I appreciate the interest in the issue of mathematics education, and helping students be prepared for math in college, indicated by the recent article ("College remedial math courses still needed," Dec. 17). I think it might be helpful to add a few details. (I should make it clear that while I was quoted in the article I am not in any way a spokesman for others on this issue.)
(a) The recommendation that the development and evaluation of curricula involve professional scientific oversight is not mine, but comes from the National Mathematics Assessment Panel report. This panel was remarkable for its breadth of perspective. It was a group with representatives across the spectrum with experience and expertise in different facets of the issue, including those directly in contact with K-12 students (teachers, principals), Board of Education members, professors of education (including those specializing in math education), math professors and psychologists who study how children learn and how to assess that. Their report is available on the Department of Education's Web site , and I urge everyone who is interested in math education to look at it.
(b) While there are very real problems, it is important to recognize that everyone concerned is trying to make the system better. Teachers work very hard, and many of them achieve remarkable results; school systems do their best to help. Parents and students spend a great deal of time and energy on this. The question is how to use all of that effort and good will.
(c) A main point of the letter that math faculty wrote was that it would be good to have very clear and specific standards for what students should know and be able to use. There ought not to be any surprises about what students need when they get to college — and, math being cumulative, that has implications for the K-12 curriculum.
(d) While Columbia is a town with a lot of university input into the local K-12 system, we need to remember that many students come from smaller and less well-off communities. Parents, students, teachers and school boards in those communities want their students to have as many opportunities for success as anyone else. If we can give clear guidelines for what the students should know in order to be prepared, these communities can figure out how to best achieve this for their students.
Adam Helfer is a math professor at MU.