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The Turbulent 1980s

Following "A Nation at Risk," Renewed Debate about Mathematics Education

Following the conclusion of the sustaining NSF grant to CUPM and publication of the Compendium of its work under that grant, CUPM continued as a standing committee of the MAA with one major part of its original portfolio split off into a separate standing committee: CTUM, the Committee on the Teaching of Undergraduate Mathematics. At the same time changing circumstances in school and college education created considerable ferment not least among school, college, and university mathematicians. To set the context for CUPM's subsequent work, we list here a representative sample of reports that greatly influenced this work. A few of these reports were published by MAA, most not; many benefited from extensive advice from members of MAA:


  • Overview and Analysis of School Mathematics Grades K-12. National Advisory Committee on Mathematical Education (NACOME), Shirley A. Hill, chairman. Washington, DC: Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, 1975. In the aftermath of controversial "new math" reforms of the previous two decades, this synthesis of practices, proposals and evidence of achievement was designed to clarify issues, to "identify the range of viable alternative practices," and to "evaluate information useful in choosing among alternatives."
  • Why the Professor Can't Teach: Mathematics and the Dilemma of University Education. Morris Kline. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1977. A flamboyant indictment of collegiate mathematics education that blames a wide variety of ills on over-emphasis on research at the expense of teaching. This sequel to Kline's 1973 Why Johnny Can't Add was highly controversial among university administrators and mathematicians but resonated with many policy leaders and the mathophobic public.


  • PRIME-80: Prospects in Mathematics Education in the 1980s. Mathematical Association of America, 1978. Proceedings of a leadership conference convened at a time when "the entire concept of post-secondary education was undergoing review" and "fantastically rapid changes in computer technology created unexpected effects in college-level mathematics." This twenty-year sequel to MAA's 1958 Washington Conference was designed "to assess the current state of collegiate mathematics and of the related mathematical needs of the nation." The first of its several recommendations urged "new efforts" to articulate the "essential mathematical skills" needed by every citizen.
  • College Mathematics: Suggestions on How to Teach It. Committee on the Teaching of Undergraduate Mathematics (CTUM). Mathematical Association of America, March, 1979. The first report of the new CTUM committee that was created to replace (and elevate) former CUPM panels.
  • Training Programs for Teaching Assistants in Mathematics. Committee on the Teaching of Undergraduate Mathematics (CTUM). Mathematical Association of America, 1979. A companion to CTUM's Suggestions report. A revised version was released in 1981.
  • The Role of Applications in the Undergraduate Mathematics Curriculum. Ad hoc Committee on Applied Mathematics Training, National Research Council, Peter Hilton, chairman. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1979. Suggestions for dealing with a "grave injustice" created by many university mathematics departments when they fail to provide the option of a "mathematics curriculum for the mathematically gifted youngster who plans a career in engineering, economics, epidemiology, or biology."


  • An Agenda for Action: Recommendations for School Mathematics of the 1980s. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1980. Brief exposition of eight recommendations responding to concerns that in recent responses to problems in school mathematics "a carefully reasoned sense of direction ... has been lacking." Focuses on problem solving, "stringent standards" for teaching, increased options for diverse student needs, and taking "full advantage" of calculators and computers.
  • The New Liberal Arts: An Exchange of Views. James D. Koerner, editor. New York, NY: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 1981. A reflection by Sloan program officer Stephen White on the implications for higher education of the new computer age ("crudely speaking, the computer is beginning to do for the mind of man what the engine did for the muscle of man") followed by a dozen responses.
  • Training Programs for Teaching Assistants in Mathematics, revised version. Committee on the Teaching of Undergraduate Mathematics (CTUM). Mathematical Association of America, 1981. Revision of a 1979 report.


