NCTM and the Math Forum

(This post might read like inside baseball for those who aren’t interested in our math education professional associations in the US. If that’s not your jam, feel free to skip this one.)

The news has broken that NCTM is planning to dissolve its partnership with the Math Forum, effectively dissolving the Math Forum, which has been an incredible leader in math education since 1992. As was entirely predictable, the math internet is freaking out at this news, for all the right reasons. I’m afraid this blowback is probably catching NCTM by surprise: it will be a much bigger deal to us than they probably anticipated. I wanted to take a stab at articulating why.

My first annual NCTM was in New Orleans, in 2014. One of my more searing memories was a dinner with a bunch of #MTBoS folks (MathTwitterBlogoSphere–a collection of math educators who share their work and support others online). At that dinner, there was serious angst and even some rage about NCTM. The general sentiment was, Why do I need NCTM when I get everything I need from you all?

Being a member of NCTM is expensive. There are significant annual dues: $124 if you want the journal. And then attending the conference costs thousands of dollars. This coming year, in DC, the conference block rooms start at $289 and go well into the mid $300s, without fees. Registration is $445. And then there’s airfare, meals, etc. Teachers are usually not funded to go to conferences, and some I know have to pay for their sub coverage to miss school (this is insane) and pay out-of-pocket for the conference.

At dinner, teachers wondered aloud about what they get for all that money. An annual conference and a journal was consensus. They didn’t feel much support the rest of the year, via affiliates. They didn’t see evidence of advocacy on the national stage (not saying it wasn’t happening; just that people didn’t see it). And, most of all, they saw zero interest or involvement from NCTM in the thriving online math community, the MTBoS, which was the best source of PD they knew.

There were interesting discussions. I learned the average age of an NCTM member was 55. The average age of people around that table was lower, probably early- to mid-40s. They were also passionate and exciting and innovative team players. They made amazing resources for each other and shared them freely. I remember thinking clearly If NCTM is irrelevant to these people, NCTM is going to die. 

I wasn’t the only one with that thought. There was a lot of talk about what would happen. What obligations do current teachers have to support their national professional association? NCTM had been a leader in Math education for decades, and there’s gratitude for that work, and a desire to pay it forward. One option was to get very involved in NCTM and try to help it grow toward something more relevant for teachers, so membership would begin to rise again.

But did NCTM want that involvement? Or would they roll their eyes at the “kids” and their twitter and do everything they way it had always been done? In New Orleans, that felt like an open question to me. I’m sure I missed loads of nuance, but that was my impression. It was tense.

In 2015, two very big things happened that made that tension dissipate and dissappear. The first was the announcement at Twitter Math Camp that NCTM and the Math Forum were merging. The optics of this announcement mattered. It was at Twitter Math Camp–the conference the MTBoS created to meet their needs.

I can’t speak for everyone in that room or following along online, but for me, this announcement was enormous. At that point, I knew four of the Math Forum people–Max, Annie, Suzanne, and Steve–and admired them so much in every possible way. NCTM’s decision to merge with the Math Forum showed that NCTM was moving toward the future, bringing on people with expertise and relationships in the online world, and recognizing and picking up talent. It was huge. It brought them credibility.

The second thing that happened in 2015 was Nashville. NCTM intentionally invited MTBoS participation on a conference committee, and wow did that make a difference. Robert Kaplinsky shared about his experience online. The keynote was an invitation to join the MTBoS. There was a tweet-up afterward, and Diane Briar came. I remember some of the very same people who were upset in New Orleans saying, “I feel none of that tension now.” We were all excited to see these worlds coming together. To see NCTM becoming more inclusive and inviting and forward-leaning. To see no choice necessary. It felt like our professional association had recognized what we needed, and adapted and evolved. The future looked bright.

Since then, there’s been Math Forum and MTBoS representation on every committee. NCTM offered to host game night, supported ShadowCon, and tweets much more actively. It took a year for the legal teams to allow the Math Forum to work at NCTM, but as soon as they could, they made great and visible changes to NCTM. As just one example, The Math Forum made NCTM Central a thriving part of conferences, drawing many of us into the exhibit hall throughout the conference. We’ve made so much progress.

But now, NCTM is ending it’s partnership with the Math Forum and dissolving its resources and contributions. Institutions like Problem of the Week (POW) and Ask Dr. Math will be lost, which impact tens of thousands of students annually. NCTM owns the brand The Math Forum, and it’s making it go away.

Like many others, I am crushed and angry and worried. First, the people at the Math Forum are some of the most gracious, smart, professional people I know. I mean, I love these people. I am so grateful for all their work, from bringing us together and raising new voices at ignites to the positive, productive attitude they’ve brought to every conference and committee. I can’t believe NCTM is disbanding them. My first concern is for Max, Annie, Suzanne, Steve, Richard, and Tracey.

My second concern is for the future of NCTM. This move threatens all the hard work and relationship-building they’ve been doing. Over the past few years, they’ve built a lot of loyalty among the MTBoS. I have been excited for the future, knowing the Math Forum people are there and working behind the scenes. Now, I honestly don’t know what the future holds.

