Everyone knows that mathematics education in this country is a mess. On the national news recently (November 9, 2010), it was announced that Harvard released a report stating that US high school students rank 31st out of 56 countries in mathematics. The report also indicated that only 6% of our high school students take advanced mathematics subjects; and this is true for both private and public schools. Then the report, as always, blamed teachers. It indicated that more highly qualified teachers will solve our problems. If only it was that easy.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will be describing the various major attempts that have been made at fixing mathematics education and explaining why they didn’t work (so we don’t repeat them); analyzing the horrendous first year Algebra failure rate; describing some new teaching techniques which will improve things slightly in mathematics classrooms right now; and, finally, describing the major paradigm shift that I believe needs to happen before any real progress can occur.
Certainly, being competitive in the global market is a necessary goal, and “being number 1 in the world” may be a desirable goal, but these are by no means the only issues of concern. The following goals, in no particular order, are all as important as the two just mentioned. When we have accomplished these goals, we will be much farther along the road to successful mathematics education.
1. That No Child Left Behind will end and no further federal testing will be necessary.
2. That the desired high school graduation requirement of 4 years of upper level mathematics (Algebra, Geometry, Advanced Algebra, and Calculus, for example) will become realistic and a reality.
3. That all teachers will be well-versed in and using the latest in brain-based teaching techniques.
4. That math anxiety will be eliminated.
5. That every child will have the foundation necessary to be successful in high school mathematics.
6. That the Algebra failure rate will drop from 50% to 0%.
7. That all girls will want to take math and science and will be successful in both.
8. That never again will a student say “I hate math.”
9. That the persistence that small children demonstrate for learning to walk, talk, and read will be extended to include math.
10. That the almost innate understanding that our young children have that they are smart enough and able to learn to walk, and talk, and read will become true for learning math as well.
11. That never again will a math student say “This is too hard. I can’t do this.”
12. That students will begin to actually ENJOY math because they find it easy and understandable.
13. That parents will feel confident to help their child with math just as they now do for language.
14. That public schools and local governments take on the necessary role of helping parents help their children with math.
15. That no parent will ever again say “I wasn’t good at math either.”
16. That everyone comes to understand the importance of mathematics in all our lives.
17. That all “gaps” — male vs. female, white vs.black, poor vs. wealthy, etc. — will disappear.
And on and on. Have I missed some important goals? Probably. I know that many of these goals are impossible until that major paradigm shift happens; but I also know that we can be working on some of these right now. The more we can accomplish now, the closer we get to fixing our mathematics education problems. We can not afford to fail.