December 30, 2009

Americans Are Terrible At Math

This is more than a little frightening:

According to the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Adult Literacy, U.S. adults are terrible at solving real-world math problems, like calculating tips or comparing prices in grocery stores.  Some dismal results:
*Only 42 percent were able to pick out two items on a menu, add them, and calculate a tip.
*Only 1 in 5 could reliably calculate mortgage interest.
*1 in 5 could not calculate weekly salary when told an hourly pay rate.
*Only 13 percent were deemed “proficient.”  Worse yet, only 1 in 10 women, 1 in 25 Hispanics and 1 in 50 African Americans made the grade.
*Americans are terrified of numbers when it counts most: 20 million Americans pay someone to file their 1040EZ, a one-page tax form with around 10 blanks to fill out.
Also, these numbers show up in U.S. student math scores, which are abysmal:
*The U.S. ranks 25th among 30 industrialized nations in math scores, down near Serbia and Uruguay. U.S. students thought they had the highest grades of any nation in the study, however.
*Half of 17 year olds couldn't do enough math to work in an auto plant, according to President's National Mathematics Advisory Panel.
*Study after study shows U.S. achievement falls off the cliff during middle school, when subjects like fractions and percentages are introduced -- exactly the skills you need as a consumer or, for that matter, to move on to algebra, calculus and advanced sciences.
But here’s another essential point. How can Johnny learn to add if Johnny’s teachers can’t?
*In 18 U.S. states, not even one elementary math class is required for certification.
*Some teaching colleges allow admittance as long as students have math skills equal to their future students -- that is, as long as they could pass a 5th grade math test.
*It's possible in some states to pass the teacher certification exam (Praxis) without answering a single math question correctly. 
*In Massachusetts, there's a special program to reacquaint teachers with math. The man who runs the program says half of teachers can't answer basic questions involving fractions and has concluded that many elementary teachers are "phobic" about math.
*Teachers seem to be math-averse from the start. College bound seniors headed for elementary education have math SAT scores significantly lower than the national average (483 vs. 515).

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