I’ve got some unsolicited suggestions for how the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) may be able to reduce expenses related to running its conferences. My hope is that by sharing these ideas publicly, we can get a conversation going that will make it more affordable to attend an NCTM conference. I am fully aware that the current board and President Robert Berry have inherited choices that were made long before their tenure began. I’m just trying to put out my ideas for consideration.

In full disclosure, I’ve been an NCTM member since 2010 but I also own Grassroots Workshops, which also provides online workshops for educators.


My Concern
Currently NCTM holds its four yearly conferences in major cities within four regions of the United States (north, east, south, and west). While there is always a conference within each region, each year the venue changes so that many cities may benefit from being the host. This seems like a reasonable and equitable approach as when the conference is nearby, local educators are more likely to come.

The downside is that the conferences eventually get rotated into cities with very high costs. For example, recent annual conference has been in Washington DC, San Francisco, and Boston. While I enjoyed my time in each city, they have a very high cost of living, and paying for the hotel and meals can cost more than four times as much as the conference itself! I also believe that most educators only go to at most one of the four NCTM conferences each year, which makes me wonder about whether supply exceeds demand.

So, what if there were alternatives that made attending more affordable? If NCTM could decrease the cost of attending a conference though strategic choices, it seems like it would benefit many people. So, here are my two main suggestions.


Eliminate the Regional Conferences
My first suggestion is heavily based on assumptions and could be wrong because I don’t have access to NCTM’s data. I think that NCTM should get rid of the regional conferences. Perhaps these conferences make money, but if they are not profitable and NCTM is actually losing money, then this would be my main suggestion.

Even if they are profitable, my main belief is that many of the people who go to the regional conferences would instead go to the annual conference if that was their only option. Perhaps when the economy was healthier or when people couldn’t get new ideas online as easily, people would go to multiple NCTM conferences in a year. These days, I believe that demand is down and that having multiple conferences just steals attendees from the other NCTM conferences. Cutting the regional conferences could reduce expenses with less of a hit to revenue because many attendees would now go to the annual conference.


Pick Four Affordable Cities for the Conferences
If eliminating the regional conferences is not an option, then let’s make them as affordable as possible. I want to question why the conference locations need to be in different cities each year. Why can’t we instead pick the four most affordable cities in each region (north, south, east, and west) and have them in those four cities each year?

While many national conferences do rotate their venue each year, that’s not the case for all. For example, the annual CUE (Computer Using Educators) and TED conferences draw high attendance from national and international crowds but are always held in the same locations, Palm Springs, CA and Vancouver, BC, respectively. Could NCTM possibly do something similar?

What if NCTM picked a city from each of the four geographic regions that met these requirements:

  • has a large international airport with plenty of non-stop flights
  • has large quantities of affordable housing
  • has a convention center and other large meeting areas

I picked these requirements because I believe that they would help reduce attendee expenses. There would be cheaper flights and less expensive hotels. Once these cities were picked, each year NCTM could hold its four conferences in these same four locations. The only difference would be that NCTM would rotate the location of the annual conference leaving the other three venues for the regional conferences. I don’t have exact numbers, but I’d guess that this could save NCTM a minimum of tens of thousands of dollars annually. Here are the pros and cons that I see:

  • NCTM would have better leverage to negotiate contracts with convention centers and hotels
  • supplies like signs, booths, and banners would no longer need to be shipped across the country from one venue to the next and instead could be stored locally.
  • there would be huge reduction of the costs associated with sending NCTM employees across the country to find and prepare venues.
  • The savings could be passed on. For example, NCTM could lower the conference registration cost, offer scholarships to new NCTM members, or give discounts to first time annual conference speakers.
  • The biggest conference expense is not registration but travel and hotel. While I’ve enjoyed going to places like Boston, San Francisco, and Washington DC, those were super expensive trips because of housing. Picking cities based on affordable housing could save conference goers hundreds of dollars and ultimately increase attendance.


  • My understanding is that roughly 30% of conference attendees are local teachers who would not have attended if the conference was much farther away. So, teachers from other cities who are unable to travel would lose out by never having a conference come to their hometown.
  • This would likely alter the responsibilities of NCTM employees who currently plan conferences.


Now that you’ve read what I would focus on if I ran NCTM, I’d appreciate some push back. What am I misinformed about? What am I missing? How can my suggestions be improved? What would be a better way to reduce costs so conferences were more affordable? Please let me know in the comments.


  1. As a teacher in a school with very limited professional development funds the only NCTM conference I attended, I paid for everything, conference fee, travel and hotel as a student. Even if I had been in the same city as the conference, missing class days and paying for the conference registration on my own would not have been an option. I think you’re making some basic assumptions that teachers have leave time during the school year that they can spend to go to conferences.

    • True Kasey. I don’t think any single solution can meet all teachers’ needs. My main focus for this blog post is to figure out one variable and make them more affordable.

  2. The total cost of attending the conference with lodging and food as well as travel cost and the time of the events have prevented me from even looking farther than the dates. I can’t be out of my classroom. Have the conferences in the summer to start with then I might get past the dates.

  3. My personal budget does not allow me to attend an NCTM conference and my school does not offer any money toward these conferences. Teachers from low-income schools with budget issues are being left out of this experience. They should offer subsidized or scholarship conference fees and lodging to make the conference available to all educators.

    • I agree with Jessica. My personal budget doesn’t allow me to attend and my district does not offer funding to help. We are pretty excited that it will be in SLC this year. It will be the first time many of our teachers will have a chance to attend. By the way . . we are a very affordable city.

      • Yeah, this gets at the heart of equality vs equity. Should conferences charge what people can afford or should everyone pay the same amount? I admittedly don’t have a good answer to that question.

  4. Dear Robert,

    Thank you for reaching out to us. As President Robert Berry referenced in his earlier response, he has created a Conference Advisory Committee to address, among other things, the issues that you have raised. As the members of this committee, we agree that the points you raise are important ones, and we have explored the feasibility of holding fewer (or more) Regional Conferences, as well as the potential of having a conference rotation at a limited number of sites. We can assure you that we take the charge of our committee very seriously and are doing our best to share the NCTM conference experience with as many people as we can.

    To your specific points:
    – We feel at this time that it is important for NCTM to offer Regional Conferences to provide local conference opportunities for teachers. Many conference attendees live and work within driving distance to a conference, so it is important that NCTM brings professional learning opportunities to them.
    – We have explored the development of a set conference rotation for both Regional Conferences and Annual Meetings. We decided to not have a set rotation, and that the Conference Advisory Group would be responsible for conference site selection. Although there are many reasons for this decision, two major reasons are the desire to bring high quality professional learning experiences to as many different people as possible, and to avoid potentially straining our relationship with the local Affiliate community.
    – We have analyzed historical data that clearly shows that more “desirable” cities have better attendance. These cities are unfortunately more expensive for attendees. On the other hand, the more affordable cities consistently have lower attendance. With that being said, we are always considering cost with site selection. will attempt to include at least one lower-cost site in every year’s set of four conferences.

    Our Conference Advisory Committee will be an ongoing part of future conference decisions, and will continue to analyze data to inform future conference decisions. Please feel free to contact committee members Gina Kilday ([email protected]), Dave Ebert ([email protected]), or Jeff Shih ([email protected]) if you have any questions.

    • Hi Dave. Thanks for the very thoughtful and detailed response. I appreciate that you’ve considered these options and are trying to make the best decisions for everyone. Clearly there are more factors to consider (like affiliate relations) that I had not considered. Nice seeing you in San Diego.

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