Test scores for American students in the Program for International Student Assessment for 2012 were released Tuesday and revealed considerably lower math results compared to representatives from other countries. Test scores of the 65 participating countries showed that American students ranked 30th in math.
In response to the poor performance, The New York Times editorial board published an editorial that placed the blame for the low math scores on the notion that the way we teach math is "boring."
"One of the biggest reasons for that lack of interest is students have been turned off to the subjects as they move from kindergarten to high school," according to the editorial. "Many are being taught by teachers who have no particular expertise in the subjects. They are following outdated curriculums and textbooks. They become convinced they’re 'no good at math,' that math and science are only for nerds and fall behind."
The editorial staff suggest that in order to fix the problem, the curriculum needs to be updated to be more flexible with up-to-date textbooks, classes for engineering and computer science offered in high school, required certification for teachers in math and science and real world experience.
Reader responses to the editorial were mixed, and some even included their own suggestions of how to improve the system.
"People learn math when they realize they can use it. It’s a simple lesson to remember. The challenge is to apply that lesson in today’s context and using today’s technologies," said Joe Youcha, who directs the Building to Teach boatbuilding program for the Alexandria Seaport Foundation.
"We do not do our children any favors by telling them that math is fun. Skills must be mastered and a certain amount of drudgery must be endured," said Karsten Stueber, a professor of philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross.
Others believe even more strongly that math is necessarily dull and that the fault lies not in the way math is taught, but that the system has failed to help youths understand the importance of math.
In a piece for Slate, Konstantin Kakaes goes so far as to say that those who understand the true importance of math accept that math must be a little boring, but they learn it anyway.
Both arguments, though, believe learning math is important for different reasons. The New York Times believes that changing the way we do math is important so that our students score better in school and fill the 2.4 million jobs expected to open in the next five years that require higher math skills, while Kakaes believes that it is more important for students to just understand how the world works.
Sam Clemence is an intern for the Deseret News where he works with the opinion section staff and as a reporter for the enterprise team.
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