In the U.S. Math Education Isn't Working...

Among industrialized (OECD) nations, only students in Greece, Israel, Turkey, Chile and Mexico do worse on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of math performance than our own. PISA seeks to measure what 15-year-old students can do in mathematics (click here for the PISA report).

Why are the outcomes so poor?

There are many contributing factors. Keep in mind that math education is an enormous enterprise (55 million K-12 students, over 200,000 math teachers, enormous textbook publishing industry). Its great size results in great momentum and some large-scale problems:

  • teachers teach using the same ineffective methods with which they were taught
  • popular textbooks run "a mile wide and an inch deep." They are overstuffed with content and frozen for generations
  • failure is masked at every level. Students are moved along, year by year, whether they understand what they are doing or not
  • the grading "bar" is never set, but instead is manipulated to show desired results without regard to actual student understanding or achievement

Also, there are classroom-level factors, the Four Pillars, that support our unsuccessful system of math education:

  1. the approach (not the content) of math education is too abstract and decontextualized
  2. math education conveys rituals and precedures but not understanding
  3. metacognitive activity is entirely absent in math education
  4. there are sociolinguistic facets of math education, invisible to most teachers, that have no impact on many students, but present enormous obstacles for others

What Can Be Done?

For a detailed analysis of the current state of math education, findings from the cognitive sciences that are relevant to teaching and learning math, and a new, modern approach to math education, a Computationally Augmented Approach to Math and Problem Solving (CAAMPS), see Matt Brenner's:

The Four Pillars Upon Which the Failure of Math Education Rests (and what to do about them)