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Linking the NCTM Standards to School-to-Work Reform
V. Hernández-Gantes, L. A. Nieri
An unlikely equation is in the making. The premises underlying both
mathematics and vocational-technical education reform movements present a
historical opportunity for developing integrated curriculum guided by the
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards. The common
grounds provide great opportunities for collaboration. Both movements aim
at providing all students with challenging curriculum and learning required
in today's world. The questions are "What are the characteristics of
promising programs engaged in bridging these two reform movements?" and
"What can we learn from these programs to inform the development of
rigorous integration efforts?" This study addresses these questions by
building a comprehensive understanding of integrated program development
and approaches to linking the NCTM Standards and mathematics/career
curricula. Through a national survey of programs featuring
mathematics/vocational-technical integration, four promising programs were
identified (three high schools and a community college). Case studies of
these promising sites were conducted to study program development and the
extent to which the NCTM Standards guided local efforts.
Study findings suggested that linking the NCTM Standards to
emerging career-oriented curriculum is not a simple process requiring
pedagogical changes only. It is a far-reaching enterprise challenging
educational leaders to engage in serious comprehensive restructuring
involving curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Organizational and
management changes are also necessary to support more active collaborative
efforts and shift from traditional ways of thinking about educational
systems. Consistent with research on organizational restructuring, the
following findings highlight a framework for linking the NCTM Standards to
curriculum featuring mathematics in realistic contexts.
- Assessing institutional and student performance is essential in
order to make informed decisions about improvements and their relation to
shifting students' learning from traditional tracking systems.
- Leadership styles that promote more democratic participation in
decisionmaking appear to be more successful in facilitating shared
understanding of needs, purpose, and working toward changes to improve the
quality of learning for all students.
- Another basic requirement for successful implementation at early
stages is setting a clear definition of achievement expectations for
students and roles of instructors, administrators, and other internal and
Moving Toward Authentic Instructional Practices
- Instructors must commit to implementing changes in pedagogy that
match high expectations for student achievement. For this purpose,
integration formats and collaboration arrangements have to satisfy local
needs. Models and guidelines outlined in related literature provide an
excellent frame of reference for successful integration.
- Career contexts provide great opportunities for the development of
nonroutine problems featuring significant mathematical concepts. Through
these problem scenarios, core SCANS and NCTM Standards skills (e.g.,
problem solving, communication of ideas, and knowledge applications) can be
- To guide decisions on the development of authentic, integrated,
NCTM Standards-based instruction, a shared understanding of criteria for
high authenticity is required to match high expectations for achievement
and career goals for all students. The NCTM Standards vision along with
relevant ideas supporting emerging vocationalism should be taken as a
flexible guide, not as a step-by-step framework.
Building Institutional and Community Support
- Creating an institutional climate is critical for establishing the
organizational capacity that will sustain integrated work. The goal should
be to foster a sense of community where avenues for democratic input in
decisionmaking are understood and used.
- Early promotion of interdisciplinary collaboration in
decisionmaking through working groups, councils, and other forms of
participatory management are suggested to foster shared understandings,
empower participants, and facilitate work toward common goals.
- Instructors should be encouraged to take responsibility for
designing their own professional development plans grounded in individual
and program needs to acquire specific preparation for implementation of
suggested improvements in curriculum, teaching, and assessment.
- Channels for continuous dialogue and discussion of important
institutional issues affecting all stakeholders are also helpful in
creating a sense of professional community. It is important to shift from
bureaucratic, compartmentalized systems precluding multiple manifestations
of collaborations and open exchanges of opinions.
Fostering Interdisciplinary Teacher Collaboration
- Interdisciplinary collaboration helps break down the walls between
instructors. Fostering teamwork and exchanges between mathematics and
vocational instructors is helpful for dispelling stereotypes and building
an appreciation for each other's contributions to the educational
- Bringing mathematics instructors closer to vocational work provides
likely and valuable exposure to external supports (e.g., business and
industry) that may be taken for granted by vocational instructors. This
exposure can contribute to a greater understanding of the complexity of
supports needed for establishing career curricula and to an opportunity to
identify significant mathematics applications.
- Awareness of issues, government regulations, and requirements of
mathematics/ vocational reforms perspectives is a desirable condition for
establishing a holistic understanding of common undertakings and to shift
from turf protection that is prominent in traditional settings.
Survey information suggested that the extent and nature of efforts
linking the NCTM Standards and school-to-work reform are weak and slowly
evolving. This process appears to be very complex, requiring deep changes
and radical shifts from traditional practices supporting education systems.
However, drawing from the experience of case study sites, we were able to
identify a promising framework for development of effective integrated
efforts featuring mathematics in occupational contexts. This framework is
supported by related research on the restructuring of educational
organizations and can be useful for practitioners, administrators, and
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