Mathematics Project

The State of Math Education, in Charts

By Sarah D. Sparks — July 31, 2023 1 min read
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U.S. students’ math performance dropped significantly during the pandemic and has yet to recover. But students at all levels of K-12 schooling have been struggling with geometry and statistics concepts for far longer.

Teachers have limited time and comfort with these math topics compared to algebra or number sense, experts say, making it more likely that geometry and probability get short shrift during the school year.

Momentum may be building for change.

“Many states are going through revision of their standards right now, and they’re including a lot more statistics and data science into their curriculum,” said Christine Franklin, the K-12 statistical ambassador for the American Statistical Association.

Teachers report limited background in some math topics

In nationally representative surveys in November 2022 and April 2023, K-12 math educators told the EdWeek Research Center that they had limited professional development in either the content or teaching approaches for statistics and geometry content.

“Many teachers are not really comfortable with teaching [data concepts], because it wasn’t something they had in their teacher preparation programs,” Franklin said.

“One of the issues that we’re trying to deal with is not only the professional development of teachers, but the professional development of teacher educators,” she said. “Most of the teacher educators are trained in [algebra-focused] mathematics, not statistics. So they are also in a position that they’re not comfortable with knowing exactly what they need to cover in the classes and how to cover them.”

Workforce needs to expand

Experts say it’s important for schools to prepare and engage more students in statistics and data science careers, which the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow significantly faster than most other career sectors.

Moreover, these math-related jobs pay better than many other fast-growing career areas, such as athletes, cooks, or wind energy technicians.

Dive Deeper

This story is part of Miscalculating Math, a deep examination of math instruction.
Overview and key data: Advocates say reforms in math teaching are pushing out statistics and geometry and driving a drop in students’ math scores. Here’s what you need to know.
Q&As: Hear three professionals talk about how they use statistics and geometry in their careers.
Handy guide: Find tips, lesson ideas, and free resources for beefing up instruction in statistics and geometry.
Quiz: Test your knowledge of math concepts, and then see how U.S. students fared.
Complete Coverage: There’s even more to explore on this topic. Check out the complete collection, Miscalculating Math.

Laura Baker, Creative Director contributed to this article.


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