: “With the increased emphasis on testing associated with NCLB, more teachers are gearing their instruction to the test. If the tests do not assess the sorts of reasoning that are crucial to careers in STEM disciplines, then these [complex problem-solving] skills may be neglected in instruction, putting American students at a disadvantage relative to those in other countries”…


(4) Researcher Tracks the Reasons Many Girls Avoid Math and Science

Source: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Most parents and many teachers believe that if middle school and high school girls show no interest in science or math, there’s little anyone can do about it.

New research by a team that includes vocational psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) indicates that the self-confidence instilled by parents and teachers is more important for young girls learning math and science than their initial interest.

While interest is certainly a factor in getting older girls to study and pursue a career in these disciplines, more attention should be given to building confidence in their abilities early in their education, says UWM Distinguished Professor Nadya Fouad. She is one of the authors of a three-year study aimed at identifying supports and barriers that steer girls toward or away from science and math during their education.

It’s a high-priority question for members of organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Research Council as they ponder how to reverse the low numbers of women in STEM careers–science, technology, engineering and math.

The NSF-funded study–the most highly detailed study on this topic–dug deeply to identify the specific factors that would stoke girls’ interest in science and math.

“For the last 20 years, there has been all this work done on boosting interest of girls early on. But I don’t think that’s it,” says Fouad, whose research has found evidence that confidence levels in math- and science-related tasks are lower for girls than for boys.


The study tracked girls and boys in middle school, high school and their sophomore year in college in both Milwaukee and Phoenix, with the main goal of pinpointing when the barriers for girls appear and how influential they are. Co-authors include Phil Smith, UWM emeritus professor of educational psychology, and Gail Hackett, Provost at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.

Self-efficacy is not the only important factor for girls, the study uncovered. Results point to a complicated issue, says Fouad. For one thing, math and science cannot be lumped together when designing interventions because the barriers and supports for each discipline are not the same.

“There were also differences at each developmental level and differences between the genders,” she says.

That means interventions would need to be tailored for each specific subgroup.

Overall, however, parent support and expectations emerged as the top support in both subjects and genders for middle- and high-school students. Also powerful for younger girls were engaging teachers and positive experiences with them.

The study confirmed that old stereotypes die slowly. Both boys and girls perceived that teachers thought boys were stronger at math and science. For boys this represented a support, while for girls it acted as a barrier.

Top barriers for all age groups and disciplines were test anxiety and subject difficulty. But these differed between boys and girls. In addition, the genders formed their perceptions of math or science based on the barriers and supports, but they often arrived at different views.

Ultimately, it’s perception, more than reality, that affects the person’s academic and career choices, says Fouad.

The next step in the NSF study on girls and math and science is to examine the relationship between barriers and supports, and then to widen the view to include women who are not working in those fields despite having an educational background in math or science. Fouad received funding from UWM on this project and has just received a half-million-dollar grant to focus on women in engineering.

Nationally, 20 percent of graduates with degrees in engineering are women, she says, but only 11 percent of engineers are women. Her inquiry will explore the reason for the gap.

[Visit the Web site above for a chart summarizing “Variables that Predict Whether Students Pursue Math” and a similar chart for science.]