John Glenn, Commission Chairman
This report makes only a few straightforward points, but it makes them urgently and insistently.
First, at the daybreak of this new century and millennium, the Commission is convinced that the future well-being of our nation and people depends not just on how well we educate our children generally, but on how well we educate them in mathematics and science specifically.
From mathematics and the sciences will come the products, services, standard of living, and economic and military security that will sustain us at home and around the world. From them will come the technological creativity American companies need to compete effectively in the global marketplace. “Globalization” has occurred. Economic theories of a few years ago are now a reality. Goods, services, ideas, communication, businesses, industries, finance, investment, and jobs—the good jobs—are increasingly the competitive currency of the inter-national marketplace.
Among the first things Americans watch every morning on TV is the global marketplace at work. The quotes not only from Wall Street itself, but also from the Nikkei, Hang Seng, and Hong Kong exchanges, followed in turn by those of Frankfurt, Zurich, and London—along with reports on the status of the yen, peso, and Eurodollar—all reflect investment flows of hundreds of billions in assets around the world. Times have changed. In an integrated, global economy, whose key components are increasingly knit together in an interdependent system of relationships, will our children be able to compete?
Beyond the world of global finance, mathematics and science will also supply the core forms of knowledge that the next generation of innovators, producers, and workers in every country will need if they are to solve the unforeseen problems and dream the dreams that will define America’s future.
Second, it is abundantly clear from the evidence already at hand that we are not doing the job that we should do—or can do—in teaching our children to understand and use ideas from these fields. Our children are falling behind; they are simply not “world-class learners” when it comes to mathematics and science.
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tested the students of 41 nations. Children in the United States were among the leaders in the fourth-grade assessment, but by high school graduation they were almost last. Here at home, the National Assessment of Educational Progress basically substantiates our students’ poor performance.
In short, our children are losing the ability to respond not just to the challenges already presented by the 21st century but to its potential as well. We are failing to capture the interest of our youth for scientific and mathematical ideas. We are not instructing them to the level of competence they will need to live their lives and work at their jobs productively. Perhaps worst of all, we are not challenging their imaginations deeply enough.
Third, after an extensive, in-depth review of what is happening in our classrooms, the Commission has concluded that the most powerful instrument for change, and therefore the place to begin, lies at the very core of education—with teaching itself.
The teaching pool in mathematics and science is inadequate to meet our current needs; many classes in these subjects are taught by unqualified and underqualified teachers. Our inability to attract and keep good teachers grows. As a result, newer, technologically oriented industries are having trouble finding enough qualified employees from among those teachers’ students. Worse, creativity atrophies and innovation suffers.
We are of one mind in our belief that the way to interest children in mathematics and science is through teachers who are not only enthusiastic about their subjects, but who are also steeped in their disciplines and who have the professional training—as teachers—to teach those subjects well. Nor is this teacher training simply a matter of preparation; it depends just as much—or even more—on sustained, high-quality professional development.
Fourth, we believe that committing ourselves to reach three specific goals can go far in bringing about the basic changes we need. These goals go directly to issues of quality, quantity, and an enabling work environment for teachers of mathematics and science. For each goal, we offer specific action strategies for achieving that particular goal, ideas on who should implement them, and how. Specifically, we offer suggestions on how to:
• Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K–12;
• Increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation; and
•Improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K–12 mathematics and science teachers.
The goals we set before the American people in this report will not be easily attained, nor will the action strategies we offer be readily implemented. Most other nations have a national education system that can change direction more rapidly than our K–12 system, which is operated by nearly 16,000 independent school boards. Even when the majority of board members are firmly dedicated to good education, it is still a difficult job to change direction when needed.
The task to which we call the American people is therefore not an easy one.
Nor will our goals be met at bargain-basement rates. But we believe we have a well-focused view of the needs facing our country and its youth, and that we have identified the right starting points for preparing them to meet their future. We are just as strongly convinced that the downstream cost of not turning this problem around will be exponentially higher than the cost of beginning to solve it now.
But rising to great challenges is a part of our national character—not only in such arduous deeds as breaking the bonds of the planet itself, but in the daily work of equipping each new generation to meet new responsibilities. The last time we turned a century, our schools rose to the challenge of educating the nation’s youth to meet the demands of an industrializing economy. We succeeded in the equally formidable task of integrating millions of immigrants from around the world into a dynamic culture without precedent
Now history presents us with a yet more pressing demand. We are being called upon to capitalize on the changes wrought by two great revolutions: rapid economic globalization on the one hand and the expansion of information-based technologies on the other. In this light, we can take heart from American history’s most profound lesson: Our ability, as a people, to uncover the liberating opportunities concealed within daunting tasks is what defines the American genius.
In the end, then, the message of this report is a simple one. The time has come to move from the information and analysis we have gathered to the resolution we need. We are summoned to answer a stark question. As our children move toward the day when their decisions will be the ones shaping a new America, will they be equipped with the mathematical and scientific tools needed to meet those challenges and capitalize on those opportunities?
These are our children, and the choice is ours. We know what we have to do; the time is now—before it’s too late.
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The Commission sincerely appreciates the confidence that Secretary Richard W. Riley placed in us, and hopes that our report is a worthy and useful product in guiding our nation’s students to world-class performance.
Special thanks are due to our Executive Director, Linda P. Rosen, whose lifelong experience in mathematics education was vital to our work, and whose direction of the labors of the Commission through long hours on a day-in, day-out, yearlong basis was exemplary and crucial to our work.
In an age now driven by the relentless necessity of scientific and technological advance, the current preparation that students in the United States receive in mathematics and science is, in a word, unacceptable.