This move is so damaging. Damaging to trust, relationships, credibility.

It’s not too late to repair, though. I hope beyond hope that the NCTM board will reconsider this decision and repair these relationships. This is a moment to determine the future.

I think Graham summed it up perfectly:

 

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26 thoughts on “NCTM and the Math Forum

  1. Thank you Tracy for bringing this very concerning issue to the forefront. I certainly agree entirely with your comments. Can you suggest what we, the “general NCTM public” can do to avoid this break-up?
    Should we start a campaign to NCTM? How might we do this? Write to the President of NCTM? Or has someone already started a Twitter campaign/petition against the breakup?

      1. Never underestimate the ability of NCTM to utteryscrew the pooch. Twenty-one years after first joining and several since letting my membership lapse over NCTM’s clueless blanket endorsement of Common Core, I see it as a suicidal group (at the top) that rarely hears or heeds what the rank-and-file is saying. MTBoS is far more relevant and useful.

  2. Very disturbing.

    When I became a math teacher in 2006, I was told that to be up on things, you needed to become an NCTM member. I did, and have remained one.

    I have enjoyed and used (maybe not to its fullest) the Math Forum. It’s a great place to find tasks and challenges at all levels.

    The Math Forum was hosted/sponsored probably underwritten by Drexel University. Many thanks Drexel! Could there be a way for Drexel or another organization — hint-hint: the Simons Foundation (www.simonsfoundation.org), which underwrites a bunch of math programs — to be approached to throw a financial/technical life-line, or to have it adopted by its Math For America fellows?

    I’m not MfA, didn’t graduate from Drexel, but am more than happy to work to help brainstorm or lobby if there’s need for my support. (I’m just a lil’ ol’ middle school teacher from Brooklyn, who has done some grass-roots work.)

    And while I’m headed toward a rant, why can’t we math teachers get our act together? I love the wealth of creative if not sometimes ingenious materials my colleagues share in the MTBoS, when I find them. It’s without doubt that many of the independent (and some less independent) math bloggers have amazing resources. The question is always, who has what? It’s not catalogued, indexed or otherwise ordered for easy access? And why are so few math teachers I know unaware of the existence of resources like 3 Act Math?

    So, how do we get our shtuff together? Leaving it to NCTM, as you clearly laid out, is not the path.

    Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention!

    F.

    1. Well, my attempt to reply in general got all kinds of warning error messages. I’ll try again… THanks for this! I teach math a lot, most days — but I’m not a math teacher…. I’m staff at a community college in a walk-in tutoring lab.
      #MTBOS has been such an incredible resource.
      NCTM? It’s awesome!! Well, I think it is, from what the cool people in it say, except there are so many paywalls and yes, it’s wicked expensive to join and participate. I’m at least in higher ed where we have *some* travel budgets some years (it’s Illinois). When I was a K-12 teacher? No way, period.
      I didn’t know NCTM was hurting but it could be that it’s like the newspaper industry.

      And… sharing? INdexing and organizing? http://www.oercommons.org

  3. Thanks for writing this, Tracy.

    Annie F told me about this at math-on-a-stick this year and I was pretty startled, but didn’t have all this background information. I’m new enough to the profession (started teaching in 2012, and really only with the MTBoS the last 2+ years) that I don’t recall the Math Forum not at NCTM.

    I’ve been struggling to decide my affiliation to NCTM over the summer and asked around for guidance at TMC. Peg Cagle took me up on it, and made some excellent points – specifically about the national advocacy they do. I also really appreciated Matt Larson’s statement after Charlottesville. I had planned to renew my membership as a result, but this now has me thinking again. I need to spend more time (I have tons of it, being a full time classroom teacher, after all) learning about all of this.

  4. “NCTM is ending its partnership with the Math Forum and dissolving its resources and contributions.”

    Is this an accurate description of what’s going on? I tried to keep up with the news yesterday and what I’ve pieced together is that (a) facing serious budget troubles ($15 million in losses over 10 years), NCTM has laid off numerous staff at headquarters and is trying to consolidate roles and responsibilities in Reston, (b) The Math Forum staff were asked to be part of that consolidation and move to Reston to work from headquarters, and (c) The Math Forum staff doesn’t want to make that move. (And I don’t blame them.) I haven’t heard an NCTM take on this, but I was assuming that they’d like to see the resources and contributions of The Math Forum continue, with some of those things as member-only benefits in a way that brings some financial stability to those efforts.

    1. Raymond, sorry for the delay. Was at Sam’s college reunion this weekend.

      I’m not sure what’s public and what’s not, but what I keep being told is, even if they move to Reston, the staff will be split up and put in several different departments. The MF logo and content will fade from view on the website. The MF as we know it will cease to exist.

      1. This is why I’m struggling so much, frankly. It’s not just finances, and it’s not just Reston. That’s why the statement was inadequate.

