‘I’m no good at math’ simply won’t compute

The numbers are in. Apparently, when it comes to numbers, our students don’t fare so well. No matter how bad you are at math, a ranking of 24th out of 29 countries should compute as a poor performance.

Deputy Education Secretary Eugene Hickok, in response to the international study of countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said we need to get kids more interested in math and science at a younger age, and attract more qualified math teachers.

We believe students need more math in their educational diet. Currently, our state requires only two years of math to get a high school diploma. Many kids stop after three. Just like studying a foreign language, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And yes, you do need math in everyday life.

Community colleges have been shouting to anyone who’ll listen that there is a problem. Half the students entering community college need to take a remedial math course before they can take a regular college credit math course. The numbers are lower at four-year schools, but that doesn’t assuage the concern.

Edmonds Community College has taken the approach of integrating math into traditionally “non-math” courses, such as (gulp) English, art and biology. It’s only fair, students. Multi-paragraph story problems worked their way into math classes long ago.

Subjects may be studied separately so students can master them, but life is full of juggling various skills and topics within the course of a day. Just as solid reading and writing skills enable people to absorb information and communicate effectively, strong math skills nurture rational thinking and logic.

The subjects of reading and math are not exclusive; they are complementary. Adults are often caught saying, “I’m not a math person,” or “I’ve never been good at writing.” They adopted that thinking during childhood and it’s incorrect. Students have strengths that should be encouraged, but not at the expense of learning, even mastering, other foundational subjects.

Our country’s students have suffered from the epidemic of math anxiety for far too long. It’s time to increase the expectations at the high school level so our students can compete at the college and career level.

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