Math education: What’s the problem?

  • Foreign students receive more than half of all doctorate degrees in science and engineering, and two-thirds of those in engineering alone, but many leave the country after they receive their degrees, limiting their potential to contribute to the U.S. economy. But new immigration policy focusing on skills over family reunification criteria could change that pattern.
  • Reforming current math curriculum may help, too. The Singapore math model, in which a limited number of topics are covered in a more in-depth way, but this raises questions about U.S. teacher preparedness and the U.S. school structure.
  • Tailoring math instruction to a student’s needs, and sorting students by groups according to those needs, may improve math instruction and performance.

“This report makes some good points,” said Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, noting that it is important not to oversimplify the problem. “Not every student will go to college and be a math major…but they still need a good foundation in mathematics. I’m not saying we should dumb down the curriculum; what I’m saying is that we should create a curriculum that meets the needs of kids where they are. If a problem were as simple as when should we teach algebra, we could solve it very easily. It’s about teaching math at all levels so kids can make sense of mathematics.”

See also:

New math software targets ‘perceptual learning’

Projects test real-world use of math as learning tool

Column: Why our kids hate math

Added Gojak: “I’m not opposed to kids who are ready for algebra to get it early…[but] I don’t believe that all kids need to take it in the eighth grade.”

She said middle school math curriculum should give students room to explore different math topics that might interest them, and that pushing students into abstract math before they’re truly prepared for it can be detrimental.

Students should all be exposed to some algebra at some point, but equally important, Gojak said, is a solid understanding of how math concepts work, as well as an ability to see and apply math in real-life situations. This, she said, will lead to thought and discussion about what algebra courses should include and what students should take away from the course.

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