Does the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Ever Endorse Commercial Textbooks or other Curricular Materials?


In answering questions following a talk given on January 29, 2004, Johnny Lott, who was President of NCTM at the time, stated:


One thing that some do not realize is that the organization does not and has not supported commercial products. NCTM does not give a Seal of Approval to curricular materials.


The entire transcript was then posted on the NCTM web site at, where it remained until at least February of 2006, but some time in the next few months was removed. (As of October 1, 2008 it can be found at



Mr. Lott’s statement concerning the approval of commercial products was incomplete or incorrect.  Probably he meant that NCTM has only a principled objection to such endorsement of curricular materials, but had forgotten that there was an occasion when NCTM found it convenient to bend that principle


In 1999 the NCTM had in fact endorsed and given its figurative seal of approval to ten books or programs for school mathematics which were controversial at that time.  The U.S. Department of Education had just published a list of five school math textbooks they called “exemplary” and five more they called “promising”, all of them commercial textbooks or programs being sold on the public market though some of them had been composed with the assistance of federal funds from National Science Foundation grants.


The "exemplary" programs were:


Cognitive Tutor Algebra;

College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM);

Connected Mathematics Program (CMP);

Core‑Plus Mathematics Project;

Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP).


The "promising" programs were:


Everyday Mathematics;


Middle‑school Mathematics through Applications Project (MMAP);

Number Power;

The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP). 


    This list was announced in October of 1999 by the United States Department of Education, mailed out to all15,000 school districts in the United States, and placed on a Department of Education web site,  This site, along with the entire “Eisenhower network”, is no longer in existence, and indeed the U.S. endorsement of the ten programs was removed from the DOE website by the Secretary of Education who succeeded Richard Riley, by the end of 2001, but the endorsement page can still be found archived at 

The Department of Education never revoked it, and most of the programs are still in existence and making use of their forever favored status in their sales efforts.


The endorsement did not go unanswered.  On November 18, 1999, just a few weeks after its publication, an open letter to Mr. Riley was published as an advertisement in The Washington Post, protesting the publication of government endorsement of these commercial textbooks and programs. That letter, giving reasons for doubting that the programs in question deserved special commendation, or commendation at all, requested that Secretary Riley withdraw the entire list for further consideration and announce that withdrawal to the public. The letter was signed by a number of prominent mathematicians and scientists, leading a list of about 140 signatories in all.


At this, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) entered the controversy as a figurative friend of the court, with a public letter from its Executive Director, John Thorpe, to Secretary of Education Richard Riley. Thorpe’s letter is quoted below in its entirety, with italicization and emphasis supplied by me to indicate the parts I take to be a seal of approval of the ten programs by the NCTM:



November 30, 1999


Secretary Richard W. Riley

United States Secretary of Education

400 Maryland Avenue Washington, DC 20202


Dear Mr. Secretary:


In light of the recent paid advertisement in the Washington Post requesting that you withdraw the list of exemplary and promising mathematics programs, the Board of Directors of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics wishes to inform you of their unconditional support for the work of the Expert Panel, the criteria used by the Panel, the process employed by the Panel, and the quality and appropriateness of their final recommendations.


We are deeply disappointed that so many eminent and well-intentioned mathematicians and scientists have chosen to attack the work of the Panel. We note, however, that the advertisement represents the opinion of a small, but vocal, minority of mathematicians and scientists, many of whom have little direct knowledge of the elementary and secondary school mathematics curriculum nor how to make it responsive to the needs of all students.


Unfortunately, while NCTM is working diligently and successfully to engage mathematicians and mathematics teachers at all levels in the process of setting high standards for school mathematics, the authors of the Post advertisement seem determined unilaterally to undermine the programs that the Expert Panel has found to be exemplary and promising.  We believe that the Panel took a hard look at quality, alignment with sound standards, and most importantly, how the various programs affect student learning.  The ten programs recommended by the Expert Panel have already had a positive influence on thousands of young people.  Thanks to work of the Panel, these programs can be expected to have an equally positive impact on millions of young people in the coming years.  For reasons that we do not understand, this fact appears to seriously bother many of the individuals who allowed their names to be associated with the Post ad.


Mr. Secretary, NCTM's Board of Directors believes that the Department has performed a great service by providing this list of programs.  We thank you and your colleagues for supporting the work of the Expert Panel and look forward to continuing to work with you on behalf of the mathematics education of our nation's youth.




John A. Thorpe,

Executive Director




Well, then, let me repeat the words of Johnny Lott. In answering questions following a talk given on January 29, 2004, Johnny Lott, President of NCTM, stated:


One thing that some do not realize is that the organization does not and has not supported commercial products. NCTM does not give a Seal of Approval to curricular materials.



Ralph A. Raimi

24 February 2006

(Revised 1 October 2008)