A brief History of American k-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century

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The letter below was written in response to the Open Letter sent to U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley from more than 200 mathematicians and prominent individuals. That Open Letter was published on November 18, 1999 in the Washington Post. It called for the withdrawal of the U.S. Department of Education's recommendations of the following mathematics programs, labeled by the Education Department as "exemplary" or "promising":


Cognitive Tutor Algebra

College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM)

Connected Mathematics Program (CMP)

Core-Plus Mathematics Project

Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)


Everyday Mathematics


Middle-school Mathematics through Applications Project (MMAP)

Number Power

The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP)


November 30, 1999

Secretary Richard W. Riley

United States Secretary of Education

400 Maryland Avenue

Washington, DC 20202

Dear Mr. Secretary:

In light of the recent paid advertisement in the Washington Post requesting that you withdraw the list of exemplary and promising mathematics programs, the Board of Directors of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics wishes to inform you of their unconditional support for the work of the Expert Panel, the criteria used by the Panel, the process employed by the Panel, and the quality and appropriateness of their final recommendations.

We are deeply disappointed that so many eminent and well-intentioned mathematicians and scientists have chosen to attack the work of the Panel. We note, however, that the advertisement represents the opinion of a small, but vocal, minority of mathematicians and scientists, many of whom have little direct knowledge of the elementary and secondary school mathematics curriculum nor how to make it responsive to the needs of all students.

Unfortunately, while NCTM is working diligently and successfully to engage mathematicians and mathematics teachers at all levels in the process of setting high standards for school mathematics, the authors of the Post advertisement seem determined unilaterally to undermine the programs that the Expert Panel has found to be exemplary and promising. We believe that the Panel took a hard look at quality, alignment with sound standards, and most importantly, how the various programs affect student learning. The ten programs recommended by the Expert Panel have already had a positive influence on thousands of young people. Thanks to work of the Panel, these programs can be expected to have an equally positive impact on millions of young people in the coming years. For reasons that we do not understand, this fact appears to seriously bother many of the individuals who allowed their names to be associated with the Post ad.

Mr. Secretary, NCTM's Board of Directors believes that the Department has performed a great service by providing this list of programs. We thank you and your colleagues for supporting the work of the Expert Panel and look forward to continuing to work with you on behalf of the mathematics education of our nation's youth.


John A. Thorpe

Executive Director

Acknowledgements. The author would like to express his gratitude to Henry Alder, Richard Askey, Wayne Bishop, Williamson Evers, R. James Milgram, Chiara Nappi, Ralph Raimi, Diane Ravitch, Sandra Stotsky, and Edie Pistolesi for their helpful comments and suggestions on draft versions of this chapter


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