"There is no one way"

Monday, May 23, 2016

NCTM Is Its Members

This post's title was also the subject of an e-mail from Matt Larson, the new President of NCTM sent to the membership. You can read it here. Since he asked for suggestions, I replied to his message. Here is what I wrote, slightly expanded.

--Henri

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Dear Matt Larson,

I’ve been a member of NCTM for who knows how long, probably at least 30 years. During that time, I was a speaker at more than 80 conferences of NCTM and its affiliates. I have written and reviewed articles for The Mathematics Teacher. I edited the "Student Activities" department in that journal for a couple of years.

I was excited and impressed that in your recent message “NCTM Is Its Members”, you asked for suggestions. I thought I would take you at your word. I hope you have time to read this message.

For background, here is the rejection letter I received when I submitted a piece to the "SoundOff!" department in The Mathematics Teacher:
We enjoyed reading your SoundOff! submission. We were very interested to read your views and we think our readers would be, too. Your position may of course be somewhat controversial, but that's exactly the type of thing we're looking for in our Sound Off! department; we ask authors for "a short, signed statement, editorial in nature, which forcefully and logically raises a significant issue or advocates a point of view about some aspect of the teaching or learning of mathematics." (http://www.nctm.org/publications/write-review-referee/journals/Write-for-Mathematics-Teacher/) In your piece, your views are vividly presented and your author voice comes through loud and clear - these are two qualities which can contribute to a great Sound Off!However, we must reject your manuscript because it substantially overlaps with a freely available blog post. Even were appropriate citations to be included, the majority of the SoundOff is a direct quotation from previously published material, and so publishing it would be which would be contrary to our policies. We don't accept republication of any material (from websites, books or other journals) in our NCTM school journals. We do, however, thank you for disclosing the original source freely to the MT editor. The Panel would certainly welcome a different submission that expressed your concerns about the CCSSM and referenced the blog post, but was completely rewritten and added substantial new arguments, examples and/or recommendations.
(The MT reviewer was referring to the analysis of the Common Core State Standards for high school math, which I posted on my Web site a couple of years ago. More on this below.)

So here are my two suggestions:

-1- 


While the rule cited above may make sense in some other situation, it should not apply to pieces that duplicate or overlap with material from a blog or a Web site (with permission, obviously.) In the case of a low-traffic site such as mine,  there is very little difference between the material having appeared on the site, and the material not having appeared anywhere. Given the size of the Web, it is just silly to think that just because people could find it on my site, that they would find it. And in the case of a site with a lot of traffic, such as Dan Meyer’s, republication would help engage the NCTM membership with a vibrant and dynamic math ed community. In either case, NCTM loses nothing, gains possibly useful content, and connects with the online universe. Such pieces would of course be subject to the same review process as any other submissions.

The argument that paying dues should get you something you can’t get for free is specious. Such articles would not constitute a large part of the journals, and they would benefit from the peer review process and the editorial leadership of the journals. In most cases, they would be much improved from the online version. Moreover, they would be selected for publication among the zillions of things available online, so the mere fact that they were chosen for publication by NCTM is a service to the membership, who could not get that combination of curating, editing, and review by randomly surfing the Web.

Changing this rule would require no extra staff or volunteers, and it would increase classroom teachers’ involvement with the journals. I see no downside.

-2- 

Zooming out from this particular instance: I have done a close reading of the Common Core State Standards for high school, and as I mentioned above, published my analysis online. I received a very positive response to that paper from an author of the CCSSM, an author of Principles to Action, a recipient of an NCTM Lifetime Achievement Award, an ex-editor of The Mathematics Teacher, a board member of COMAP, and many, many math teachers. The most common response from teachers is that they encouraged their colleagues to read my paper. Yet, it is impossible to present these ideas at the conferences of NCTM and its affiliates. I am not just talking about myself: there are very few articles in NCTM journals, and no talks about this most important topic at NCTM meetings. The only sessions about the Common Core are about how to implement it, never about its strengths and weaknesses.

This must change: NCTM’s official stance is that the standards should be regularly revised and updated. Should revisions and updates be the responsibility of a small number of PhD’s who wish to exclude feedback from the rest of the profession, particularly classroom teachers? It is high time that NCTM took leadership in a national and wide-ranging discussion of the CCSSM among its members.

Thank you for reading this far, and good luck in your new position!

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--Henri
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Henri Picciotto
"There is no one way."

My Math Education Site: http://www.mathedpage.org/
My Math Education Blog: http://blog.mathedpage.org/
My Math Education News: http://www.mathedpage.org/e-list.html

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I didn't expect a response, let alone a quick one, but Matt Larson replied within 24 hours. He said he forwarded my first suggestion to the appropriate committee. (Great!) For the second, he said there was no policy about avoiding conversation about the merits of the CCSSM, and gave as an example the fact that Zalman Usiskin once gave a talk on precisely that topic. (Moreover, I'm told Steve Leinwand, another superstar, sometimes mentions his concerns about the high school CCSSM in his talks. My own proposal for a session on this topic was rejected.)

In any case, my point stands. No one could credibly claim that NCTM is fulfilling its responsibility to lead a broad discussion of the pros and cons of the CCSSM. Quite the opposite: the Council is very vocal is supporting the positive aspects of the Common Core, and is mostly silent about the negative aspects. There are no panels or debates on this at conferences, and almost all the articles in the journals either do the obligatory genuflection towards the Standards, or ignore them.

Still, I'm encouraged by the fact that NCTM's President is giving more voice to the membership. Let's see where it takes us!

--Henri

(And here, once again, is the link to my analysis of the CCSSM for high school.)

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