In my last post, on summer brain drain, I talked about how math is an area where many students lose skills over the summer. I also have math on my mind as Virginia and many other states are increasing the rigor of math standards by revising the Standards of Learning and adding new Technology-enhanced items. Recently, I saw a commercial designed to raise awareness that the United States is ranked 25th in math out of 34 countries tested using the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment. This test given near the end of compulsory schooling, aims to measure skills in math, science, and reading, and is considered one of the most comprehensive measures of international achievement. Among the various countries tested, American 15 year olds performed about average in reading and science and below average in math.
If we keep raising our standards and increasing our level of standardized testing, why do we continue to underperform? The United States mediocre scores on the PISA exam are frequently referred to by those that seek educational reform. Some argue that this is the result of failing to put the most-talented teachers in the most challenging classrooms, pointing out that top-scoring education systems provide comparable opportunities to all students regardless of wealth. Microsoft Corporation Chairman, Bill Gates suggests that school officials overhaul teacher pay, rewarding teachers for results rather than seniority or degrees held. In addition it is often mentioned that, successful school systems in other countries offer more autonomy to individual schools in terms of choosing their curriculum. These are all valid points, great topics for debate, and I would love to hear your thoughts.
Whatever the cause may be, the impact is clear. An OECD study with Stanford University found that if the United States raised its average PISA scores by 25 points over the next 20 years; this would result in a gain of $41 trillion to the U.S. economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010.
As a parent, of a child born in 2010, who plans to send my children to public school, I found this all very daunting, but I am not involved with educational policy reform. So, what can I do about this? As I was looking through a Bloomberg article examining these disappointing testing results, I was struck by something that the author highlighted: The U.S. is wealthier than most of its OECD peers and its parents are better educated. This got me thinking that maybe part of what needs to be done can be accomplished at home. I believe, as I know many of you do, that a high quality education starts at home.
Often we incorporate reading into daily routines at home, but what about math? How can parents help their children to improve their math skills in a way that is fun? Here is an idea called “Bedtime Math,” from New York Times Motherlode blogger KJ Dell’Antonia. I know what you are thinking, “Really!? Math at bedtime,” but these problems are fun and interesting. Take a look: http://bedtimemathproblem.org/, and maybe you will find that incorporating a bedtime math problem in conjunction with your regular bedtime story can be your little way of making sure that a high-quality education begins at home.
I am sure some of you have some great ideas on how to incorporate math into everyday life. Please comment and leave them below. Here are the articles I read that inspired this post: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-07/teens-in-u-s-rank-25th-on-math-test-trail-in-science-reading.html