U.S. students just aren’t very good in math when compared to students in other countries. In the recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), our fourth-graders performed poorly, middle school students performed worse, and high school student were simply unable to compete. Unfortunately, it’s been the same story for years. Furthermore, the criticism that tests like these aren’t valid because other countries’ scores are based on a highly selective population simply was not true for this test because of the methods used to measure enrollment in math classes.
Math Is Important
It is obvious that having a population with well-developed math skills is very important. In testimony before Congress, Alan Greenspan pointed out that more than one-third of today’s jobs in our workforce are in professional, technical, or managerial occupations and even more jobs in the future will require mathematical expertise with the proliferation of information technology. He states that we have been fortunate to attract so many skilled young people to the United States; however, our students need greater skills to take advantage of tomorrow’s labor market.
Causes of Weak Math Skills
You can’t just point your finger to one cause for the poor knowledge of math of our country’s students. Blame largely goes to these three areas:
- Curriculum: Too much time is spent on reviewing arithmetic in middle school rather than moving onto algebra and geometry.
- Teachers: Our teachers have weak mathematical training when compared to training in other countries. In fact, there is a close relationship between a teacher’s knowledge of math and the performance of his or her students.
- Textbooks: Our students study far more math topics than those in other countries each year. There is too much breadth and not enough depth. Plus, there is more emphasis on how to use math rather than how to do math.
What Do You Think the Solution Is?
Attention is beginning to be focused on improving the math curriculum, teacher training, and textbooks. What is happening in your children’s schools? Are they on the right track?