NCTM and The Math Forum
In 2015 the NCTM Board of
Directors decided to acquire The Math Forum after it was approached by Math
Forum staff and informed that its relationship with Drexel University would be severed.
The Board recognized the potential of The Math Forum and hoped that bringing
the two together would translate into increased NCTM membership and an
expansion of a vibrant community. Unfortunately, NCTM membership has continued
to decline, and now in the third year after the merger, we can no longer
justify two locations and an expense that far exceeds the
revenue it generates.
As stated in this President’s
Message, NCTM has had an annual average operating loss of approximately
$1.5 million for the past 10 years. Last year’s fiscal loss was more than twice
that annual average. Earnings from invested reserves have allowed the Council
to engage in the practice of deficit spending. Simply put, the Council cannot
continue the practice of operating at a budget loss. The NCTM Board of
Directors and its Executive Director have had to make a number of very
difficult decisions to reverse the practice of deficit spending. These
decisions, and more to follow, will affect programs and people with whom many
different members have special relationships. However, the Board of Directors’
primary responsibility is fiduciary and to the future of the organization.
At its July meeting, the
NCTM Board of Directors decided that effective January 1, 2018, in order to
create synergies on staff and among volunteers and reduce expenses, that all full-time NCTM employees would be located in the Reston, Virginia office. The decision
to consolidate all NCTM staff in Reston was not purely a financial one, but was
made for other business reasons as well, including the potential positive energy
The Math Forum staff could have brought to the focused work of the departments
at NCTM headquarters in Reston. Math Forum staff elected not to continue their
employment with NCTM. The Board of Directors is very disappointed in this
outcome, but NCTM is pleased to have been able to extend the Math Forum’s
existence after Drexel ended their relationship with The Math Forum. We thank
each and every member of the Math Forum for their commitment to mathematics
education and hope each of them reconsiders their decision to leave NCTM.
As a professional
organization focused on mathematics teaching and learning, NCTM not only
provides products and services to its members but also engages in political
action and advocacy for its membership. Recently, the Board made a conscious decision
to become more active in speaking out on public
and political issues
that impact the work of mathematics teachers and their students in the classroom.
NCTM is led by an all-volunteer
Board of Directors. The Board conducts the business of the Council while
working in their respective jobs. The Board is always looking for more members
to volunteer for committees, task forces, and to consider running for the Board
of Directors – any NCTM member can self-nominate him or herself to run for the
Board of Directors. The volunteer
contributions of our members are what drive the Council, which ultimately is
only as good as the constructive engagement and contributions of its
volunteers. Additionally, NCTM holds an
open business meeting at each Annual Meeting where the financial standing of
the organization is presented and members can ask questions of the Board. The
Board invites more members to attend the business meeting. We appreciate the
passion The Math Forum discussion has generated among some of NCTM’s members
and look forward to that passion being leveraged to grow, support, and improve
Matt LarsonNCTM President
Robert BerryNCTM President-Elect
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In my 25 years of teaching, I learned more from the Math Forum than any other professional development that was ever offered to me. I took several of their online courses, subscribed to their Problems of the Week and was very fortunate to take part in their 2008 Summer Institute. There I met Steve, Annie, and Max. I had previously met Suzanne at a Palm Springs CMC conference. After the Summer Institute, I went on to co-present at several NCTM and CMC conferences.
I am truly saddened that you would let the Math Forum dissolve because of the issues mentioned above. You are allowing some of the most creative educators slip though your fingers. I am a retired teacher. Quite frankly, if I had to choose between an NCTM membership or a Math Forum membership, I would hands down choose the Math Forum.
"Unfortunately, NCTM membership has continued to decline"
Far from unfortunate, this membership decline is long overdue. Mathematics avoidance in the name of Constructivism (whether the word is used or not) has been the direction of the organization since well before its first so-called Standards (with no mathematics standards presented) in 1989. I first joined as an undergraduate mathematics major and the focus was very much on mathematics and its communication. I held on for decades but finally gave up membership as the organization more and more represented the antithesis of that. Not the Forum, it is the NCTM itself that deserves to die or completely refocus its direction with mathematics in mind instead of membership and misguided pedagogy.
Prof. of Mathematics, EmeritusCalifornia State University, LA
For an organization with such a large average annual operating loss as well as a declining membership — in addition to flagship conferences that appear to be losing money and cannibalizing each other as they proliferate — I find it just baffling that NCTM would kill off The Math Forum, which has proven itself to be the single most effective program for increasing awareness, consideration, membership in, and loyalty to NCTM.
I find it doubly baffling that NCTM would also be adding new conferences at a time when its regional and annual conference programs are already cannibalizing each other.
As many of us who have come back to teaching from the business world can attest, the operating costs of a small, scrappy program such as The Math Forum are dwarfed by the costs involved in launching, managing, and maintaining new conferences, brands, and line extensions.
I really appreciate your mentioning the existence of the open business meeting at the annual conference, because as an NCTM member, I would really like answers to a number of questions about all of this. As you note, NCTM is run by an all-volunteer board, and I imagine that it would be healthy for these practices to be discussed and analyzed in a public setting.
All views expressed here are my own and do not represent anyone else not explicitly named.
