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Agenda for Action: Public Support


Recommendation 8
Public Support for Mathematics Instruction Must Be Raised to a Level Commensurate with the Importance of Mathematical Understanding to Individuals and Society

Solutions to the problems identified in previous sections cannot be achieved solely within the education community but require active participation and support by parental and societal groups.

The mathematics teaching profession recognizes and respects the right of parents and society to hold it accountable for the mathematical competence of children. However, in calling for particular programs of action, parents and society often mistakenly promote activities that are counterproductive to the realization of the goals they support. Communication and cooperation must bridge this gap.

The rededication of teachers called for in Recommendation 7 will be meaningless or impossible if society is not committed to supporting the professionalism it rightfully demands. Today, teachers' financial incentives are neither commensurate with the responsibilities they carry nor adequate to attract and retain them in a demanding, crucial, and sometimes burdensome profession. Few school systems have truly adequate supervisory and material support for the teacher in the maintenance and improvement of the instructional environment. More and more, teachers feel the lack of parental understanding of the complexity of their task and the lack of parental cooperation and support in their efforts to instruct children. Furthermore, governmental support for improving the quality of mathematics teaching has dwindled.

Essential to the success of the program outlined in these recommendations are (1) the willingness or government and private funding agencies to listen and respond more sensitively to the professionals in elementary and secondary mathematics education, and (2) the reestablishment by such agencies of institutes and other programs for the continuing education and upgrading of teachers.

At present, there are too many unnecessary obstacles to the effective functioning of teacher and student in a true teaching/learning interaction. These include more and more time required for unproductive record keeping; many unmotivated, undisciplined students; a lack of parental support; ambivalence and vacillation in government regulations; shifting societal priorities; the lack of home and school agreement on out-of-school study assignments.

There are also obstacles faced by school administrators and by the policy­making bodies, the school boards, whose ultimate responsibility is the effectiveness of the school district. It is recognized that in many instances confusions of legalisms and court decisions impose constraints on the ability of these people to accomplish what they agree should be done. Society today is troubled with many complexities. All institutions are threatened. These obstacles should not be an excuse for inaction; rather, in the light of pressing student needs it is imperative that they be surmounted.

All these things make the ideal professional role of the teacher almost impossible; they make it difficult to attract and retain teachers of a level of competence necessary to realize the outlined program. The immediate loser is the individual student, who is excluded from full participation in, and contribution to, society. The ultimate loser is society itself.

The public and its representatives need to confront a serious problem that is increasing in magnitude. There are not enough qualified mathematics teachers to fill mathematics classroom positions. Present enrollments in teacher preparation programs guarantee that the shortage will increase. Mathematics is of critical importance and should be taught by those well qualified and knowledgeable. Such knowledge is not gained in a crash program of short duration. Parents concerned for their children's future and society concerned for its own future should immediately find extraordinary measures to solve this problem.

The professional community and society share a common goal: to bring all citizens to the full realization of their mathematical capacity. This is a complex and delicate task, and it requires the commitment and cooperation of all segments of society, not just the school, parents, and teachers.

Recommended Actions  

8.1  Society must provide the incentives that will attract and retain competent, fully prepared, qualified mathematics teachers. 

  • School districts must provide compensation commensurate with the professionalism and qualifications necessary to achieve our educational goals in mathematics.
  • School districts should investigate a variety of incentives and conditions that will stop the drain of qualified mathematics teachers to other, more highly compensated fields of work.
  • School districts should assure mathematics teachers a classroom environment and conditions conducive to effective teaching, including a reasonable class size.
  • School districts should provide teaching conditions and incentives that will attract dedicated and competent people into the mathematics teaching profession.

8.2  Parents, teachers, and school administrations must establish new and higher standards of cooperation and teamwork toward the common goal of educating each student to his or her highest potential. 

  • Professionals must respond to calls for maintaining educational standards and must work cooperatively with parents to specify these standards.
  • Parents must support the maintenance of agreed on standards of achievement and discipline.
  • Programs in mathematics that take full advantage of home and school cooperation should be systematically developed.
  • Parents should enter the process of determining educational goals as partners, with shared participation and responsibility for the accomplishment of those goals.
  • Parents should support the teacher’s assignment of homework when it is reasonable and clearly related to the educational objectives.
  • Parents should help guide students to an understanding of their critical need to learn mathematics.
  • Parents should help students understand that they have the ultimate responsibility for their own learning and must be active and cooperative participants in the process.
  • Parents and teachers should cooperate in a mutually supportive attack on the erosion of respect for authority in the classroom.
  • Parents and teachers should cooperate in a mutually supportive attack on the erosion of motivation toward academic achievement.

8.3  Government at all levels should operate to facilitate, not dictate, the attainment of goals agreed on cooperatively by the public's representatives and the professionals. 

  • Government funding agencies should support an emphasis on research and development in applying mathematics to problem solving.
  • Teachers should have advisory roles in all decisions of policy and support.
  • When legislation affecting education is required, it should be entered into with caution and only after the involvement of educational professionals in formulating and reviewing the mathematical and pedagogical aspects of such legislation.
  • Legislation concerning accountability should take into account the multiple factors that determine school achievement.
  • Legislators should avoid tendencies to mandate testing as the sole criterion for the evaluation of educational success.
  • Mandates for the achievement of minimal competencies should not limit the school mathematics program in its broader range of essential goals.
  • Legislation should not determine educational goals but when necessary should facilitate the achievement of cooperatively agreed on objectives.
  • Dual respect and effective articulation must become commonplace between the civic leaders who appropriately call for educational accountability and the educational professionals who must formulate responses.

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