U.S. Needs a New Road to Math Competence, Authors Say

By Erik W. Robelen — August 25, 2011 1 min read
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It isn’t often that The New York Times, or any newspaper, serves up an op-ed on how to teach math, but today is one of those occasions.

The opinion piece in The Times, makes the case that math education in the United States should be reimagined to recognize that different math skills are useful for different careers. Indeed, the authors take aim at the new common-core standards in mathematics as problematic.

“The traditional high school math sequence is not the only road to mathematical competence,” write Sol Garfunkel, the executive director of the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, and David Mumford, a professor emeritus of mathematics at Brown University, in their essay, titled “How to Fix Our Math Education.”

The authors envision a curriculum in which algebra, geometry, and calculus would be replaced with the study of finance, data, and basic engineering.

“For instance, how often do most adults encounter a situation in which they need to solve a quadratic equation? Do they need to know what constitutes a ‘group of transformations’ or a ‘complex number’?” they write. “Of course professional mathematicians, physicists, and engineers need to know all of this, but most citizens would be better served studying how mortgages are priced, how computers are programmed, and how the statistical results of a medical trial are to be understood.”

Something tells me this op-ed may spur some strong reactions in the math world. What say you, Dear Reader?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.