Mathematics

The Education Word of the Year Is...

By Elizabeth Heubeck — December 22, 2023 4 min read
Abstract black letters scrambled on a white background with the letters M, A, T, and H colored in red.
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It’s that time of the year when organizations reflect on their “picks” of the past 12 months. Think biggest employment trends (like hybrid work), employee of the year, and, for language-driven organizations like dictionary publishers and news sites, the Word of the Year.

The Word-of-the-Year tradition dates back to at least 1990 when Allan Metcalf, former long-term executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, selected the society’s first-ever Word of the Year: “bushlips,” which the organization defines as “a little-known term for insincere political rhetoric, created to deride former president George H.W. Bush’s failed campaign promise, Read my lips: no new taxes.”

Since then, a growing number of organizations have taken up this annual tradition. Merriam-Webster adopted the Word of the Year in 2003, basing its selection on page hits and popular searches to its website. Its 2023 pick is “authentic.” Oxford followed suit in 2004, selecting a word or expression that “attracted a great deal of interest” within the given year. For 2023, it’s “rizz,” short for charisma.

This year, Education Week is getting in on the tradition.

Our methodology was fairly straightforward, though not exactly scientific. A few members of the editorial staff recalled 10 or so words that appeared extensively in our 2023 coverage. We then matched our recollections against numbers in our database that told us exactly how many times each of the selected words had appeared in 2023 coverage—including articles, videos, and photo captions.

Our No. 1 word of 2023, which far outpaced almost every other selection in the number of times it popped up in coverage, surprised us initially. It also reminded us how committed our readers are to Education Week’s core mission of empowering the entire K-12 education community with deep insights and actionable resources. With 1,367 mentions since Jan. 1, 2023, Education Week’s 2023 Word of the Year is (cue drum roll)...

Math.

Flashy? No. Critical? Yes. This year, we provided extensive coverage on just about every facet of math that matters—to entire school systems, individual educators, parents, and, of course, students.

Related Reading

First grade students participate in a Slow Reveal Graph exercise about heart rates in different animals led by Math Specialist Jenna Laib at Michael Driscoll School in Brookline, Mass. on June 1, 2023.
First grade students participate in a Slow Reveal Graph exercise about heart rates in different animals led by Math Specialist Jenna Laib at Michael Driscoll School in Brookline, Mass. on June 1, 2023.
Sophie Park for Education Week

We reported on the disturbing trend of declining math proficiency, as evidenced by the most recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics assessment. The coverage included an interview with Peggy Carr, the commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, who offered insight on what the longer-term run of declining scores means.

Also this year, assistant editor Sarah D. Sparks spent months diving deeply into the topic of math for an enterprise reporting project investigating the lack of attention to geometry and statistics in K-12 math education.

Here are some of the other math subjects we tackled in 2023, grouped loosely by theme.

How and why to teach math

We shed light on discord about the best way to teach math, based on teachers’ and professors’ differing opinions. We also explored math teachers’ overall preparedness to teach the subject, especially statistics and geometry, both of which have strong practical ties to fast-growing professions. We interviewed professionals in some of those nontraditional math careers—an animator, a health researcher, and a data journalist—who answered the question: When am I going to use this math in real life?

Math, from an equity lens

We approached math coverage from a lens of ensuring that all students have a decent shot at mastering crucial math skills, for example, by exploring how to make math instruction more accessible to English-learners. We also interviewed the CEO of the Calculus Project, Adrian Mims, whose work focuses on supporting Black and Latino students in advanced high school math classes.

Barriers, old and new

We dove into some of the barriers to learning math, both age-old and brand new. In the former category, we covered why students struggle with word problems, and how teachers can help. We also addressed a question students have been asking forever: How is math relevant?

Further, we began to examine new math challenges arising from artificial intelligence, like how math teachers can adapt their methods given that AI can solve algebra equations in seconds. Rapidly emerging educational uses and drawbacks to the technology likely will continue to be a topic we monitor and cover in the year ahead.

Runners-up

In the meantime, take a look at the runners-up for Word of the Year in our top five coverage areas for 2023, based on the number of times they appeared in our content throughout the year:

  • Reading. The transition to instruction based on the “science of reading” continued to be a dominant theme, along with new research on key and overlooked reading topics, such as morphology.
  • ESSER. Money talks, and articles on federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding attracted much interest in 2023.
  • Gender. We waded into the controversy surrounding gender-related issues in K-12 education, from whether teachers should be permitted to teach about or even mention the term in classrooms, to persistent pay gaps along gender lines.
  • ChatGPT. We wrote extensively about this new AI-driven language processing tool and how it’s reshaping education.
  • Recovery. Post-pandemic academic recovery of students’ learning remained a topic of high priority throughout the year.
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