October 28, 2022

EDC Honors Mark Driscoll: Mathematics Educator, Leader, and Mentor

Mark Driscoll, mathematician, mathematics educator, and much-loved EDC leader and colleague, passed away on October 3. He was 77.

Mark was known for his deep dedication to students and teachers, as well as for his brilliance, kindness, keen sense of humor, and commitment to mentorship. Over his 34 years at EDC, his research, professional development, and publications supported hundreds of thousands of mathematics teachers in sparking young people’s interest in mathematics, improving instruction, and advancing equity. He wanted all young people to understand mathematics and thrive in mathematics class—and his work helped that happen. His contributions to the field are both invaluable and enduring.

From his early teaching days in East St. Louis to his work enhancing mathematics instruction for multilingual learners, Mark maintained a laser-like focus on promoting equitable instruction, improving urban education, and supporting emerging leaders. In 1985, he joined EDC to lead technical assistance for the Urban Mathematics Collaboratives, a 16-city network of school-university-industry partnerships funded by the Ford Foundation. His facilitation of a professional learning community for the mathematics supervisors and teacher leaders of the partnering school districts had a profound, lasting influence on the quality of mathematics education in those districts.

Mark went on to co-lead two EDC centers focused on improving school leadership. Over the years, he headed up 15 major multi-year educational research and development projects supported by the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences, and other funders. He also authored many books, including the ground-breaking Research with Reach series, Mathematical Thinking and Communications: Access for English Learners—with close collaborators Johannah Nikula and Jill Neumayer-DePiper—and Fostering Algebraic Thinking, which was recently republished for the 25th time. In recognition of his service to the profession and to the organization, he was awarded the 2010 Ross Taylor/Glenn Gilbert National Leadership Award by the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.

Mark’s contributions to the field of mathematics education began early in his career. While he was pursuing his PhD in mathematics (differential geometry) at Washington University, he sought meaningful ways to improve mathematics learning and teaching. In his own words:

“I drew a very high draft number in the 1970s lottery, so I was pretty much exempt [from going to war in Vietnam]. I had a strong sense of social obligation, and for me a high draft number wasn’t a free ride. So I created my own service in St. Louis, volunteering as a tutor in the inner-city housing projects. That got me really interested in education. Then, I started to do some research and got bitten with the notion that things could be done to change the rather archaic ways of schooling in this country. What struck me was that teachers were relying on textbooks and talking at kids. They weren’t empowering kids to solve mathematical problems and develop a meaningful understanding of mathematical ideas and procedures. It was that lack of engagement that I wanted to change. So I helped found an alternative high school for dropouts called Logos in mid-city St. Louis, where I taught for six years.”

“Empowering kids”—and supporting teachers in empowering kids—was a true passion for Mark. Over his career, he inspired this same passion in his colleagues at EDC and in  researchers, teachers, and leaders across the United States. His is a great loss to EDC, the national mathematics education community, his family, and his friends.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Mark’s memory to TODOS: Mathematics for All, of which Mark was a member and avid supporter.

Read remembrances of Mark Driscoll by some of his colleagues.