Elizabeth Statmore, Ph.D.
Thank you for posting a statement explaining the Board's reasoning.
I can understand the need to eliminate the deficit and also understand that the Math Forum could be a major expense. If you had said it was necessary to cut off the Math Forum completely because salary and benefit costs were too high, I would have been very sad but probably would accept your reasoning.
What does NOT make sense to me is the move-to-Reston ultimatum. Yes, I can see why the Board wanted to have the Math Forum people in Reston with their "positive energy," but surely it wouldn't have saved that much money if you still paid their salaries and benefits, and you could save the same amount of money by eliminating rent in Pennsylvania (if any) and having them work online. Was that even offered as an option? Because this way you certainly won't have their positive energy in Reston, or anywhere else.
I believe the fundamental misunderstanding behind this decision is that the Board seemed to think of the Math Forum as a name and set of services rather than as people: people who have built irreplaceable professional relationships with each other and with NCTM members and other math educators; people who have built up education and communication skills that are uniquely valuable; and people who have built lives in Pennsylvania that are not easy to uproot, especially for what frankly looks like an insecure future. To those of us who love the Math Forum, it IS Steve, Suzanne, Annie, Max, Tracey, and Richard, whether we have met them in person or not.
I hope the Board will reconsider and find a way to keep the Math Forum people even if you need to eliminate rent expenses in Pennsylvania.
As for building membership:
I am someone who always wanted to be an NCTM member, but only joined once I reached full-time pay, because as a new teacher on half-time pay with an insecure job during the recession, $84 (or whatever it was then) was unthinkably high. Arguments like "but you pay more than that for your daily Starbucks drink" were incredibly insulting to me when I was going into debt to cover family health insurance and wishing I had never entered the teaching profession (and certainly not going to Starbucks).
Since that time, I have advocated for a membership tier for new or part-time math teachers (perhaps including elementary as "part-time math," since they may wish to join several organizations). I hear rumors it's in the works but it hasn't happened yet. I do appreciate efforts like the Back to School special.
I also wonder about the state of professional development funds and whether they are less available to teachers for NCTM membership than they used to be. (I don't understand why, but my district won't let us spend our funds on memberships unless they are built into conference attendance.) I hope NCTM is lobbying all school districts to fund teacher professional development by attendance at NCTM conferences and NCTM membership. (If not, why not? Send THEM the glossy colored mailings.)
This is a great comment, Julie. I agree that the move-to-Reston argument is unconvincing. My understanding is that the Math Forum people made it clear they were staying in PA when NCTM took them on. It was part of the agreement.
I also understand that there are many more issues than geography here. That if the Math Forum people did agree to stay, they would still be divided up across departments and cease to be an entity. That the Math Forum content and services are supposed to fade from the website. So, no, it's definitely not just about Reston.
I'm also struck by this "third year" comment, which doesn't feel at all fair. The amount of time between when the Math Forum people could legally work at NCTM and the board's movement to disband them was a lot less than that.
I know the Board faces many tough choices because of our financial situation. I don't envy them. But I am quite upset about how this has all been handled, from decision making to the lack of transparency to the way NCTM keeps laying the responsibility at the Math Forum's feet. NCTM's financial woes didn't start in 2015/16.
I'm worried that many people will be alienated from NCTM by this move, and it will spark further membership declines.
There has to be a better way.
Emotions are running hot after the announcement about The Math Forum and NCTM. Clearly this is disappointing, but it’s always worth seeing it from the perspective of all parties.
Imagine being an NCTM board member. You’re an unpaid volunteer who gives up so much time and you have a critical decision to make: eliminate a multi-million dollar annual deficit or face the reality that NCTM may cease to exist. Who would want to make that choice?
I’m on the Twitter Math Camp Board of Directors and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that it’s really hard to please everyone. NCTM isn’t a heartless organization. It’s run by fellow math educators who get more than their share of blame in the down times and rarely enough credit when things are going well.
The Math Forum
Everyone loves Steve, Suzanne, Annie, and Max. They are so kind and have selflessly given to math educators everywhere for years. I personally consider them to be my friends. I’m sure they were also given a challenging decision to make: relocate or move on. That’s a horrible choice to have.
I’ve been laid off three times as a computer programmer during the dot com bust prior to being an educator. I shed a lot of tears at the thought of an uncertain future and I can empathize with The Math Forum staff. I’m really sad about it.
It needs to be clear that there are no winners from this decision. While it’s natural to feel betrayed, I look back and realize that all three companies that let me go had such desperate positions that they no longer exist. I’m certain that I don’t have all the information about this decision, but that is even more reason for me not to judge others when I likely would not have been able to do a better job.
Matt and Robert: I appreciate that you responded quickly with this statement, especially when I'm pretty sure a Saturday release was not what you had in mind. Unfortunately, I think some rumors got out of control and people's feelings about the matter were being shaped by some one-sided information. That said, I think Stephen Weimar's conduct on Twitter has been very professional, and his comments, combined with what I learned at last April's business meeting, and previous conversations with people at The Math Forum, helped make sense of the difficult situation both NCTM and The Math Forum are in. I just hope other members -- and potential members -- take time to understand and contribute to the leadership of NCTM by staying involved and informed.