As the world has become more technologically driven, math skills have become more important than ever before. The United States continues to be a leader in new technological innovations, but that leadership is in danger as the next generation prepares to take over positions of leadership in American companies. We have fallen behind in math education, from elementary through high school and in to college, and that has created a society in which only a very small group of people have the knowledge and skills to push forward new ideas and make substantive changes to the world. The question is: how did we reach this crisis point? There are three big reasons why math education is struggling in America.
School Funding Cuts
Some topics are meant to be discussed in large classrooms where there is not a lot of need for interaction between the instructor and the students. This is one of the reasons why history and government classes in college tend to be taught in huge lecture halls, while math classes tend to have, at the very least, very small labs for students to seek help. Funding cuts have made classrooms in the United States too full, and teachers do not have the time to give to students who need a little extra help. Countries like Sweden, with high scores on math exams, tend to have student teacher ratios of less than 10:1, while in the United States that ratio is nearly 20:1, and gets even worse in urban school districts. The only solution to this problem is to increase school spending and bring more teachers back to the classroom.
Lack Of Qualified Teachers
Math teachers in the United States have to go down one of two paths. On one hand they can go the education route in college and get certified right away as a teacher with an emphasis on mathematical education. While this shows that they know who to manage a classroom and draw up a lesson plan, it does not help with higher order mathematical problems. On the other hand, potential teachers can go the pure math route and try to get certified as instructors later on; however, they lack the real world experience to make sure that they know how to pass along information effectively. In both cases we are left with teachers that only have half of the education they need to be truly effective, especially at the elementary school level, but there is little incentive to get the teachers to train any differently.
Emphasis On Standardized Testing
Finally, the biggest issue of them all is standardized testing. Proponents of the program say that we need these tests to gauge how well instructors are doing in the classroom, while opponents point out that teachers spend more time talking about how to take the test than actually teaching the material. Standardized testing has ruined the ability for teachers to present material and walk students through at a pace where they can feel comfortable. Instead, we have teachers forced to move on before their students fully understand a concept and that means the students fall further and further behind. This is not something that is likely to change any time soon, but unless it does, teachers will continue to be evaluated using the wrong metrics.
American math education is coming to rely more and more on third party programs like Masteryed to do jobs that were being done in the classroom. Unless serious changes are made to the schools and the educational system overall, math education will continue to suffer.