Fixing Math Class: What We're Doing Wrong

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.

Vigdor explains:

  • 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 lauren.aronson@aei.org or 202.862.5904.

For additional help, other media inquiries, or to reserve AEI's in-house TV studio or ISDN facilities, please contact:

TV Jesse Blumenthal jesse.blumenthal@aei.org / 202.862.4870

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About the Author

 

Jacob L.
Vigdor
  • Jacob Vigdor is a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. His research interests are in the broad areas of education policy, housing policy, and political economy. Within those areas, Mr. Vigdor has published numerous scholarly articles on the topics of residential segregation, immigration, housing affordability, the consequences of gentrification, the determinants of student achievement in elementary school, the causes and consequences of delinquent behavior among adolescents, teacher turnover, civic participation and voting patterns, and racial inequality in the labor market. These articles have been published in outlets such as the Journal of Political Economy, the Review of Economics and Statistics, the Journal of Public Economics, the Journal of Human Resources, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Mr. Vigdor's scholarly activities have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Spencer Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation. Mr. Vigdor has taught at Duke since 1999.

  • Phone: 919.613.9226
    Email: jacob.vigdor@duke.edu

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