National leaders challenge America to “do school differently” to transform math and science education


The Carnegie Corporation of New York – Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education today kicked-off a national mobilization to achieve much higher levels of math and science learning with the release of its report, The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy (

The report recommends concrete actions to a range of organizations from labor and business to federal and state government, colleges and universities, and donors who must coalesce to “do school differently” to transform math and science education. More than 65 groups have affirmed their support to work together to place math and science at the center of education innovation, improvement, and accountability.

“The nation’s capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the global economy depend on a broad foundation of math and science learning, as do our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility for young people that lie at the heart of the American dream,” said Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “We need an educated young citizenry with the capacity to contribute to and gain from the country’s future productivity, understand policy choices, and participate in building a sustainable future.”

The Commission’s report identifies where change is needed to transform math and science education and points to innovations that are already working on the ground. It specifies who needs to be involved and clearly illustrates the roles various sectors must play if we are to ensure all students — no matter where they live, what educational path they pursue, or in which field they choose to work — have the knowledge and skills they need from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics upon high school graduation.

“Math and science education today falls far short of meeting students’ future needs or the needs of society. Recent rounds of school reform have paid far too little attention to math and science,” said Phillip A. Griffiths, Chair of the Commission and Past Director of the Institute for Advanced Study. “Schools must inject rigorous and relevant math and science throughout the curriculum. The goal of improving math and science should sound a call for change that will reverberate throughout our schools and increase student learning in all areas.”

The report’s detailed set of recommendations lays out a practical, coordinated plan, and describes what each constituency can do to raise mathematics and science achievement for all American students:

  • Establishing new common standards in mathematics and science that are fewer, clearer, and higher, coupled with aligned high-quality assessments.
  • Improving teaching and professional learning – supported by better school and system management.
  • Redesigning schools and school systems to deliver excellent, equitable math and science learning more effectively.
  • Initiating a national mobilization that includes public awareness campaigns, increased public understanding about the links between effective math and science learning and the job market, and a focus on improving outcomes among historically underperforming groups through new benchmarking to evaluate school improvement efforts at all grade levels for all students.

“The President has issued a call to action for American students to move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade. The report released today offers a plan for our students to get there,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who joined other prominent leaders and opinion shapers in the fields of government, business, labor, science, mathematics, technology, K-12, and higher education to discuss the recommendations of the report.

Panelists and participants included:

  • Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
  • Harold Varmus, President, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology
  • Donald L. Carcieri, Governor of Rhode Island
  • Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers and President, United Federation of Teachers of New York City
  • Ellen Futter, President, American Museum of Natural History
  • Uri Treisman, Director, Charles A. Dana Center
  • Lydia Logan, Executive Director, Institute for a Competitive Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Norman Francis, President, Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Carina Wong, Deputy Director, Education, U.S. Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Wendy Kopp, Founder, Teach for America
  • Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers
  • James Hunt, former Governor, North Carolina
  • Phillip Griffiths, Chair, Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, mathematician and Past Director, Institute for Advanced Study
  • Michele Cahill, Co-Chair, Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, Vice President, National Programs, Carnegie Corporation

To demonstrate the growing consensus that we need to “do school differently,” the Commission provided an opportunity for key organizations to affirm their own commitments to improving math and science education for all. The organizations range from colleges and universities to civil rights organizations, unions, and businesses and include, for example, the National Education Association, Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, New Visions for Public Schools, American Association of Community Colleges, Center for American Progress, Council of Chief State School Officers, The Education Trust, National Council of La Raza, National Governors Association, and Pearson.

“Excellent mathematics and science learning for all American students will be possible only if we place math and science more squarely at the center of the educational enterprise,” said Michele Cahill, Co-chair of the Commission and Vice President, National Programs and Program Director, Urban Education of Carnegie Corporation. “We need new school models that push the limits of practice at both ends of the instructional spectrum: re-engaging our most disconnected students in academically rigorous math and science education and placing them on pathways to graduation and postsecondary education, and providing opportunities for the most successful students in math and science to accelerate beyond what is traditionally available in high school.”

To gauge how important math and science are to students, the Commission conducted a national poll of 904 pairs of 8th to 10th grade students and their parents. This is the first time that students and their parents have been polled about these subjects in order to identify where their opinions merge and conflict. The results reveal that while students and their parents place a higher priority on math and science subjects (including algebra, data analysis, and geometry) than all other subjects except English, and they understand the importance of math and science to their futures, students and their parents do not think it is important to do well in math or science unless the student intends to pursue a career directly related to math and science.

“This polling dispels a commonly held notion that teens and their parents often disagree on the importance of math and science education,” said Phillip A. Griffiths, Co-chair of the Commission. “It is imperative that we impress upon all young people that knowledge of math and science is crucial to many more careers than they may realize. All young Americans should have a sufficient grounding in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics no matter where they live, what educational path they pursue, or in which field they choose to work.”