In a new policy brief American Enterprise Institute (AEI) adjunct scholar Jacob Vigdor explains what has gone wrong with American math education and what needs to be done to fix it.
Fact: Test results of American high school students in math are poor compared to those in other countries, and the proportion of new college graduates who majored in math-intensive subjects has declined by nearly half over the past sixty years.
- Too Much Too Soon for Too Many: Accelerating students in algebra and other advanced math courses does not always improve their math performance. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools, students who took algebra early scored thirteen percentile points lower on a standardized end-of-course test than students who took algebra on a regular schedule, and accelerated students were less likely to pass an end-of-course test in geometry.
- Dumbing Down Classes Hurts Strong Students: Attempts to close the achievement gap by reducing the rigor of math education have meant fewer top performers are equipped to pursue math careers; the past thirty years have witnessed a twenty-point increase in average math SAT scores but a 25 percent drop in the proportion of college students who major in math-intensive subjects.
- Different Students Need Different Courses: American students are not all the same, and a rational strategy to improve math performance must begin with a willingness to meet different students' needs rather than a single-minded focus on having all students taking the same classes.
Read the full report here and Vigdor's recent op-ed 'Does your job really require algebra?' here.
Jacob Vigdor is an adjunct scholar at AEI and a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University. He is available for interview and can be reached through [email protected] or 202.862.5904.
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