Several years ago, the Boston Globe ran a story about Americans and our expanding girth. The article included a pretty basic formula for calculating your body mass index (BMI). I have to admit I was shocked when several of my 20-something co-workers at the time—all college graduates mind you—could not do the simple math involved.
We're not talking second-order differential equations here or anything like that.
So I can only imagine the complete mortification of New York City education officials last month, when a plethora of errors in test preparation materials for math students in Grades 3 through 7 was discovered after the materials were sent out. Eighteen mistakes in all, they ran the gamut from egregious errors in some simple math problems to some almost laughable typos. See the complete New York Times story here.
Officials blamed it on a handy scapegoat, the copy editor.
A good copy editor is hard to find, that's for sure. But I think the incident only serves to under score the sad shape that math education is here in the U.S.
The fact that college-educated adults can't even handle the basic stuff is bad enough. But when the Education Department of our nation's biggest city can't hire someone qualified enough to get it right first—that is truly shameful.
Wait, it's getting worse.
According to results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. students perform more poorly in math than many of their counterparts around the world. The same study indicates that even high school seniors who take advanced courses in math perform substantially below students in most other countries. Maybe that's why the most popular college textbook is one on remedial math education.
I could blame it on taxpayers like you and me, who are apparently not willing to pay teachers enough to encourage more talented people to teach our kids. Or I could pick on our reluctance to embrace standardized testing, which would at least ensure that kids have actually mastered the basics of math before they graduate from high school.
But I am afraid that the real problem is that for more and more students, they simply don't see a reason why they are supposed to learn math. And if they think it's a job for the copy editor, could we blame them?