Even though we’d like to accuse our math teachers of being more or less incompetent, there is at least one indication that math education in this country is making some progress. In particular, the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study shows American students have gained 11 points over their average performance in 1995. A comparison of US scores, along with an article describing the findings, can be read here.
With an international average of 500, American 4th and 8th grade students scored a respectable 529, on par with the Netherlands, Lithuania, Germany, and Denmark. As might be expected, however, we’ve still got a significant way to go when it comes to competing with other countries. Hong Kong made the top of the list, with a score of 607.
Of course, this data by itself doesn’t do much to explain what factors may be driving our improvement. One suggestion is that we are simply aiming higher. The article linked above ends with the following:
The congressionally appointed National Math Panel recently called for sweeping changes in how schools teach math, pushing for a greater emphasis on algebra and higher-order problem solving. [Brookings Institution researcher Tom Loveless], a member of the panel, says the changes would go a long way toward improving our international ranking. “We’re making progress, but we’re several decades from being first in the world,” he says.
Maybe, then, the problem isn’t that we’re not making progress – it’s that we’re just not making progress fast enough. The question then becomes: how can we identify what’s working, and crank it up so that we can get our kids to a competitive level on an international stage as quickly as possible?
It’s a heavy question, indeed. I’d encourage you to ruminate on it. Perhaps some School House Rock will help to inspire you.