Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

David W. Stinson

Second Advisor

Stephanie Behm-Cross

Third Advisor

Elizabeth DeFreitas

Fourth Advisor

Janice Fournillier

Fifth Advisor

Philo Hutcheson

Sixth Advisor

Pier Junor Clarke


Since the mid-20th century in the United States, there have been several reform movements within mathematics education; each movement has been subject to its own unique socio-cultural and -political forces. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) Standards documents—Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989), Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991), Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (1995), and Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000)—not only represent the most recent of these reform movements but also the most enduring. Collectively, these documents have formed a discourse (cf. Foucault, 1969/1972)—Standards-based mathematics education—that has guided mathematics education through the 1990s and beyond. This study uses Foucaultian archaeological and genealogical methods (cf. Foucault, 1969/1972, 1975/1995) to explore Standards-based mathematics education as a “discursive formation” (Foucault, 1969/1972) and the complex power relations (cf. Foucault, 1976/1990) that made it possible for the formation to become The discourse of school mathematics, making others impossible. Data for the exploration includes the Standards documents, earlier histories of the NCTM Standards moment, scholarly and policy literature surrounding the NCTM documents, and oral history interviews with several of the writers of the NCTM documents. The study presents a historical narrative of mathematics education in the 20th century that both contextualizes Standards-based mathematics education and problematizes NCTM’s efforts; a key focus is the strategy that NCTM deployed to maintain the viability of Standards-based mathematics education as a discourse. Foucault’s (1984) “author function” is used to address the ways that the writers, externalities, and NCTM as an organization “authored” the Standards documents. The study concludes arguing that perpetuating the discursive formation of Standards-based mathematics education is neither good nor bad but only dangerous; therefore, it requires mathematics educators to maintain a sense of pessimistic activism related to present and future reform efforts (cf. Foucault, 1983/1997).