The British mathematician J. E. Littlewood once began a math class for freshmen with the following statement: "I’ve been giving this lecture to first-year classes for over twenty-five years. You’d think they would begin to understand it by now."
People involved in the debate about how math is best taught in grades K-12, must feel a bit like Littlewood in front of yet another first year class. Every year as objectionable math programs are introduced into schools, parents are alarmed at what isn’t being taught. The new "first-year class" of parents is then indoctrinated into what has come to be known as the math wars as the veterans – mathematicians, frustrated teachers, experienced parents, and pundits – start the laborious process of explanation once more.
It was therefore a watershed event when the President’s National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP) held its final meeting on March 13, 2008 and voted unanimously to approve its report: Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.
Unlike Littlewood addressing his perpetual first-year students, the report assumes that the class has actually begun to understand it by now and moves on. It does so quickly and efficiently: "he system that translates mathematical knowledge into value and ability for the next generation – is broken and must be fixed. This is not a conclusion about teachers or school administrators, or textbooks or universities or any other single element of the system. It is about how the many parts do not now work together to achieve a result worthy of this country’s values and ambitions."
The report provides benchmarks for the critical foundations of algebra, setting out grade level expectations of mastery for fluency with whole numbers, fluency with fractions, and geometry and measurement. It also provides recommendations for the major topics of an