The cost of poor math skills

The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (UK) presents the news of a new report about “The long term cost of numeracy difficulties“. The report concludes that poor skills in mathematics ends up costing the society an enormous amount of money. BBC reports:

Children who are bad at maths at school end up costing the taxpayer up to £2.4bn a year, a report suggests.

Head of distrubution and product at Barclays, Mike Amato said to BBC:

We are very conscious that every child needs basic numeracy skills for survival.

This is also discussed in The Times and other sources. A key message is that spending money on mathematics education will save us a lot of money in the future.

If you have more information on this, links to other sources, similar studies in other countries, etc., feel free to leave a comment!

TIMSS 2007

The results from TIMSS 2007 were released today, and the media appears to be full of reports about how the students in each of our countries are doing. Overall, countries from Asia are on top as usual. If you want to learn more, there is a webcast to watch (.rm and .mov formats), international reports to read as well as a Technical Report and a very interesting set of Encyclopedias, which offer a nice overview of the mathematics (and science) teaching in each of the participating countries. That means: lots of interesting reading to do!

Testing, testing and comparing test results…

In 2003 (in the U.S.), the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered assessments in reading and mathematics for grades 4 and 8. Representative samples of students were made from about 100 public schools in each state. A research report called “Comparison Between NAEP and State Mathematics Assessment Results: 2003” now focus on the question whether these results are comparable to the results published by individual state testing programs. The entire report is available online (only!), and can be downloaded in PDF format (Vol I and II).

The introduction contains some interesting historical remarks about achievement testing in the U.S., and this might be interesting to non-Americans (like myself).

National Mathematics Advisory Panel

In the U.S., the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (on request from the President himself) has delivered a report to the President and the U.S. Secretary of Education. This final report was delivered on March 13, and is freely available for anyone to download (pdf or Word document). I know this is old news already, but I will still present some of the highlights from the report here. Be also aware that there will be a live video webcast of a discussion of the key findings and principle messages in the report. The webcast will be held tomorrow, Thursday March 26, 10-11.30 a.m. Eastern Time. This discussion will be lead by Larry R. Faulkner (Chair of the Panel) and Raymond Simon (U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education).

A key element of the report is a set of “Principal Messages” for mathematics education. This set of messages consists of six main elements (quoted from pp. xiii-xiv):

  • The mathematics curriculum in Grades PreK-8 should be streamlined and should emphasize a well-defined set of the most critical topics in the early grades.
  • Use should be made of what is clearly known from rigorous research about how children learn, especially by recognizing a) the advantages for children in having a strong start; b) the mutually reinforcing benefits of conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and automatic (i.e., quick and effortless) recall of facts; and c) that effort, not just inherent talent, counts in mathematical achievement.
  • Our citizens and their educational leadership should recognize mathematically knowledgeable classroom teachers as having a central role in mathematics education and should encourage rigorously evaluated initiatives for attracting and appropriately preparing prospective teachers, and for evaluating and retaining effective teachers.
  • Instructional practice should be informed by high-quality research, when available, and by the best professional judgment and experience of accomplished classroom teachers. High-quality research does not support the contention that instruction should be either entirely “student centered” or “teacher directed.” Research indicates that some forms of particular instructional practices can have a positive impact under specified conditions.
  • NAEP and state assessments should be improved in quality and should carry increased emphasis on the most critical knowledge and skills leading to Algebra.
  • The nation must continue to build capacity for more rigorous research in education so that it can inform policy and practice more effectively.

During their 20 month long work, the Panel split in five task groups, where they analyzed the available evidence in the following areas:

  • Conceptual knowledge and skills
  • Learning processes
  • Instructional practices
  • Teachers and teacher education
  • Assessment

These groups are visible in the main chapter headings of the report.

After having presented their principle messages, the panel present 45 main findings and recommendations for the further development of mathematics education in the U.S. These 45 findings and recommendations are split in the following main groups (strongly resembling the list of task groups above):

  • Curricular content
  • Lesson processes
  • Teachers and teacher education
  • Instructional practices
  • Instructional materials
  • Assessment
  • Research policies and mechanisms

These are the main issues in the forthcoming video webcast. All in all, it is an interesting report, so go ahead and read it!

Report on mathematics coursetaking and achievement

Robert Bozick and Steven J. Ingels recently published a report called: Mathematics Coursetaking and Achievement at the End of High School: Evidence from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002).

The report is available as downloadable pdf. I have copied the description of the report below:

This report documents and examines the relationship between the number
and types of math courses taken in the 11th and 12th grade and growth
in mathematics proficiency over the same time period. Using data from
the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), the analysis
identifies the coursetaking sequences most prevalent among contemporary
high school students in their junior and senior years, sociodemographic
characteristics of the students who follow these course sequences, and
the association between specific courses and course sequences and
mathematics gains over the last two years of high school. Because most
students (94 percent) entered the second half of high school with a
mastery of basic mathematics skills such as simple arithmetic and
operations, most learning during this time was in intermediate-level
mathematics skills and concepts. For example, the percentage of
students with an understanding of simple problem solving skills grew
from 53 to 65 percentage points over the two year period. In terms of
learning in specific content areas, the largest gains in intermediate
skills such as simple operations and problem solving were made by those
who followed the geometry‚Äďalgebra II sequence. The largest gains in
advanced skills such as derivations and making inferences from
algebraic expressions were made by students who took precalculus paired
with another course. The smallest gains were made by students who took
one mathematics course or no mathematics courses during their last 2
years.