Education Letter to the Editor

Confusing Cause and Effect in Assessing Courses

July 31, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

In response to “What Kind of Math Matters?” in your Diplomas Count special issue (June 12, 2007):

“There are clear benefits to taking advanced courses such as Algebra 2, labor experts and education researchers agree. Studies show that students who take advanced math in high school are more likely to succeed in college and secure better-paying jobs.” That theme is repeated multiple times throughout the article.

Have these experts and researchers ever been in a high school? Have they not considered the very real possibility that students’ success may not be due as much to their having taken advanced math as to their having signed up for it in the first place? Even very egalitarian high schools with minimal course-leveling experience students’ self-imposed stratification as they progress through the math offerings. Very bright, math-oriented students are most likely to successfully navigate their way through trigonometry and calculus. And very bright, math-oriented students are “more likely to succeed in college and secure better-paying jobs.” The so-called experts should not confuse cause and effect.

Your article does make a valid point, one mentioned in a number of other articles on the subject: The American math curriculum is extremely broad and abysmally shallow. Students need more time spent developing the math skills most often encountered in everyday use and more time using those skills in real-world problem-solving.

Joseph H. Crowley


Warwick Area Career & Technical Center

Warwick, R.I.