A Brief History of Mathematics Education and the NCTM Standards
One of the defining events in the history of mathematics education was the launching of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in 1957. This marked the start of the space age and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Concern that the United States was falling behind in the areas of math and science triggered major national reforms in these areas. These reforms brought about the “New Math” of the 1960s and 1970s. The emphasis of this New Math was on set language and properties, proof, and abstraction. However, the New Math curriculum failed to meet the challenge of increasing the nation’s mathematical prowess as a whole. Some would even say that the New Math created more math confusion than it eliminated, which brought about the trend of Back to Basics in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back to Basics emphasized arithmetic computation and rote memorization of algorithms and basic arithmetic facts.
The 1989 NCTM Standards
In the later 1980s the focus shifted to critical thinking. In 1989 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released a groundbreaking document, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. This publication, sometimes referred to as the “NCTM Standards,” stresses problem solving, communication, connections, and reasoning. The key assumptions underlying the 1989 NCTM curriculum standards for Grades K–4, listed below, are addressed throughout this textbook.
The 1989 NCTM Standards include 13 curriculum standards addressing both content and emphasis. One theme common to the NCTM Standards and to the recent changes in mathematics education is that “the study of mathematics should emphasize reasoning so that students can believe that mathematics makes sense” (NCTM, 1989, p. 29). Although not discussed here, this document also includes similar sets of assumptions and standards for Grades 5 through 8 and for Grades 9 through 12.
The 1989 NCTM Standards list five goals for students. Although these are goals stated for elementary students, it is especially important that teachers of elementary students have attained them.
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