NCTM and The Math Forum

  • NCTM and The Math Forum

    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 NCTM.

    Matt Larson
    NCTM President

    Robert Berry
    NCTM President-Elect

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    Julie Wright - 9/24/2017 2:29:27 PM

    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.)

    Tracy Zager - 9/24/2017 9:18:00 PM

    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.



    Robert Kaplinsky - 9/23/2017 3:48:27 PM

    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.

    Raymond Johnson - 9/23/2017 2:44:39 PM

    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.