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What We Stand For


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

Six important points to know about the vision of mathematics education set forth in NCTM's Standards documents.

Much has been written and continues to be written about the "NCTM positions" in mathematics education. NCTM's most compelling vision statements appear in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Principles and Standards builds on, and extends the message of, three earlier Standards documents. In addition, it offers guidance for strategies for teaching and assessing students. NCTM's Standards documents were written to help states, schools, and teachers with their school mathematics programs. These documents have been praised around the world and have provided guidance to other countries examining their own mathematics programs. NCTM's Standards have been used by people near and far because they have been publicly released to a worldwide audience. (All four documents are available free of charge online at Few documents of this type are available from other organizations or are so easily accessible. Because NCTM has made the Standards documents available to all, they can be studied and scrutinized by all and are open to interpretation by all.

Here are six important points that may help you understand the vision of mathematics education set forth by NCTM in its Standards documents.

  • NCTM believes that all students deserve quality mathematics every year of their school careers.

    For NCTM, mathematics is not an elite subject to be learned by only a few. All students should be given opportunities to study mathematics and the support needed to learn. This means that every child needs access each year to a coherent, challenging curriculum that is taught by a competent and well-supported mathematics teacher. No child will be left behind if the access and good teachers are granted.

  • NCTM encourages students to learn the "basics."

    Throughout the Standards, NCTM addresses the importance of the "basics" and how to teach them. NCTM's 1989 Curriculum and Evaluation Standards addressed mathematics topics that deserved decreased attention and those that deserved increased attention. Critics of NCTM raised a hue and cry about the topics deserving decreased attention. But this volume set an example for thinking about how mathematics curricula can be slimmed down. The slimming down is now being called for in reports resulting from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and in the recent memorandum of understanding signed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Singapore Ministry of Education. (The two countries agreed to share and compare their mathematics and science curricula to find ways to raise student achievement in those subjects.)

  • NCTM encourages the use of appropriate technology in
    mathematics classrooms.

    NCTM considered much research from the field that showed students can learn and are learning more mathematics and problem solving with technology than in the past. Test scores show evidence of this and also show that no computational ability is lost in the process of integrating technology into teaching. Critics have interpreted the use of technology to mean an abandonment of the use of pencil-and-paper, mental, and other computational strategies. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  • NCTM recognizes problem solving as a fundamental goal
    of learning mathematics.

    NCTM is not alone in recognizing problem solving as a primary goal of mathematics. Many mathematicians and scientists have written in support of this goal. The criticism that the concentration on problem solving has caused students to lose the ability to compute is simply baseless.

  • NCTM promotes teaching with understanding.

    There is no "right way" to teach, but effective mathematics teaching requires continuous efforts by teachers to learn and to improve themselves. They must be knowledgeable in mathematics, be able to select suitable curricular materials, and use appropriate instructional tools and techniques to support mathematics learning in their classrooms.

  • NCTM supports its Standards and users of those Standards.

    NCTM is in the midst of producing the Navigations series, which will include more than 30 books that illustrate content and teaching based on the Standards. Our professional development Institutes promote the use of the Standards. Four NCTM print journals and one electronic journal support the Standards. Our conferences promote the use of the Standards, and our Web site at provides free materials, lessons, and technology to support the Standards.

Just as our Standards are open to all, so is NCTM. We invite your membership, participation, and input.

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