By Priscilla Bremser, Contributing Editor, Middlebury College.
In the past nine months, I’ve heard colleagues at three different meetings—an AMS sectional meeting in Louisville, the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, and the Contemporary Issues in Mathematics Education workshop at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute—identify a need for journals focused on publishing useful refereed articles for mathematicians about mathematics education. This raises several questions that get at fundamental issues in the complicated and sometimes uneasy relationships among research mathematicians, mathematics education specialists, and those with interests in both areas (I put myself in the last category).
To begin, why might we need such journals? The most obvious answer is that good work in mathematics education should be identified (hence a refereeing process) and shared in a way that is accessible to mathematicians. Trained as a mathematician, I found some of my first readings in mathematics education research to be inaccessible — full of unfamiliar vocabulary and references to social science research methods that I felt unqualified to evaluate. Naturally this triggered my instinctual skepticism. I have certainly found some writing about mathematics education research to be clear, convincing, and useful to me as a mathematician who teaches and works with teachers. Elise Lockwood’s earlier post on this blog is exemplary, as are  and . I’ve also gotten more familiar with the methods and conventions of mathematics education researchers; Alan Schoenfeld’s article  from 2000 is a fine place to start. Still, I would appreciate collections of articles about mathematics education that are written with speakers of my native language in mind.
Another answer to the “why” question is that many mathematicians are doing important work in mathematics education, and that work might not get the attention and validation that it deserves from other mathematicians unless it’s being certified by mathematicians. We who teach future teachers, investigate how students learn to write proofs, provide professional development to K-12 teachers, and so on, should have ways to present what we’ve learned in venues that are recognized by the larger mathematical community. As Sol Friedberg, chair of the mathematics department at Boston College, put it at MSRI*, “The coin of the realm in the evaluation of faculty is what? Publications.” The first round of evaluation for a mathematician is in the mathematics department, where skepticism is a professional requirement. Recognition by mathematicians beyond our own campuses might help.
The influence on performance reviews of a mathematician’s activities in math education may be limited, though, even if publications result. Another speaker at MSRI, Steven Rosenberg of Boston University, was blunt on this topic: “We look for math publications; we look for funding in math. So if you have a great love of math education, please wait until you’re tenured. For those of you in math education, when you go to approach colleagues in the math department, please keep that in mind. Is work in math education respected within a research math department? The short answer is, yes, if it’s funded, and even in that case, maybe not as much as research in pure and applied math or statistics.”
At the same MSRI session, however, Brigitte Lahme, a mathematician at Sonoma State University, reported that her department values work in teacher education and professional development, and has revised its tenure criteria accordingly. A contribution to mathematics education, she said, “can’t be just an add-on.” Clearly there is significant cultural variation among mathematics departments. Further, as Lahme added later, “we can challenge the status quo… In my department, it used to be that [publishing] papers was the coin of the realm, and we changed it, and the world has not ended.”
In response to concerns about untenured mathematicians putting themselves at risk by engaging in math education activities, the last word of the session was provided by Bill McCallum: “I think it’s time for us to embrace the contradiction between (a) calls for culture change and (b) our desire to protect everybody. Culture change isn’t going to happen without a certain amount of pain, and I think younger faculty who want to get involved in math education should be encouraged to do so. They’re grownups. Let’s all stop worrying too much about the pain that’s going to be caused; we can all share it, and let’s stand up for the culture change.” Wherever we stand on the question of culture change, mathematicians would do well to examine the cultures in our own departments and institutions.
A second question is this: what journals are already out there for this work? The International Journal of Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (Springer) will begin publication in 2015. There’s also PRIMUS: Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies. For those willing to explore the discipline of mathematics education, the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education and Educational Studies in Mathematics are respected by practioners. Then there’s the related but distinct area of SoTL: the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (see  for an introduction to SoTL and its publication venues).
Beyond journals, there are conference proceedings as well as edited volumes such as those in the Mathematical Association of America Notes Series. These lack the validation of a fully refereed journal, however, which calls for caution on the part of both writer and reader.
Perhaps we should consider the demand side. Thus my third question: what sorts of papers about mathematics education would mathematicians like to see? I suspect that many mathematicians who teach would like to learn about various approaches to improving student learning, provided those approaches are backed up by evidence that is plausible to them, if short of rigorous proof. Having developed a Math for Teachers course at a small liberal arts college, I’d like to read about math courses for future teachers that integrate pedagogy and math content. I’d like to read about professional development programs for practicing teachers that work by some reasonable measure. I’d like to read about what happens when mathematicians spend time in K-12 math classrooms. I’d like to read more articles that address mathematicians’ skepticism about social science methods used by math education researchers.
It seems to me that there is indeed room for more places to publish peer-reviewed papers on math education for an audience of mathematicians. There’s a lack in particular of outlets for articles on mathematicians’ involvement in K-12 education. This brings me to the last questions: what other venues exist for papers of this type? Are there any new journals in the works? If more journals of this type are available, what are the best ways to bring them to a broad audience? Please respond in the comments section!
*A video recording of this session at MSRI is available here.
Many thanks to Ben Braun, Elise Lockwood, and the Department of Mathematics at Middlebury College for helping me develop the ideas here.
 Ball, D., M. H. Thames, and G. Phelps, Content knowledge for teaching: what makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education 59, no. 5 (2008), 389-407.
 Bennett, C. D. and J. M. Dewar, An overview of the scholarship of teaching and learning in mathematics, Primus : Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies 22, no. 6 (2012), 458-473.
 Hill, H., The nature and predictors of elementary teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 41, no. 5 (2010), 513-545.
 Schoenfeld, Alan H., Purposes and methods of research in mathematics education, Notices of the American Mathematical Society 47, no. 6 (2000), 641-649.