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NCTM Honors Pollak and Tunis with the Lifetime Achievement in Mathematics Education Award

Reston, Va., May 26, 2010 –The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recently presented Mathematics Education Trust (MET) Lifetime Achievement Awards for Distinguished Service to Mathematics Education to Henry O. Pollak and Harry B. Tunis. This award honors the giants of mathematics education—men and women who over a lifetime have contributed significantly to mathematics education through their leadership, teaching, and service at the national level. Since the award’s inception in 1994, MET has honored 39 individuals. The list reads like a “Who’s Who” of the mathematics education world.

Henry O. Pollak, Summit, New Jersey 

For roughly half a century, Henry Pollak has comfortably straddled the line between mathematician and mathematics educator. Pollak had a distinguished career as a member and then head of Mathematics and Statistics Research at Bell Laboratories, but it was when his love of mathematics spilled over into the world of education that he had the most impact on teachers of mathematics and their students.

“To have such a successful, highly accomplished applied mathematician interested in mathematics education has been a priceless gift to NCTM and our members,” one nominator wrote. “He is a star in applied mathematics … who loves nothing better than engaging teachers in ‘thinking’ mathematics.”

Many important landmarks in U.S. mathematics education in the last half of the 20th century bear Pollak’s imprint. Starting in the 1950s, he took an active role in revising the mathematical curriculum at every level and applying the mathematics taught in the classroom to practical problems. Pollak contributed to the development of a precalculus curriculum that introduced data analysis as a fundamental topic of study, and that innovation continues to shape precalculus mathematics today.

The list of positions of leadership that Pollak has held in influential organizations in mathematics education is too lengthy to include in full. He was the first president of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) who was not an academic, and while at the MAA he played a major role in the work of its Committee on Undergraduate Programs in Mathematics. During the 1980s, he also helped to define and run the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s Summer Mathematics Institutes, where a decision to focus on statistics in 1984 has had a lasting impact on statistics education in the United States. In addition, he served as chairman of both the School Mathematics Study Group and the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences. Moreover, no American has been more active in international efforts in education. His participation in dozens of international conferences included his chairmanship of the 1980 International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME) at Berkeley.

Pollak retired from a successor of Bell Laboratories in 1986 after a distinguished 35-year career, and the very next year, he began his second career as a visiting professor of mathematics education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is the author of more than 40 technical papers on analysis, function theory, probability theory, and mathematics education.

In 1993 Pollak received the Yueh-Gin Gung and Charles Y. Hu award for distinguished service to mathematics from the MAA—just one of many honors earned by a man whose fierce dedication to mathematics education puts him in truly elite company. As one nominator wrote, “Not since Felix Klein during the early decades of the 20th century and Hans Freudenthal in mid-century has a mathematician spoken so forcefully about educational priorities.”

Harry B. Tunis, Reston, Virginia 

Harry Tunis has for more than three decades been the steady hand on the tiller steering the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) publications department unswervingly toward excellence.

 “For most mathematics educators, NCTM’s publications represent the most visible aspect of the Council’s activities and services, and Harry Tunis may be the most invisible force behind them all,” wrote one nominator. Good humored and gentle, Tunis was always eager to let others take the credit.

In 1975 Tunis joined NCTM as managing editor of the Mathematics Teacher, the Council’s journal for high school teachers. He later added the duties of director of research services and managing editor of the elementary school journal, the Arithmetic Teacher. For 18 years, from 1989 until his retirement in 2007, Tunis served as the Council’s director of publications. Teaching first in private school and then public school and university, Tunis went on to teach mathematics to thousands of students through NCTM’s publications.

During his 32 years with the Council, Tunis consistently elevated NCTM’s reputation as a source of high-quality mathematics education publications. Under his stewardship many changes took place in the publications program. Tunis was one of the founders of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, and when the Arithmetic Teacher was retired, he smoothed the transition to Teaching Children Mathematics. He established the Council’s Web presence in the mid 1990s, and later steered NCTM into the realm of electronic publication with ON-Math and companion CDs for books, giving readers access to multi-format teaching resources. Under Tunis’s leadership, NCTM began co-publishing books with other education associations and educational publishers, expanding the Council’s inventory and influence. Print-on-demand books were added to NCTM’s catalog, and the review process for journal articles became completely electronic. Tunis oversaw the publication of NCTM’s cornerstone documents, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics and Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, and their spinoffs, the Addenda Series and the Navigations Series. At the end of his career, Tunis shepherded Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics: A Quest for Coherence through the publication process.

Tunis was admired as an arbiter and skillfully used his broad perspective on mathematics and teaching to guide projects to successful completion, motivating all involved to do their best. Nominations came from diverse constituencies within the Council, including NCTM presidents, board members, yearbook editors, and school journal panelists, but they were unanimous in mentioning Tunis’s dedication, integrity, and professionalism.

When Tunis retired in May 2007, he may have closed the book on his professional life, but he began a new chapter, one that includes such activities as international travel, courses in economics and history, and sampling the fare at new restaurants wherever his travels take him.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has 100,000 members and 230 Affiliates in the United States and Canada. It is the world’s largest organization dedicated to improving mathematics education from pre-K through grade 12. The Council recommends that math education for all students go beyond the basics to include higher levels of mathematics. The Council’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics provides guidelines for excellence in mathematics education. Its Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics, released in 2006, identifies the most important mathematical topics for each grade level. In 2009, NCTM released Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making which advocates practical changes to the high school mathematics curriculum to refocus learning on reasoning and sense making.

Contact: Gay Dillin, Communications Manager, (703) 620-9840 ext. 2189, gdillin@nctm.org 

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