Math education in America is failing to prepare students for the 21st century. That’s the message that comes across loud and clear in the video The State of Education- A look at the state of education in America. Although I’m Canadian and teach in a Canadian secondary school, I believe the points the video makes applies to both Canadian and American education systems.

Bob Compton executive producer of the video 2 000 000 minutes and Molly Brand President of the American Counsel of Education offer some explanations. Bob Compton, notes that in China and India students focus on academics and set very high goals and then strive to achieve these goals while in America students divide their focus on sports, academics, extra curricular activity and jobs. In America, the goal for students is to be well rounded. In China and India high academic achievement is valued and rewarded- different cultures, different values, different outcomes.

Students in China and India take four years of chemistry, four years of physics, four years of biology and four years of math while in American students take one year of chemistry, one year of physics, and one year of biology. Almost all Chinese students take calculus yet only 13% of American students take it. Clearly, American students aren’t well prepared for the high wage , high technology, high growth industries for the 21st century.

Molly Brand argues that the education system in particular is failing kids when it comes to math education. Forty percent of high school seniors can’t understand grade 8 math. Brand says that if she could change one thing it would be for teachers at the middle school level to be qualified, certified math teachers to give students a better grounding in math. Not having a good grounding in math has huge repercussions

Students know that they need to be able to do algebra in order to graduate. Since many students can’t do algebra, they drop out in grade 10. Surprisingly, at least to me, students who graduate from high school earn the same money as kids who drop out in grade 10. It takes post secondary education to earn big money. Yet, half of highschool students don’t graduate.

Brand ends on an optimistic note by saying that American graduates are more competitive, more creative and more entrepreneurial than their counterparts in Indian and China. That’s the advantage American’s have over Indian and Chinese graduates, and that ‘s what American schools need to nurture because that is their strength.

Now, I have a couple of questions? First, if it is the case that we can only compete in the more creative and entrepreneurial areas , what are school doing to nurture students’ right brains. Schools seem to value the creative arts less and less. Programs in the arts are getting cut all the time in favour of “the basics”.The art program at our school will take a hit nextyear and classes were canceled. Second, why do we have to specialize in either left brain activities or right brain activities. Why can’t we be excellent at both?

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Comments

10 Responses to “Math education in America is failing to prepare students for the 21st century”

  1. Mathew on June 8th, 2008 9:39 pm

    I think we focus too much on algorithms and not enough on a conceptual understanding of numbers and operations.

  2. Gary Sharma on June 9th, 2008 1:53 am

    Great article and good comments. I agree. The best outcome will be to combine both cultures and push for imbibing good practices from each other.
    It is good to see mass market affordable math tutoring from online companies like TutorVista.com that my kids use – $ 100 per month unlimited one-on-one tuitions using Indian teachers . I have been using for last 18 months with good results. As a parent living in US , I feel core math skill is invaluable and our school system just does not give that. Hence I went to TutorVista.com.
    On all other aspects , US education , schooling is great ( my kids attend a public school in Florida )
    Gary

  3. tracy on June 12th, 2008 5:31 am

    You ask great questions, Elona, as usual!
    Why can’t we focus on both? Hmmm…

    In general, teachers teach in their preferred learning style. Especially when they are asked to teach out of their comfort zone, which often happens in high school (eg – generalists being assigned math or science classes…).

    As teachers, we need to be aware of different learning styles and teach content from within different perspectives – offering choice for students while still holding high standards for learning.

    I think that is the only way to offer creativity AND content.

  4. Elona Hartjes on June 12th, 2008 6:17 pm

    Tracy,
    It’s true that teachers generally teach to their preferred learning style.

    When kids tell me that they don’t get something because the teacher can’t/didn’t teach it, I talk about students’ learning styles and teachers’ teaching style being out of sync.

    As a special ed teacher who writes IEP’s that include accommodations teachers need to make to help the particular student be more successful, I find the problem often is a mismatch of teaching and learning styles.

    I talk to the teachers about the student’s preferred learning style and ask that the teacher make sure that she includes that learning style in her lesson plans. She can use the IEP accommodations as her guide to help her cover all the bases.

    It’s really simple when you think about it.

  5. tracy on June 12th, 2008 7:29 pm

    Elona,
    I agree that, in theory, it is really simple when you think about it. But when you are doing it, when you are a teacher with 30+ students in your class, 5+ of them with IEPs and others who probably should have them but don’t officially…Well, I think it is our responsibility to offer a lot of PD to ensure that teachers are able to offer the choices that are needed (as well as our responsibility to seek it out!)

  6. Greg Anderson on March 20th, 2009 2:57 pm

    Mathew, I must disagree. Have you ever tried to integrate a particularly nasty rational function without the time tested arithmetic algorithms used to manipulate the integrand into something you can actually apply the rules to?

  7. Revathi Sankaran on June 14th, 2010 7:08 am

    Amazing article yes i agree with your view. I am from India and i am a right brain educator, we teach vedic mathts for the kids at the age of 3 years and early education or the doman method of education from zero to 3 years…The importance given to maths skills is more in India and china and you have brought this to information to your blog viewers and i am sure some brain stimulation will happen along these area for some modification in your traching curriculum…
    .-= Revathi Sankaran´s last blog ..Baby Soft Spot |Precautions|Concerns|Secrets =-.

  8. Math education in America is failing to prepare students for the 21st century « Jmath International on January 17th, 2011 12:29 pm
  9. Mahesh Dhruv on August 28th, 2011 6:24 am

    I am from Mumbai,India.From 2004 to 2009 I taught mental speed maths to primary students and the result was good.Problem of poor grounding in math is very common throught the world. I am of the firm opinion that multiplication tables from 1 x 1 = 1 to 40 x 25 = 1000 if learnt by heart before the students reach the age of 10 and follow some simple techniques they will have full confidence and better interest in the subject and their grasping would be better. I am personaly interested in making and takingthe project to let the world know the importance of multiplication tables and mental speed maths in enhancing interest in the subject in toto from day one in the school and interestingly this will help him/her throughout his/her life.Those interested may contact me for 3 years project at:thanksresponding@yahoo.com.

  10. Restructuring Math Education: The One and the Many | gospelbbq on July 31st, 2012 10:14 am

    [...] yet. The math education in the US in general is seriously lagging behind other nations. The comparison with Chinese and Indian public school students shows large discrepancies. In this situation, homeschool students in the US, while vastly superior [...]

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