  • A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. National Commission on Excellence in Education, David P. Gardner, chairman. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983. Famous government report warning that "a rising tide of mediocrity" in education means that the U.S. is "committing an act of unilateral educational disarmament." While stressing the importance of the "traditional" college-prep courses in high school mathematics, this report urged the development of "new, equally demanding mathematic curricula" for students "who do not plan to continue their formal education immediately."
  • New Goals for Mathematical Sciences Education. Washington, DC: The Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS), 1983. Report of a CBMS-sponsored conference convened "to set specific, realizable goals for improving mathematical sciences education at all levels." The conference "strongly and unanimously" recommended the establishment of a national Mathematical Sciences Education Board to "carry on all activities deemed appropriate."
  • Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need to Know and Be Able to Do. New York, NY: The College Board, 1983. Includes synopsis of mathematical competencies ("broad intellectual skills required in all fields of college study") as well as basic mathematical proficiencies required for college study.
  • Problem Solving in the Mathematics Curriculum: A Report, Recommendations, and an Annotated Bibliography. . Committee on the Teaching of Undergraduate Mathematics (CTUM). MAA Notes No. 1. Mathematical Association of America, 1983. "State of the art" on problem solving in the college curriculum citing available resources, and making recommendations on ways to teach it.


  • Renewing U.S.Mathematics: Critical Resource for the Future. Committee on Resources for the Mathematical Sciences, Edward E. David, chairman. National Academy Press, 1984. This influential "David Report" on the health of the mathematical sciences stressed the need for increased support at the graduate, post-doctoral, and research levels in order to sustain the rapidly growing mathematical demands of science & technology. A synopsis appeared as an editorial in Science, 224:4654 (15 June 1984) 1189.
  • High Schools and the Changing Workplace: The Employer's View. Panel on Secondary School Education for the Changing Workplace, Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, Richard E. Heckert, chairman. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1964. Focused on the 40 percent of high school graduates who enter the U.S. workforce rather than continuing to a four-year college, this influential report was one of the first to argue that such students "need virtually the same competencies as those who go on to college, but have less opportunity or time to acquire them."
  • Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential of American Higher Education. Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education. Washington, DC: National Institute of Education, October, 1984. Intended to "turn the spotlight on higher education, the level of the [education] system from which the other levels so often take their cues," this report argues for articulation and measurement of outcomes as a standard for excellence in higher education (in contrast with more common input measures and other proxies for excellence).
  • Integrity in the College Curriculum: A Report to the Academic Community. Project on Redefining the Meaning and Purpose of Baccalaureate Degrees. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges, February, 1985. Findings and recommendations in response to a perceived "decline and devaluation" of the bachelor's degree; stresses understanding of numerical data as part of the "minimum required curriculum."
  • Academic Preparation in Mathematics: Teaching for Transition From High School To College.. Jeremy Kilpatrick, editor. College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB), 1985. Written to provide "assistance to teachers who would like to help students enter college with the kind of preparation in mathematics they need to be successful.".


  • Undergraduate Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education, Vols. I, II. Task Committee on Undergraduate Science and Engineering Education. National Science Board, 1986. Policy recommendations for the National Science Foundation focused on strengthening undergraduate programs.
  • School Mathematics in the 1990s. Geoffrey Howson and Bryan Wilson. ICMI Study Series, v. 2. Cambridge University Press, 1986. Report synthesizing international views on the rapidly evolving impact of modern technology on the aims, content, and teaching of mathematics.
  • Mathematical Sciences: A Unifying and Dynamic Resource. Panel on Mathematical Sciences, Board on Mathematical Sciences. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1986. One in a series of "state of the art" reviews requested by the National Science Foundation to assess world trends, relative strengths, and competitiveness of the U.S. in rapidly evolving areas of science and technology.
  • The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing US. School Mathematics from an International Perspective. Curtis C. McKnight, et al. Champaign, IL:: Stipes Publishing Co., 1987. The U.S. National Report on the Second International Mathematics Study (SIMS).
  • Toward a Lean and Lively Calculus. Ronald Douglas, editor. MAA Notes No. 6. Mathematical Association of America, 1987. Proceedings of the 1986 conference on calculus reform held at Tulane University.


  • "Renewing U.S. Mathematics: An Agenda to Begin the Second Century." Edward E. David. Notices of Amer. Math. Soc., 35 (Oct. 1988) 1119-1123. Summary and extension of the author's 1984 Critical Resources report.
  • Calculus for a New Century: A Pump, Not a Filter. Lynn A. Steen, editor. MAA Notes No. 8. Mathematical Association of America, 1988. Proceedings of the 1987 Calculus Colloquium at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.