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How to teach math? One size may not fit all

Math homework.
Math homework.

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Most high school math is completely useless to the majority of adults and "most citizens would be better served by studying how mortgages are priced, how computers are programmed and how the statistical results of a medical trial are to be understood." At least that’s the argument two mathematicians are making.

They suggest that current math curriculum doesn’t benefit all students. Some students will excel at math geared towards those with a future in the sciences, but others would be better off with some basic applied math.

They also worry that students who feel overwhelmed by more complex math will be turned off to the subject entirely and won’t learn the basics they need to get by in the real world.


But how can those students be identified? Is it helping or hurting to close the door on jobs that heavily use math and science—jobs that are often some of the best paying? Is the problem not the math but the way it’s being taught? And is this the right time to change math education in the US, when the US routinely falls behind other countries in the math and sciences?


Sol Garfunkel, executive director of the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications about the piece he co-wrote for the New York Times

Tom Loveless, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution; he’s a former sixth-grade teacher and Harvard public policy professor and is also a former member of the National Math Advisory Panel