NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 9, 2008

Summertime means more school for an increasing number of high school students who have struggled in their math courses, says Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. 

Multiple reports have found that students across America are not improving their math skills:

  • Recently, the Georgia Department of Education said about 40 percent of eighth-graders failed the state's math test.
  • Other states have reported high failure rates on similar eighth-grade math tests.
  • A new study by the Center on Education Policy noted a familiar, and troublesome, trend -- math proficiency declines as students move from elementary school through high school.
  • In March, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel released a report which noted that U.S. students lack a deep understanding of basic skills, including a grasp of whole numbers and fractions.

According to Welsh, the system could be contributing to the kids' poor performances:

  • Virginia's education gurus have de-emphasized memorization in favor of "conceptual thinking"; the result is seniors who are not just incapable of multiplication, but also unable to identify the verb in a sentence or come within 100 years of placing the Civil War.
  • Kids also are taught the wrong material at the wrong time; for example, middle schoolers are pushed to take algebra, although many of them still lack the necessary abstract thinking skills.
  • The same misguided "acceleration" plays out in high school, with guidance counselors pushing kids to take calculus because they think it will help them get into college.
  • Many elementary school teachers are notoriously weak in their own math skills.

There has to be more emphasis on memorizing to get kids to have the ability to instantly recall basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, says Welsh.

Source: Patrick Welsh, "Math Meltdown," USA Today, July 8, 2008.


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