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Math Education Group Brings in New Leader From Outside the Field

A new executive director, Bob Doucette, is coming on board next month at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. But in a departure from past practice, the new leader doesn't bring a background in math education. He comes from the Society for Neuroscience, where he has been the deputy executive director since 2005.

Doucette also previously worked at the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

"Bob Doucette brings to the council an impressive record of success in association management for another STEM organization," said NCTM President Linda Gojak, in a press release last month. "He brings rich and diverse experiences in leadership with mission-driven organizations, and he has a well-rounded perspective that should help NCTM leadership guide the council's work."

With some 78,000 members, NCTM describes itself as the "public voice" for math education in this country (and Canada). It has long played a key role in helping to shape math instruction nationwide.

The former NCTM executive director, Kichoon Yang, stepped down at the end of June. He became the leader in 2009. Before that, Yang served in numerous leadership posts in higher education and was a math professor.

During Doucette's time at the Society for Neuroscience, he "had direct oversight of every programmatic and operational function of the organization, including journal publishing and scientific meeting content, conference and exhibit management, operations and governance, human resources, finance, development, and information systems," the press release said.

Gojak discussed NCTM's decision to hire Doucette in a phone interview last week.

"He does not have math education experience. That's going to be a first for us," she said. "But we will have a real opportunity to have an executive who can focus in on the staff and some of the important aspects of an organization that we haven't looked at, to come in with a fresh point of view."

She added: "He's done his homework and we're excited about having him join us. ... Our board is made up of mathematics educators. The mathematics is pretty well covered on our board, and they are all active members of NCTM."

Some observers say Yang was not seen as an effective leader for the organization.

"He never seemed to really connect with NCTM's mission in any sort of personal way" and maintained an "aloof demeanor and approach" that was not a good fit for the organization, said one active NCTM member, who requested anonymity. "He had no discernible presence as an effectual player on the issues facing the organization."

Gojak conceded that some NCTM members had concerns about Yang's leadership, but said he made valuable contributions as executive director. "I felt that he did some important things for NCTM," she said. "There are other things that maybe were overlooked."

Moving forward, Gojak said NCTM is "at a critical juncture with the common core and everything else. This is a tough time for [associations]: How do we get young people involved in NCTM? How do we freshen the face of NCTM?"

NCTM's current membership figure is down about 10,000 from six years ago, according to recent estimates. (At its high point, I'm told that NCTM had more than 100,000 members.)

Though the numbers have declined, the organization is working to rebuild its membership, including by attracting more young teachers, Gojak said.

"If we don't continue to grow and to keep up with things," Gojak said, "we won't be a highly vibrant organization for very long."

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