With Math Skills Sliding, Teachers Group Is on a Mission

More than 20 percent of U.S. adults don’t have the basic math skills to make it through middle school, according to a new National Institutes of Health study. A math teachers association is readying a campaign to change that.

How quickly can you figure the tip on a restaurant tab? How about the fractions to double a recipe? Can you calculate 30 percent off the price of that shirt you’re looking at—without a calculator?

There is a need to raise the image of mathematics with younger students and parents so that it is treated with the same amount of importance and urgency.

According to new research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about one in five U.S. adults does not have the basic math skills competency to do these calculations and more—skills needed to graduate from middle school.

“There’s absolutely a connection there,” said Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). “If our kids aren’t doing well on eighth-grade international comparisons, what makes you think they’re going to be doing real well as adults? Where does the gap get closed?”

The NIH study found that children who “failed to acquire a basic math skill in first grade scored far behind their peers by seventh grade” when tested on math skills needed to function in adult life.

That narrow window of opportunity creates a sense of urgency among the professionals who teach the subject. “If we wait until they get to sixth or seventh grade it’s too late,” said Gojak.

All of which is putting the math group on a mission. NCTM offers a variety of resources to help teachers better prepare their students, including scholarly publications, example activities, research briefs, and position papers. But a public image campaign currently in the works may be just what the mathematician ordered.

NCTM is working with experts in the field to develop a campaign that focuses on “how to move parents forward, how to move kids forward, and how to we move teachers forward,” Gojak said. “It’s still in the planning stages, but one of the things that we’re looking into is getting parents involved” to help kids understand the importance of math early in their education.

Getting parents and young children to give the same attention to math as they do to reading and writing in the critical early years is a must, she said.

“There is a need to raise the image of mathematics with younger students and parents so that it is treated with the same amount of importance and urgency,” said Gojak. “A public image campaign may be the way or the first step in helping to do that.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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