How to Solve America’s Math Problem

Photo by Michel Porro on Unsplash

We use words and numbers for different reasons. However, required math classes may factor in the academic success or failure of high school and college students. Even if you aren’t going to be an engineer, getting through high school or college means getting through math. The goal of our education system is to make everybody have a full menu of mathematics up to including calculus. But, I don’t see any rational reason for this at all. Why do we need to take all these math classes? I think this isn’t necessary for everyone.

People need mathematics for actual learning, and at least there should be other options alternatives instead of this rigid math curriculum for everyone. Minimum requirements for math are different across the country. Still, many states today demand to get through the quadratic equations in two years of algebra to graduate high school and most college degrees also require some math credits.

There are several myths about mathematics. One of the myths is that every one of us is going to have to know algebra, geometry, trigonometry in the 21st century because that’s the way a high tech age is going. It’s a total myth because, at most, 5% of people use advanced math in their work.

We use math as a term indiscriminately. There should be a distinction between mathematics and arithmetic because we teach arithmetic very well up through grades five or six. However, instead of continuing with arithmetic to “adult arithmetic or sophisticated arithmetic,” we immediately plunge people into geometry and algebra. As a result, Americans are quite illiterate in terms of numbers.

We should focus on alternative teaching such as numeracy that developing students’ mathematical literacy by giving them some real-world perspective on the subject such as how to read a corporate report, how to look at the federal budget, how to parse the numbers on the campaign trail, how votes are cast and how many seats are won, and all sorts of assignments that only require arithmetic but adult arithmetic.

We need algebra as an essential way of making sense of our world because many mathematical relationships are described using algebra. Algebra gives us an idea of representing relationships in general so that we can reason about them in the general case instead of specific cases. Algebraic equations and expressions are also ways of describing patterns that we may see and differences between those patterns. That is put about by the mathematicians. Some people feel like they have to say this; mathematics trains the mind, but actually, mathematics trains the mind for mathematics.

Mathematics is a sturdy divider of high school success. Several students succeed and move onward while a sizeable fraction does not. 1 out of every 5 of our citizens has not finished high school. In other words, we have a 20% dropout rate, which is the highest in the developed world. Unfortunately, the main academic reason for this dropout rate is algebra in the ninth grade, and most math teachers don’t dispute this failure rate.

The fact that failing algebra 1 is a ninth-grader is making a student more likely to drop out. It’s a huge problem that the mathematics education community should actively engage in. One of the ways that they can address this problem is by building a stronger foundation in k-8 mathematics with a more robust conceptual understanding. In k-8 mathematics, students are going to be much better prepared to be successful in algebra 1.

However, math failure is greater than just high school. 47% of people who start a four-year college do not get a degree. That’s a very high dropout rate, which is close to half. The chief academic reason is freshman math courses, which people fail and don’t makeup. Why don’t we ask ourselves to look at the talent we’re losing?

Why do the institutions in high school and college structure emphasize math as we do today? Even community colleges make students pass a stiff algebra test, which is the same thing at a higher level. If you take Princeton, Stanford, Yale, they want virtually all of their incoming students except for athletes to have an SAT score on the math of at least 700. That’s very high, which is the top 7%. Why does Princeton put this irrational math barrier?

I can argue that for some of them, that requirement may have been put there to ensure that they to filter people out. For example, the electrician’s union has to pass a course in Algebra 1 as a requirement for a print apprenticeship program.

To summarize, the formula for the right amount of mathematics isn’t optimal. We are figuring out the right equations, maybe one of the first significant problems for new graduates everywhere.

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