What can mathematicians contribute to improving mathematics education? This question had many different answers during a panel discussion sponsored by the AMS Committee on Education. The panelists were Paula Gustafson from the Texas Education Agency, Laura McGiffert and Lynn Arthur Steen from Achieve, James Milgram of Stanford University, and Johnny Lott, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Milgram described some of his experiences as a mathematician wading into the turbulent waters of mathematics education reform in California. He was one of a small number mathematicians who in 1998 were called upon to refashion the mathematics framework for California schools. Milgram said that there were over 100 mathematical errors in the original framework; these were not small missteps or typos, but serious errors that pointed to a lack of understanding of the mathematical ideas. The new framework caused some controversy but seems to have brought about some improvements: Data that Milgram displayed showed a clear improvement in students' performance on certain standardized tests. Of course, one of the key issues in the "math wars" debates has been how such test results should be interpreted and whether entirely new assessment instruments are needed. This panel showed that, despite the acrimony of the "math wars," mathematicians and mathematics educators have been slowly finding ways to collaborate usefully.
--- Allyn Jackson, Deputy Editor of The Notices