Mathematics and Science Education Around the World:
What Can We Learn
From the Survey of Mathematics and Science Opportunities (SMSO)
Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)?
NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Recommended citation: National Research Council. (1996). Mathematics and science education around the world: What can we learn from the Survey of Mathematics and Science Opportunities (SMSO) and the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)? Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competencies and with regard for appropriate balance.
This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.
This project was supported with funds from the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.
Additional copies of this report are available from:
Mathematical Sciences Education Board or Committee on Science Education K-12
National Research Council
2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20418
Printed in the United States of America
Copyright 1996 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
"SMSO to TIMSS" Writing Committee
Hyman Bass (Co-chair),
Department of Mathematics, Columbia University, New York
Jane Butler Kahle (Co-chair),
Department of Teacher Education, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
National Center for Research in Mathematical Sciences Education, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Richard Clark, Science Education Consultant,
Melvin D. George, President Emeritus,
St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota
Department of Mathematics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Delaware Education Research and Development Center, University of Delaware and Delaware Department of Public Instruction, Newark
WestEd and National Center for Improving Science Education, Tucson, Arizona
Department of Education, University of California at Irvine
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, American University, Washington, D.C.
William E. Spooner,
Instructional Services, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Raleigh
John R. Staver,
Center for Science Education, Kansas State University, Manhattan
National Research Council Staff
School of Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor;
Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Director,
Mathematical Sciences Education Board, CSMEE;
Rodger Bybee, Executive Director,
Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education (CSMEE)
Pamela Dronka, Consultant
Dawn M. Eichenlaub, Production Manager,
National Academy Press
Francis (Skip) Fennell,
Department of Education, Western Maryland College, Westminster;
Daniel Goroff, Director,
Division on Postsecondary Policy and Practice, CSMEE
Ramona Irvin, Senior Project Assistant,
Mathematical Sciences Education Board, CSMEE
Sharon O'Donnell, Senior Project Assistant,
Division on Postsecondary Policy and Practice, CSMEE
Harold Pratt, Director,
Division on K-12 Policy and Practice, CSMEE
Doug Sprunger, Administrative Assistant,
Division on K-12 Policy and Practice, CSMEE
Sally S. Stanfield, Editor,
National Academy Press
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. William A. Wulf is interim president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce Alberts and Dr. William A. Wulf are chairman and interim vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.
The Mathematical Sciences Education Board (MSEB) was established in 1985 by the National Research Council, to "maintain a national capability for assessing the status and quality of mathematics education." Since its inception, the MSEB has been deeply interested in international comparative studies which can illuminate public understanding of the U.S. mathematics education system. The MSEB sponsored a convocation on "International Comparisons of Mathematics Education: Policy Implications for the United States," in conjunction with the Second International Mathematics Study, in 1987. It has hosted several presentations on the recently completed Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) at its Board meetings in the past few years.
In 1995, when the NRC established the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education, the MSEB was joined by the Committee on Science Education (COSE K-12). In response to a request from the National Science Foundation, and with its support, MSEB and COSE K-12 have joined to produce this short report, in preparation for the impending release of the TIMSS data. It is further accompanied by a brochure, intended for broad public dissemination.
This report is designed to help frame discussion and analysis of data that will emerge from TIMSS, a landmark study of mathematics and science education that investigates the mathematics and science curricula at three academic levels (age 9, age 13, and the last year of high school), in more than forty countries. Compared to its predecessors, and to other international comparative studies, TIMSS is noteworthy both in the number of variables documented and in the sophistication of the instruments used.
The primary source for this report is the first released component of TIMSS, the Survey of Mathematics and Science Opportunities (SMSO); it draws also on related published documents, and on informal consultation with TIMSS staff. Direct access to the TIMSS data was restricted. Accordingly, this report highlights directions for further inquiry more than findings. It should not be construed as a review of the SMSO design and methodology, although we expect that such review and critique will be undertaken by the field.
SMSO, a study of six of the TIMSS countries, was intended to develop and pilot the innovative survey instruments and international comparison frameworks employed by TIMSS. These frameworks distinguish three expressions of curriculum: the intended curriculum is examined through textbooks and lists of goals and objectives formulated at national, state, or local levels; the implemented curriculum or the patterns of instructional practice, is studied using questionnaires and, on a smaller scale, classroom observation; the attained curriculum is measured through student achievement data. The development and piloting process undertaken by SMSO also revealed some fundamental, and sometimes surprising, subtleties that emerge in making international comparisons.
The value to an individual country of international comparative studies is not so much to furnish a ranking, but rather to provide a broad knowledge base with which to understand and improve its own condition. To serve this end, international educational studies must provide, in addition to rankings of achievement, contextual data that permit analysis and interpretation of the observed outcomes. Imagine for example, international statistics on mortality rates, or the epidemiological
patterns of certain diseases. Such data would be of limited use if not accompanied by country-specific information about diet, lifestyles, physical environment, social institutions, and so on.
What is most significant about TIMSS is the degree to which it will furnish profiles of curricular and instructional practices, thereby providing the context for interpreting its achievement data. In place of the premature and inappropriate conclusions sometimes drawn from past achievement data, TIMSS presents an unprecedented opportunity to initiate informed analysis and interpretation of the culturally diverse conditions and practices that have produced its achievement results. A primary purpose of this report is to help promote this stance for the reception of the TIMSS data by the various communities concerned with educational improvement in the U.S. TIMSS and SMSO do not furnish conclusions; rather they invite and enable fruitful inquiry. This report indicates some such directions of inquiry that emerge already from SMSO.
There are moments when the conditions that favor responsible scholarship - thorough and unrushed analysis and synthesis of existing data and research - brush against the expediencies of engagement with real events in real time. The production of this report represents such an occasion. The precipitating event is the impending release of the TIMSS data, and the attendant potential for widespread misinterpretation. Enthusiasm for international comparisons creates a pressure for fast reporting of summary data, without crucial analyses. Efforts to improve mathematics and science education in the U.S. are now intense, and their aims and effects are widely debated. The TIMSS data have the potential to inform these debates and to contribute to these efforts at improvement. By the same token, inappropriate uses of the data have the potential to impede the progress of educational improvement. The public, eager to know how the United States compares with other countries, is prone to draw quick conclusions without adequate analysis or discussion. This danger is what gives urgency to the central message of this letter report. If TIMSS is to provide the kinds of resources for educational improvement of which it is capable, careful analyses of the relations among critical variables will be crucial. We seek in this document to orient others to this important study, and to begin the process of questioning and analysis that can most effectively contribute to educational improvement.
In order for this report to most effectively serve its public information purpose, it had to be available in close proximity to the release of the TIMSS data. This required that it be executed with extraordinary dispatch. It is a tribute to the writing group assembled that this was accomplished. Joan Ferrini-Mundy deftly organized and conceptualized this effort; she further assured, under conditions of limited access to source materials, the scholarly rigor of the report. She was greatly aided by generous and dedicated staff support from Ramona Irvin. It is unlikely that this would have reached successful conclusion in timely fashion without the extraordinary intellectual leadership and writing skills of Deborah Ball, to whom we all are deeply indebted.
HYMAN BASS, CHAIR
MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES EDUCATION BOARD
JANE BUTLER KAHLE, CHAIR
COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE EDUCATION K-12
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