Recent reports of the performance of our country’s students from both the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) echo a dismal message of lackluster performance, now three decades old; it’s time the nation heeded it—before it’s too late.
Four important and enduring reasons underscore the need for our children to achieve competency in mathematics and science: (1) the rapid pace of change in both the increasingly interdependent global economy and in the American workplace demands widespread mathematics- and science-related knowledge and abilities; (2) our citizens need both mathematics and science for their everyday decision-making;
(3) mathematics and science are inextricably linked to the nation’s security interests; and (4) the deeper, intrinsic value of mathematical and scientific knowledge shape and define our common life, history, and culture. Mathematics and science are primary sources of lifelong learning and the progress of our civilization.
Beyond the disturbing news that our young people are not performing well enough in mathematics and science to take firm command of their own futures, five major factors have begun to coalesce that make this a particularly opportune time to focus on strengthening mathematics and science education: (1) reform efforts have sharply focused the attention of the American people on education as a public issue; (2) the nation now has a surplus of resources to invest in education; (3) a coming demographic shift in the teaching force—two thirds of which will be retiring in the next decade—offers an unparalleled chance to plan for and make changes at the core of education itself; (4) our schools can now put to work what educators have learned in the past generation about curriculum, high standards, effective teaching, assessment, and how children learn; and (5) the rising generation of college graduates is once again showing an interest in teaching as a profession. The nation must capitalize on the convergence of these factors to improve mathematics and science teaching in the United States. We need to act now, before it’s too late.
The primary message of this report holds that America’s students must improve their performance in mathematics and science if they are to succeed in today’s world and if the United States is to stay competitive in an integrated global economy. The Report’s second message points in the direction of a solution:
the most direct route to improving mathematics and science achievement for all students is better mathematics and science teaching.
Evidence of the positive effect of better teaching is unequivocal; indeed, the most consistent and powerful predictors of student achievement in mathematics and science are full teaching certification and a college major in the field being taught.
Better mathematics and science teaching is therefore grounded, first of all, in improving the quality of teacher preparation and in making continuing professional education available for all teachers. A closer look at the teaching that goes on in mathematics and science classrooms today puts the performance of U.S. students on national and inter-national assessments in sharper focus.
The basic teaching style in too many mathematics and science classes today remains essentially what it was two generations ago. By contrast, teaching innovation and higher student performance are well documented in other countries, where students’ improvements are anchored to an insistence on strong professional development for teachers.
What could be happening in U.S. mathematics and science classrooms is markedly different. The report names an extensive set of characteristics of “high-quality teaching.” When they are focused through the lens of exemplary teacher preparation and an integrated system of professional development, an enormous potential for empowering teachers and improving instruction is apparent.
The pressing national need for high-quality teaching described in this report, therefore, demands a vigorous, national response that unifies the efforts of all stakeholders in mathematics and science education. To that end, three wide-ranging, intertwined goals focus the report’s call for action at local, state, and federal levels. As an aid to implementation, each goal is accompanied by a coordinated set of well-funded action strategies that identify key stakeholders who should take the lead in implementing each strategy. The estimated annual cost to achieve these action strategies is over $5 billion. These funds and other resources will come from a diversified set of sources, including all levels of government, higher education, business and industry, professional education associations and teachers’ unions, community groups, and the citizenry. The goals and action strategies set forth in the report are as follows:
Goal 1: Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K –12.
Seven interdependent action strategies are offered to implement this system: (1) each state, must immediately undertake a full needs assessment to determine what teachers require, both in their schools and their professional lives, if they are to routinely deliver high-quality teaching; (2) Summer Institutes must be established to address the professional development needs identified; (3) building- and district-level Inquiry Groups can provide venues for teachers to engage in common study to enrich their subject knowledge and teaching skills; (4) Leadership Training is needed to prepare facilitators for the Summer Institutes and Inquiry Groups; (5) a dedicated Internet Portal must be available to teachers so they can make use of and contribute to an ever-expanding knowledge base about mathematics and science teaching; (6) a nongovernmental Coordinating Council is needed to bring together the above initiatives and those that follow to assess accomplishments; and (7) all states and local districts should initiate reward and incentive programs, both to support exemplary professional development that results in higher student achievement and to increase the attractiveness of teaching as a profession.
Goal 2: Increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation. Three action strategies are offered for this goal: (1) a direct strategy that identifies exemplary models of teacher preparation whose success can be widely replicated; (2) an overarching strategy of finding ways to attract additional qualified candidates into teaching from among high school and college students, recent college graduates, and people at mid-career; and (3) creating 15 competitively selected Mathematics and Science Teaching Academies to annually train 3,000 Academy Fellows, who will be nationally recruited for a one-year, intensive course on effective teaching methods in mathematics or science.
Goal 3: Improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K–12 mathematics and science teachers. Four action strategies address this goal: (1) focused induction programs are required to help acclimate beginning mathematics and science teachers to the profession, create formal mentoring relationships, and introduce teachers to Inquiry Groups; (2) district/business partnerships are needed to provide support for a broad range of efforts that can help create professional working environments for teachers. These efforts can enhance teaching by providing materials, facilities, equipment, and mentor stipends; (3) incentives—whether in the form of cash awards, salary increases, support for further education, or community-wide recognition—are needed to encourage deserving mathematics and science teachers to remain in teaching and improve their skills; and (4) salaries of all teachers must be made more competitive, but especially for mathematics and science teachers, whose combined preparation and skills command high wages in the private sector.
The report concludes by challenging all Americans directly to take personal responsibility for expressing their views on mathematics and science education to policy- and decision-makers, and to take the initiative to implement the report’s action strategies in their own communities.