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Just because someone is wise in the ways of advanced calculus, that doesn't mean he or she can effectively teach 8-year-olds how to subtract 29 from 81.

And conversely, elementary teachers must have a firm grasp of math -- so it is critical for mathematicians and teachers to collaborate to improve the math skills of U.S. students.

That's the message education-reform expert Deborah Ball will bring to a free lecture tonight at the University of Utah.

"There are a lot of arguments about the under-performance of American students in math, but the history of education reform is a lot of noise, but not a lot of changes," said Ball, dean of the University of Michigan's School of Education.

Ball, who spent 17 years in Michigan's elementary classrooms as a teacher, conducts longitudinal research into ways to improve math instruction. She advocates developing a national core math and science curriculum, as has been done in Asian societies where children are outpacing their U.S. counterparts.

Her lecture is an inaugural event for the U.'s new Center for Science and Mathematics Education, led by Hugo Rossi, a professor emeritus of mathematics who served as dean of the College of Science from 1987 to 1993.

"She is almost unique in that she is deeply appreciated by both educators and mathematicians. It's a deserved reputation on a couple decades of work, some of which started here in Utah," Rossi said.

"Ball's research shows this magnificently, that elementary teachers need to have an in-depth understanding of math just to be able to respond appropriately to students when they make mistakes."

Improving math education has been a divisive national discussion, but Ball has been credited for serving as a bridge builder, particularly in her capacity as a member of the Presidential National Mathematics Advisory Panel.

Ball supports the formation of centers like the U.'s, designed to explore ways to fix U.S. kids' sagging performance in math and science.

"We have a problem with a lack of coordination," Ball said. "Centers can help bring together expertise so you don't have these multiple initiatives that cancel each other out. This will leverage more strengths for math education, at least in your state."

Free lecture on the future of education

Topic » "Improving Outcomes in Mathematics and Science: Making Change Work"

Who » Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education, University of Michigan

When » Tonight, 5 p.m.

Where » Skaggs Biology Building auditorium, University of Utah

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