By Fernando Q. Gouvêa
The May/June 2006 issue of FOCUS included a report about the creation, by Presidential order, of a National Mathematics Advisory Panel, intended to advise the President and his Secretary of Education about the results of research in mathematics education and how they might be used to improve the teaching of mathematics in American schools. Since then, the members of the NMP have been appointed and its first meetings have occurred.
Larry Faulkner, president of the Houston Endowment and President Emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin, will be chairing the panel. The vice-chair will be Camilla Benbow, Dean of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College. Other members likely to be known to our readers include Deborah Ball of the University of Michigan, Francis Fennell (president of NCTM), Liping Ma of the Carnegie Foundation, Wilfried Schmid of Harvard, Jim Simons of Renaissance Technologies, and Hung-Hsi Wu of Berkeley. A full list of members can be found online at the NMP web site, at http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/index.html.
The first meeting of the panel happened on May 22 and the second was on June 28 and 29. Transcripts of the meetings are posted online; the Department of Education also offers interested members of the public an opportunity to subscribe to email updates about the panel's work.
Controversy is already swirling around the panel's work. Almost immediately after the appointment of the panelists, critics objected that the panel was weighted towards critics of the NCTM and its Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Also noted was the fact that only one K-12 teacher is on the panel. The Association of Women in Mathematics objected to the panel's vice-chair, Camilla Benbow, who is the author of three research articles published in the 1980s in which she argued that there are "intrinsic gender differences that favor males at the highest levels of mathematics." Benbow told the press she stands by her results, but pointed out that they represent only one small portion of a long research career.
Most of the panelists have argued that these are over-reactions. Deborah Ball was quoted arguing that the AWM's objections are misguided, saying that "having people snipe at the panelists does not help things." Tom Loveless, a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution who is also a member of the panel, argued that in fact the panel represents "an opportunity to cut through a lot of the noise surrounding math."
The NMP is expected to submit an interim report by January 31, 2007.