Distinguished math professor and department head William McCallum has spent 22 years at the UA after finishing his post-doctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of New South Wales and his doctorate in mathematics from Harvard. McCallum sat down with the Daily Wildcat to discuss his groundbreaking work on K-12 math education standards and the recent growth of the UA's math department.
You were recently chosen to help co-author an outline for math standards throughout the U.S. Can you tell me about that?
The goal is to develop common math standards for schools that would potentially be standards adopted by most states in the country. There's a movement for the states to develop common math standards for what kids should know in math at each grade level, common across the U.S. I'm the lead of the team that's going to produce those standards.
It's really about producing a common core, not about insisting every state has exactly the same standards. It's trying to get them to have a common core or overlap. That's why it's called the ""Common Core Standards.""
It's part of a broader movement, doing math and English, but I'm on the math team with school-teachers, math education specialists and researchers. There's about 20 people. It's a large group of people that hasn't been finalized yet. It will be soon, probably by end of this week they will announce the whole team.
What standards are currently in place for schools?
Currently most states will have standards that vary from state to state. That variation causes problems. One is that textbooks are gigantic. If you're a textbook company trying to write for high school algebra adopted in California and Massachusetts, you have to obey all those state's standards and if they're all different you have to stuff a lot of stuff in there. If all states would agree on what they wanted, textbooks could be smaller.
Also, a lot of people move around these days. If you're in the second grade in Massachusetts then go to third grade in Texas, you might find you're studying stuff you already did last year or you may have no idea (what is being taught) if standards are different.
When do you expect the new standards to be completed?
It's supposed to be done by the end of January and states will have to go through a process of deciding whether or not to adopt these standards. The hope is to have it done in January so states will be able to do that by the summer and potentially adopt the standards by the fall, but different states have different timetables.
How is the math department dealing with budget cuts?
Well we haven't implemented this year's yet. We had a big cut last year and another this year, which we will have to deal with. We converted some classes to lectures. I think we've done it in a way that still works and you get what you pay for. It's better to try and teach math classes in small sections but when we can't afford that anymore. We try to do it with classes that work.
One class was business math and we talked to the Eller (College of Management) school about this and they seemed to be okay with it. We tried to implement it in a way it would work. We're also looking into things like online classes for the future. I think there probably will be more budget cuts and we have to face that by trying to think about ways which we can maybe have classes online. We haven't done that yet but we're planning on it next year.
Is anything new going on in the math department this semester?
We had 500 extra students this semester, that's 10 percent increase in students taking math classes. That was an exciting time. We are doing a good job and managed to get everyone covered with classes.
Is that increase unusual for the math deptartment?
Yes, it's unusual. You may have seen the articles about the general increase at UA this year. People have different explanations but the increase in math was even bigger. I think a lot of students coming in were more prepared for math classes than usual. We have a lot of math majors in the incoming freshman class.