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NCTM: Producing PEZ Dispensers or Bobbleheads?

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by Johnny W. Lott, NCTM President 2002-2004
NCTM News Bulletin, November 2003

In July, NCTM's Board of Directors received the results of a survey commissioned to determine how NCTM is perceived by those with whom we interact or should interact, including the news media, legislators and legislative staff, and other associations or third-party influencers, as well as NCTM members. The total number surveyed was approximately 600 with people randomly chosen where appropriate. A brief summary of the results of the survey follows:

Good News

  • 67 percent of other associations and third-party influencers reported that they had a high awareness of NCTM.
  • 42 percent of the lawmakers surveyed said that if they receive information from NCTM, it is helpful.
  • 88 percent of NCTM members said that issue advocacy is essential for mathematics educators.
  • 71 percent of news media respondents said that NCTM enjoys the same credibility, or higher credibility, than peer organizations.

Challenges

  • 57 percent of those surveyed in the legislative and policy arena had low or no awareness of NCTM.
  • 55 percent of respondents in the news media had low or no awareness of NCTM.
  • 89 percent of participants in legislative and policy arenas said that NCTM was either somewhat effective or not effective in communicating its agenda and perspectives.
  • 72 percent of NCTM members surveyed had low or no awareness of NCTM's positions on important legislative and regulatory issues.

Opportunities

  • 65 percent of NCTM members surveyed said that they rely on communications from NCTM to understand important issues and positions.
  • 79 percent of news media respondents were not aware of the value of NCTM in guiding policy.
  • 70 percent of participating policymakers were not aware of NCTM's Standards documents and how they guide policy and legislation.

With these findings, the Council has a reason to smile and a reason to begin work anew in the areas of political advocacy and public perception. First, as an organization, we are not perceived in a bad way. Second, as an organization, we must raise awareness on all levels.

How are we to do that?

Making PEZ Dispensers

In some sense, the Council must become more like the producers of PEZ dispensers. For those of you who do not know, PEZ Candy, Inc., is famous for its candy dispensers that are made in the form of cartoon characters and popular figures and that appeal to a range of audiences. NCTM needs to share information about our organization, our Affiliates, and Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Like PEZ Candy, Inc., we should tailor this information and dispense it in a variety of packages that will be relevant and interesting to our members, the news media, legislators, other associations, third-party influencers, and so on.

Be More than a Bobblehead

Sports-figure bobbleheads are the rage of the moment. They bob their spring-mounted heads up and down when nudged. If the Council is not able to provide the information needed by the media and legislators and is unable to define a clear Council position on issues, then we are simply bobbleheads, moving when nudged. To become more than a bobblehead and to see more heads bobbing in agreement with us, we must work harder to promote awareness and understanding of our organization, Affiliates, and Principles and Standards. We must engage in more meaningful dialogue and engage the public more actively to gain more support for the reform efforts of mathematics educators across the United States and Canada.

The Council's initial steps in this direction include the following:

  • Forming a subcommittee to write a mathematics education platform that we must promote for the next year and in the next legislative sessions
  • Piloting a dialogue in the form of an online chat to address a topic covered in the President's Messages of the NCTM News Bulletin. The first session of this chat occured on August 28 and it will continue as piloted in coming months. In the future, this form of dialogue may be expanded to address other issues and answer questions.
  • Presenting legislative assistant and legislative director training camps for education staffers on Capitol Hill
  • We will determine ways to make legislators aware of good mathematics teachers so that they know them by name
  • Developing or expanding handbooks and media toolkits for field use with the news media and legislators
  • Determining how to make NCTM the data resource for mathematics education
  • Building on relationships with other organizations that have interests similar to ours.

Conclusion

NCTM must do both—distribute information and promote efforts to move mathematics education further into the public eye in the future and best serve its members.


Please join Johnny Lott on November 17, 2003, when he hosts an online
chat on this topic. The start time and other information on the Councl's advocacy efforts will be announced on www.nctm.org/chat.htm.

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