Journal Article: A road map for mathematics achievement for all students: findings from the national mathematics panel


Research: Federal, Reform: Accountability


Brown, C.,




Learning Point Associates.


The eminence, safety, and well-being of nations have been entwined for
centuries with the ability of their people to deal with sophisticated quantitative
ideas. Leading societies have commanded mathematical skills that have brought
them advantages in medicine and health, in technology and commerce, in
navigation and exploration, in defense and finance, and in the ability to understand
past failures and to forecast future developments. History is full of examples.
During most of the 20th century, the United States possessed peerless
mathematical prowess—not just as measured by the depth and number of the
mathematical specialists who practiced here but also by the scale and quality of
its engineering, science, and financial leadership, and even by the extent of
mathematical education in its broad population. But without substantial and
sustained changes to its educational system, the United States will relinquish its
leadership in the 21st century. This report is about actions that must be taken to
strengthen the American people in this central area of
learning. Success matters to the nation at large. It matters,
too, to individual students and their families, because it
opens doors and creates opportunities Much of the commentary on mathematics and science in
the United States focuses on national economic competitiveness
and the economic well-being of citizens and enterprises. There is
reason enough for concern about these matters, but it is yet more
fundamental to recognize that the safety of the nation and the
quality of life—not just the prosperity of the nation—are at issue.
In the contemporary world, an educated technical
workforce undergirds national leadership. Yet the United
States faces a future in which there will be accelerating
retirements affecting a large fraction of the current science
and engineering workforce, even as the growth of job opportunities in this sector
is expected to outpace job growth in the economy at large. These trends will
place substantial stress on the nation’s ability to sustain a workforce with
adequate scale and quality. For many years, our country has imported a great
volume of technical talent from abroad, but the dramatic success of economies
overseas in the age of the Internet casts doubt on the viability of such a strategy
in the future, because attractive employment for technical workers is developing
in countries that have been supplying invaluable talent for U.S. employers. From
1990 to 2003, research and development expenditures in Asian countries other
than Japan grew from an insignificant percentage to almost half of American
R&D expenditures. There are consequences to a weakening of Americanindependence and leadership in mathematics, the natural sciences, and
engineering. We risk our ability to adapt to change. We risk technological
surprise to our economic viability and to the foundations of our country’s
security. National policy must ensure the healthy development of a domestic
technical workforce of adequate scale with top-level skills.
But the concerns of national policy relating to mathematics education go far
beyond those in our society who will become scientists or engineers. The national
workforce of future years will surely have to handle quantitative concepts more
fully and more deftly than at present. So will the citizens and policy leaders who
deal with the public interest in positions of civic leadership. Sound education in
mathematics across the population is a national interest.
Success in mathematics education also is important for individual citizens,
because it gives them college and career options, and it increases prospects for
future income. A strong grounding in high school mathematics through Algebra II
or higher correlates powerfully with access to college, graduation from college,
and earning in the top quartile of income from employment. The value of such
preparation promises to be even greater in the future. The preparation promises to be even greater in the future. The
National Science Board indicates that the growth of jobs in the
mathematics-intensive science and engineering workforce is
outpacing overall job growth by 3:1.
International and domestic comparisons show that
American students have not been succeeding in the
mathematical part of their education at anything like a level
expected of an international leader. Particularly disturbing is the
consistency of findings that American students achieve in
mathematics at a mediocre level by comparison to peers
worldwide. On our own “National Report Card”—the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—there are positive trends of scores at Grades 4 and
8, which have just reached historic highs. This is a sign of significant progress.
Yet other results from NAEP are less positive: 32% of our students are at or
above the “proficient” level in Grade 8, but only 23% are proficient at Grade 12.
Consistent with these findings is the vast and growing demand for remedial
mathematics education among arriving students in four-year colleges and
community colleges across the nation.
Moreover, there are large, persistent disparities in mathematics
achievement related to race and income—disparities that are not only devastating
for individuals and families but also project poorly for the nation’s future, given
the youthfulness and high growth rates of the largest minority populations.


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