Statistics Education at the ASA

Richard Scheaffer
ASA President

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 7, Number 2 (Spring 2001)

The increased emphasis on statistics in the K-12 curriculum, the strong interest in the high school Advanced Placement (AP) Statistics courses, and the increased need for statistics in a wide range of occupations, prompted the American Statistical Association to promote the enhancement of undergraduate education in statistics. The Symposium on undergraduate statistics education held at JSM 2000 was the focal point for the development of the 'Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Statistical Science', which were approved by the Board of Directors in December. [These can be seen on Amstat Online.] These Guidelines set the stage for exciting advances in undergraduate statistics education that can be built around the key points of flexibility, innovation, and experimentation in the content and structure of courses.

The undergraduate initiative is just one of many being planned for the ASA's Center for Statistics Education (CSE). This Center should be positioned to play a leading role in the unfolding emphasis on statistics throughout the K-12 mathematics and science curriculum, as well as in the undergraduate curricula of colleges and universities. To accomplish this, the CSE is attempting to establish clear goals and guidelines for promoting statistics education at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and at various levels of undergraduate activity, including the preparation of future teachers of mathematics and science. At all these levels, improving the skills of teachers is the overarching goal, although the undergraduate initiative goes beyond that. Objectives toward these goals should include intensive workshops for teachers at all levels, sessions at professional meetings of statistics and allied societies, special conferences on aspects of statistics education, innovative use of the web, and serious networking among educational and scientific groups.

Organizationally, the group responsible for the oversight of most K-16 educational programs funded through ASA is the Advisory Committee on Teacher Enhancement (ACTE), chaired by Robert Stephenson. This Committee includes representatives from the Section on Statistical Education and the joint committees that relate to NCTM and MAA. That it is a very active Committee is shown by the fact that it received ASA strategic initiative funds for four projects on which it is now embarking. These are outlined below.

  1. Planning for a Conference on Statistics in Teacher Preparation Programs. In an attempt to impact the preparation of future teachers of mathematics and science, this project will bring together statisticians and those involved in pre-service teacher preparation to plan a conference on how to better prepare future teachers to present the ideas and methods of statistics.

  2. Planning for Web Infrastructure to Support ASA Educational Programs. The Quantitative Literacy (QL), Science Education and Quantitative Literacy (SEAQL), and Data Driven Mathematics materials provide a rich resource for K-12 teachers of mathematics and science. Planning for use of the web to better promote and disseminate these and other materials, and related information on statistics education, is the purpose of this project.

  3. Planning a Funding Request for New AP Statistics Teacher Training. The explosive growth in the number of students taking the Advanced Placement Statistics Exam means that more and more high school teachers with little or no background in statistics are being called on to provide statistics instruction. This initiative will support the writing of an NSF proposal to develop a course (both through workshops and web-based materials) on statistical content for first time teachers of AP Statistics. Such a course can build on the success of the current Beyond AP Statistics workshops.

  4. Planning for an Institute for Undergraduate Statistics Education. Following up on the efforts to advance undergraduate statistics education, as mentioned above, this project will lay the groundwork for creating an Institute for Undergraduate Statistics Education. Such an Institute will be a consortium of colleges (including two-year colleges) and universities working together under ASA guidance to provide innovative enhancements and structures to undergraduate statistics education. The institute will eventually prepare and disseminate materials for statistics educators and researchers. The Institute will serve as a resource and clearinghouse for best practices. It will facilitate the exchange of information among the various groups of faculty members (e.g. statisticians, mathematicians, two-year college faculty, social scientists) who teach undergraduate statistics.

Much of the descriptive material above comes directly from the proposals written by the ACTE, as does the following, which summarizes the philosophy of ASA as we embark on exciting new efforts to enhance statistical thinking and practice in the world.

"One can argue that the best ambassador for the statistics profession is a well-trained and enthusiastic teacher of statistics. ... If we are to enhance the prestige and influence of the statistics profession and assure that statistics is taught correctly and with an appreciation for its utility, we must provide opportunities for the enhancement of teachers at all levels."

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