StateImpact Florida
1:00 pm
Fri May 10, 2013

Study: Schools And Colleges Are Teaching The Wrong Type Of Math

Most students are being taught math they will never use, while schools skimp on or omit foundational skills student use more according to a new study.
Credit mjymail (tiggy) / Flickr

Community college students are needlessly assigned to remedial math classes to learn lessons they won’t use during their studies, according to new research from a Washington, D.C. group.

And the study also found that many high school graduates are not learning subjects they will need to use in their careers.

The study was produced by the Washington, D.C.-based National Center on Education and the Economy and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“What these studies show is that our schools do not teach what their students need,” the authors wrote, “while demanding of them what they don’t need; furthermore, the skills that we do teach and that the students do need, the schools teach ineffectively. Perhaps that is where we should begin.”

A StateImpact Florida and Florida Center for Investigative Reporting series showed more than half of the students who took Florida’s college placement exam in 2012 were assigned to at least one remedial class.

The series noted that colleges and K-12 officials said they had done a poor job of coordinating on the type of classes high school graduates would need to complete college-level work.

The National Center on Education and the Economy study found that first-year college math work was generally on a level they called Algebra 1.25. That means community college students would have to know most of the concepts in Algebra I, plus some geometry, statistics and other lessons.

But the study found that some students were never taught elementary-level concepts necessary for college-level work, such as geometric visualization and complex measurement.

The authors argue schools need to ensure students master elementary and middle school-level concepts, and that the more advanced subjects, such as Algebra II, are less vital.

Just five percent of workers will use the math taught in the sequence of courses typically required by K-12 schools: Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus and Calculus.

“To require these courses in high school is to deny to many students the opportunity to graduate high school because they have not mastered a sequence of mathematics courses they will never need,” the authors wrote.

They cautioned that the study should not be used to make the case for lowering high school graduation requirements. In fact, they argue, colleges should slowly raise their standards — “greatly” — and adjust what students are expected to know.

You can read the study here. The Miami Herald included how Miami-Dade College is already adjusting to these concerns.

And you can read our full “13th Grade” series here.