Student Achievement

Why Do We Do So Poorly in Math?

By Anthony Rebora — November 17, 2010 1 min read
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In an article in the Atlantic, Amanda Ripley, a fellow at the New America Foundation, reviews some new data showing that U.S. students’ performance in math may be even worse than is commonly thought. If you were an employer looking for the “best and brightest high school grads from across the globe without regard to geography,” she hypothesizes, you probably wouldn’t need to spend too much time looking in the U.S. Even our more priveleged students, she finds, “do not compete favorably with average students in other well-off countries.”

Among the factors contributing to U.S. students’ poor aptitude in math, Ripley includes (quite damningly) sub-par preparation of teachers:

Meanwhile, a 2010 study of teacher-prep programs in 16 countries found a striking correlation between how well students did on international exams and how their future teachers performed on a math test. In the U.S., researchers tested nearly 3,300 teachers-to-be in 39 states. The results? Our future middle-school math teachers knew about as much math as their peers in Thailand and Oman—and nowhere near what future teachers in Taiwan and Singapore knew. Moreover, the results showed dramatic variation depending on the teacher-training program. Perhaps this should not be surprising: Teachers cannot teach what they do not know, and to date, most have not been required to know very much math.

Others—like Math for America founder Jim Simons—would say that more needs to be done to bring math-proficient individuals into teaching in the first place.

Would love to hear your views on all this, especially if you are a math teacher or curriculum specialist. What’s going on out there?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.