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A History of Mathematics Education

Anthony V. Piccolino, reviewer

A History of Mathematics Education in the United States and Canada, edited by Philip S. Jones. Thirty-second Yearbook.  National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1970 (second printing 2002).  ISBN 0-87353-535-9. List Price: $40.00; Members’ Price: $32.00. Stock #12551C6. Contact NCTM:  1-800-235-7566 or


The current reform movement in mathematics education dates back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when national (and state) standards were developed that address curriculum, teaching, and assessment in the schools. Many innovative standards-based curricula have emerged in response to the new standards and are now well-positioned in many schools throughout the nation. What are the origins of the current views about the teaching and learning of mathematics?  How did these ideas evolve into a full-scale reformation in mathematics education?  What other reform efforts in the past have impacted the teaching and learning of mathematics---and how do they differ from current efforts?

This fascinating story of the forces and issues that have shaped the growth of mathematics education in the United States and Canada is superbly recounted in an NCTM yearbook, A History of Mathematics Education in the United States and Canada. This 32nd Yearbook was originally published in 1970 and underwent a second printing in 2002. The yearbook is organized around several themes:  part one—a chronological recounting of reform efforts since the early nineteenth century; parts two and three---forces and issues related specifically to the curriculum, K-12; part four---the training of teachers of mathematics dating back to the first normal schools in the early nineteenth century; part five---the progression and growth of school mathematics in Canada over the past two centuries.

In addition to the well-documented historical accounts, the yearbook advances the notion that curriculum and pedagogical reform in mathematics education has had a long and rich history and that the seeds of many contemporary views about the teaching and learning of mathematics are rooted in reform movements of the latter nineteenth century.  For example, recommendations formulated by the Committee of Ten in 1894 served as a catalyst for subsequent twentieth-century endeavors to revise perceptions about how children learn mathematics. It is interesting to note how the thinking of our predecessors echoes much of our own contemporary thinking. For instance, a subcommittee of the Committee of Ten recommended quite emphatically that "rules should be derived inductively instead of being stated dogmatically."  There are numerous similar examples throughout the entire volume.

The yearbook is an excellent resource on the history of mathematics education and will be invaluable for all mathematics educators, especially for those educators who began their teaching careers in the standards-based era of recent years.

Anthony V. Piccolino, Associate Professor, Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ.



Anthony V. Piccolino, reviewer, "A History of Mathematics Education," Convergence (November 2004)