What Does the Research Say about X?

By Matthew Larson posted 11-15-2017 09:29


In the September President’s Webinar, I reflected on the fact that in 2020 NCTM will celebrate its centennial—a truly remarkable accomplishment for any organization. The year 2020 will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, the premier research journal in mathematics education.

As I noted in the webinar, one of the factors that has contributed to the long-term success of NCTM is its publishing program, which includes not only the foremost mathematics education research journal and the leading practitioner journals but seminal publications such as An Agenda for Action, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, and Principles to Actions. All of these publications have had a significant impact on the field of mathematics education, the practice of classroom teachers, state education policies, and even the work of for-profit publishers and staff developers. Last month another title joined this list of significant publications, the Compendium for Research in Mathematics Education.

As Jinfa Cai wrote in his preface, the Compendium is “a systematically gathered, concise, and detailed volume about research in mathematics education … [that distills] … the knowledge of the field into a resource that provides the best, most critical evidence about what is known about fostering students’ learning of mathematics. This research compendium represents yet another investment of NCTM in its effort to achieve excellence for all” (p. vii).

The Compendium has five major sections:

  • Foundations. This section examines fundamental issues in mathematics education research such as linking research and practice.
  • Methods. This section focuses on qualitative and quantitative research methods as well as design research.
  • Mathematical Processes and Content. This section addresses research on mathematical processes such as proof and mathematical modeling, as well as current research in content areas from early number through calculus and beyond.
  • Students, Teachers, and Learning Environments. This section examines issues related to language diversity, race, identity, gender, mathematical engagement, classroom discourse, and core practices in teaching and professional learning.
  • Futuristic Issues. The final section includes short essays that discuss challenges and forward-looking views on a variety of topics.

Works such as the Compendium represent the type of publication that NCTM is uniquely positioned to produce. At more than 1,000 pages, it is not inexpensive, and to be honest, it most likely won’t make the New York Times Best Sellers list. These economic realities make the project infeasible for the vast majority of for-profit publishers, and it is your membership in NCTM that, in part, makes publications such as the Compendium possible.

Publications like the Compendium are important to produce because it makes a critical contribution to the field of mathematics education. It is necessary for the field of mathematics education to periodically “take stock of progress and the knowledge that has been accumulated thus far … [and encode] the field’s best understandings of the critical issues in mathematics education research today … [in order] to continue to push the frontiers of its knowledge” (p. ix).

More than five years ago the NCTM Board of Directors approved the production of the Compendium, and on behalf of the current Board of Directors and the previous Boards that supported this work, I want to thank the nearly 100 authors who contributed their expertise to the 38 chapters that make up the Compendium, the advisory board that oversaw the Compendium, and the NCTM publications staff that worked on its production. A special thanks goes to the Compendium’s editor, Jinfa Cai, professor of mathematics education at the University of Delaware, and his team who invested five years to bring the Compendium to publication.

If you are like me, you have likely either asked or been asked, “What does the research say about X?” multiple times, and you can probably substitute a wide variety of topics for X. The Compendium provides the most up-to-date research on major issues confronting mathematics education. It can help classroom teachers answer these questions, help school and district leaders design more effective and research-informed mathematics programs, and guide the work of graduate students and mathematics educators and researchers for the next decade.

The next time you ask yourself the question “What does the research say about X?” I hope you will look to see if the Compendium has a chapter that addresses your topic of interest. The Table of Contents is available online for free download, and individual chapters will soon be available for purchase as well. In a world where discourse and decisions are all too often evidence-free and driven by opinion, belief, and social media hits, the Compendium for Research in Mathematics Education makes a critical contribution to the field of mathematics education.