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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Math and Money in the Wall Street Journal
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention while I was traveling this past weekend. A presidential panel on math education is cautioning that a "broken" system of mathematics education threatens U.S. competitiveness, and that what is needed is a “renewed focus on the essentials.”

The WSJ reports, “The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, appointed by President Bush in 2006, is expected to urge the nation's teachers to promote "quick and effortless" recall of arithmetic facts in early grades, mastery of fractions in middle school, and rigorous algebra courses in high school or even earlier.” The presidential panel argues that in the wake of the PISA tests, in which U.S. 15 year olds ranked 25th in math out of 30 developed countries, new focus must be placed on math achievement in the U.S.

Now I’ve written before about studies that show that too many different subjects and areas being covered in U.S. math curriculum slow mastery of fundamental skills. The result of spreading coverage so wide is that we lose the depth, and our students lose the rigor they’ll need to raise those sagging scores.

The recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) which examines the teaching practices of high performing nations found that at least two-thirds of the top-performing countries administer a national sequence of mathematics standards and topics that build naturally upon each other from grade to grade, allowing for depth of study and progression.
"Without substantial and sustained changes to the educational system, the United States will relinquish its leadership in the twenty-first century," reads a draft of the final report, which will be released this week by the Department of Education.

To me, this only goes to reinforce what we say here at ED in ’08 that there’s a need for American education standards, benchmarked against the best in the world, that will help prepare our students to compete in the global economy. Math isn’t local, and the kinds of objectives this study is arguing for should be available to all U.S. students, no matter where they live!

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