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Reform Standards are (part of) the Solution, not the Problem

At both a national and state level, the Standards (the first the country or the state had had) were produced in response to a real, documented and acute need. Starting with the publication of “A Nation at Risk”, a report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education set up by President Reagan, it became steadily clearer that the form of mathematical education that has been the norm in American classrooms for a century or more no longer meets the country’s needs. This was apparent at many levels: the pipeline to research science was drying up, employers were not finding enough people capable of meeting the mathematical needs of the job market and more and more of the population at large was becoming math-phobic, and willing to shrug off mathematics as just something they couldn’t do.

The Underachieving Curriculum (full title: "The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. School Mathematics from an International Perspective. A National Report on the Second International Mathematics Study") made the following comment in 1987, two years before the NCTM standards were published: "Every weekday, 25 million children study mathematics in our nation's schools. Those at the younger end, some 15 million of them, will enter the adult world in the period 1995-2000. The 40 classroom minutes they spend on mathematics each day are largely devoted to mastery of the computational skills which would have been needed by a shop-keeper in the year 1940 -- skills needed by virtually no one today. Almost no time is spent on estimation, probability, interest, histograms, spreadsheets or real problem solving -- things which will be commonplace in most of these young people's later lives. While the 15 million of them sit there drilling away on those arithmetic or algebra exercises, their future options are bit-by-bit eroded."

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) decided to take on the challenge. They convened a large collection of the experts and the stakeholders: mathematicians, mathematics educators, school adminstrators, teachers, business leaders and more and spent a great deal of time delving into the needs and the possibilities. Ultimately this process produced, in 1989, the NCTM Standards. A decade later, with the situation already somewhat changed, and with possibilities for improvement evident, the NCTM released a second edition, this one known as the Principles and Standards. Washington’s Standards, known as the Essential Academic Learning Requirements, or EALRs, were inspired by the NCTM Standards and make use of many of their ideas.