  5. THanks for this! I teach math a lot, most days — but I’m not a math teacher…. I’m staff at a community college in a walk-in tutoring lab. I *have* taught math K-12 in sped setting.
    #MTBOS has been such an incredible resource.
    NCTM? It’s awesome!! Well, I think it is, from what the cool people in it say, except there are so many paywalls and yes, it’s wicked expensive to join and participate. I’m at least in higher ed where we have *some* travel budgets some years (it’s Illinois). When I was a K-12 teacher? No way, period.
    I didn’t know NCTM was hurting but it could be that it’s like the newspaper industry.

  6. Hmmmm …. so much griping about NCTM say so many as they hold their daily grande Starbucks “mocachino”. I have been a lifelong member of NCTM. It made me the teacher I was and yes, I am one of the 55 + year olds, but it continues to be my go to organization for mathematics and advocacy. For those of you who don’t see the value, talk with a member, go to NCTM and tell them what you need. Loss of the Math Forum folks is really unfortunate, but I wondered how they took on 4 new full time staff a few years ago when we knew there was a drop in membership and some financial concerns. I hope that NCTM can really work to make a connection to ALL teachers, k-12 because that is what the MF folks have done so very well!

    1. Linda,
      I really struggled to read past the first line of your comment. I mean, wow. The tone is unwarranted and contemptuous and I’m not even sure what you mean. How on earth do you expect membership to rise with comments like that?! Not exactly inviting.

      I did read past it, though, and now I’m even more confused. If you read what I posted, you’ll see we were doing just what you said we should. Those people talking in New Orleans were a mix of teachers and coaches who ARE members of NCTM, who DO go to the conference, who DO talk to members (of all ages) with a variety of experiences with NCTM, and who DO advocate for what we need. So what exactly are you criticizing here?

      Tracy

    2. Oh, Linda, that’s brilliant. Exactly why I let my membership to NCTM expire after a quarter-century. Thanks for confirming so publicly what I have long-known about a small but far too influential subset of NCTM insiders.

      The reality is that NCTM is moribund. The folks who participate joyously in MTBoS really don’t need you. Lots of good people have tried to shake up and wake up the top brass at NCTM for long before I joined in 1992. They weren’t listened to, folks like you were, and now you’re chastising folks who actually have gone out and done things with their own money out of their own passion for mathematics education?

      I’m 67 years old. I’ve been an educator for 43 years and counting. I’ve worked in mathematics education since the late 1980s. And I’ll never be too old to learn how to do things better. I make my own coffee, I don’t pay $4.00 for a cup of coffee of any kind, and I think you owe people here an apology. A very big apology.

  7. My pre-service training was grounded in the 89 NCTM standards and my first regional conference was Louisville 1991 (crashing at the home of a classmate’s parents and watching the Clarence Thomas hearings on the news in the evenings) so I owe a huge debt to NCTM. I went to college with Annie and made my first forays into writing in math class and using the web to teach when my students were answering and grading POWs back in the day – huge debt there, too. I love the idea of getting Simons or another university to underwrite the MathForum staff and its work, but what was that about NCTM owning the trademarks and wanting to dissolve it? For that, the only solution is members lobbying the NCTM board. That will be the next message I compose. Who will follow up with the grant-seeking route? And has anyone talked to our heroes at the Math Forum about how they’d like us to advocate?

  8. So sad to hear this news. As a 4th grade teacher in a public school, I love having the resources the math forum has provided. I don’t belong to NCTM because I simply cannot afford it on the salary that I make. I don’t go to the conventions because my district will not pay for them and the cost is astronomical. I would love to be a member and receive the magazine or attend the conferences! I look on with envy through twitter as everyone discusses the exciting and inspiring sessions they attended. Instead, I use the free PD offered by the math forum members- blogs, webinars, twitter chats etc.-to challenge myself and grow in my teaching. I am so thankful for the opportunities they have given me to grow as a teacher.

    The ending of this partnership is a terrible loss. I will continue to follow this on twitter and hope that there is something I can do to support a change of heart on the part of NCTM. Needless to say, mocachinos don’t fit in my tight budget either!

  9. Hello.
    You state, “But now, NCTM is ending it’s partnership with the Math Forum and dissolving its resources and contributions. Institutions like Problem of the Week (POW) and Ask Dr. Math will be lost, which impact tens of thousands of students annually. NCTM owns the brand The Math Forum, and it’s making it go away.”

    Tens of thousands is most likely a serious under-estimate. But that’s just an aside.

    What I want to comment on is the last sentence I quoted. The Math Forum is not a brand to me. It is a group of people who know how to relate to teachers and students, deeply know how to relate. I have learned so much from these people over the years. Yes – I have learned math. Yes – I have been exposed to new ideas for teaching and learning.

    But most importantly to me – I have learned how to honor the learner. Every interaction I’ve had with the Math Forum has brought honor to me as a learner. I feel it. And I hope I have done the same with my students and colleagues.

    NCTM and its members (myself included) can only benefit from a continued relation with The Math Forum.

  10. We are in danger of losing the online community piece (PoW’s), which has engaged and empowered students in my district to persevere in problem solving and communicate their mathematical thinking–what NCTM advocates . I wrote a letter to Matt Larson and the NCTM Board of Directors explaining the impact The Math Forum has had on my district and asking them to consider creative solutions. Here is my letter along with Matt’s response: https://goo.gl/tSMLVp

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