About one week ago, and due out this week, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel has created a report that claims to have found the way to fix the math problems in the U.S.

The answer: “A laser-like focus on the essentials.”

It appears as if the recommendations include:

• mastery of arithmetic in the early grades and fractions in middle school
• teachers focusing on a smaller number of topics
• textbooks should be shortened to cover fewer math topics.

Mastery of arithmetic, according to the panel, means that students should be proficient with the addition and subtraction of whole numbers by the end of the third grade and with multiplication and division by the end of the fifth grade.

My questions include:

What does the panel mean by mastery? by proficient?

What do they mean by multiplication and division of whole numbers? Are they talking about dividing a three-digit divisor by a six-digit dividend?

With regards to fractions, I am assuming mixed numbers as well, but are they referring to benchmark fractions? fractions such as 17/33 and 62/87?

What about decimals and percents? And the relationships between the two and fractions?

I will be interested to hear more.

The second and third bullets are ideas that have been thrown around for some time now. If you are from New York and have some relationship to the teaching of mathematics, that sounds just like the Curriculum Focal Points. The Curriculum Focal Points were designed for pre-K through 8th grades. The C.F.P. are the most important topics at each grade level. They include the major concepts, skills, and procedures that will produce mathematically literate students.

Here is one of the Curriculum Focal Points from Grade 5:

Number and Operations and Algebra: Developing an understanding of and fluency with division of whole numbers.
Students apply their understanding of models for division, place value, properties, and the relationship of division to multiplication as they develop, discuss, and use efficient, accurate, and generalizable procedures to find quotients involving multidigit dividends. They select appropriate methods and apply them accurately to estimate quotients or calculate them mentally, depending on the context and numbers involved. They develop fluency with efficient procedures, including the standard algorithm, for dividing whole numbers, understand why the procedures work (on the basis of place value and properties of operations), and use them to solve problems. They consider the context in which a problem is situated to select the most useful form of the quotient for the solution, and they interpret it appropriately.”

As you can see, this is asking students to go well beyond being able to recite 12 divided by 4 equals 3 (which they must know anyway). Students must be able to apply the basics to different contexts and be able to reason why their answer is reasonable.

The third bullet is directly related to the second bullet, which for me means we need to take a long, hard look at the Curriculum Focal Points and how we implement whatever pilot program we are testing now. With testing just about over here in POB, we turn our attention to the Post-March topics and the pilot programs. As we move forward and get closer to choosing a program, we need to spend some time considering and discussing the points that have been suggested in the draft of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.