Math Education Needs More Emphasis
Following the release of this year’s NAEP mathematics scores, Education Secretary Duncan led a chorus of public concern by proclaiming a “call to action” to improve our students’ math achievement, especially in comparison to the performance of their international counterparts. For the first time in 20 years, fourth grade scores were stagnant.
I applaud Secretary Duncan’s call to action and hope it is just the first step in recognizing the lack of emphasis we have placed on mathematics education in our country. When it comes to the three “R’s” (reading, writing and arithmetic), math clearly is the neglected “R.”
Unfortunately, the public display of dissatisfaction with our students’ progress in mathematics only comes to the forefront with the administrations of NAEP, and international tests like TIMSS and PISA. The neglect starts at the federal level and extends to the classroom. For every federal reading initiative there needs to be an equivalent for mathematics.
I recently compared the number of search results of “reading achievement” versus “math achievement” on the websites of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The results were about 2:1 and 3:1, respectively. Similar results were found on Google: “differentiated instruction reading” versus “differentiated instruction math” (2:1); “summer loss reading” versus “summer loss math” (3:1); and “reading assessments” versus “math assessments” (3:1).
A concrete action plan begins with increasing the amount of classroom time allotted for mathematics instruction. NCES’ 2007 reading and mathematics assessments found that more time is dedicated to language arts instruction than math instruction in the typical fourth grade classroom. For example, 75 percent of educators reported that they spent seven or more hours on language arts, while only 24 percent of educators reported spending the same amount of time on math (www.nationsreportcard.gov).
Second, educators, test and text publishers, and researchers need to develop more and better ways to support differentiated mathematics instruction in the classroom. There is just as much heterogeneity in a fourth grade math class as there is in reading, and the one-size-fits-all approach does not work. While the reading community has recognized and operated on this reality for years, mathematics is lagging behind.
And finally, educators need to be adequately trained to teach mathematics. The release of this year’s NAEP mathematics scores prompted David Driscoll, chair, National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), to say that a major reason for our fourth graders’ stagnant scores is the lack of content knowledge and mathematics preparation of our teachers (www.nagb.org). Secretary Duncan’s call to action can—and must—lead to a concrete plan of action. But in order to raise our students’ achievement in mathematics, we need to practice what we preach so that our students can meet the rising expectations of our country and the world.
Blogger’s Note: A principal’s perspective on this post will follow in the near future.