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Numeracy, not math. Another rant.

HERE’S an apparent paradox: Most Americans have taken high school mathematics, including geometry and algebra, yet a national survey found that 82 percent of adults could not compute the cost of a carpet when told its dimensions and square-yard price. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently tested adults in 24 countries on basic “numeracy” skills. Typical questions involved odometer readings and produce sell-by tags. The United States ended an embarrassing 22nd, behind Estonia and Cyprus. We should be doing better. Is more mathematics the answer? Andrew Hacker (quoted by Larry Cuban) in "The Wrong Way to Teach Math"

Any long time readers of the Blue Skunk know that ranting about mathematics instructions is a common theme of this blog. For example see:

The current political debates have reinforced my despair over numeracy having any impact on the direction our country heads in its economic policy. General diatribes about the 1% (uber rich), the 47% (takers), and 50% (deadbeats) make it easy to understand why one of our candidates loves the "uneducated."

But is the general population undeducated or miseducated?

In our data-loving culture, especially schools, I often find numeracy in short supply. For me an important aspect of numeracy is understanding the context in which the numbers are placed.In a report to the school board last week, we shared the following graph about how our LMS is being used in its first year of implementation.

Personally, I (and I think the board) found the numbers impressive. This program IS being used - and its use seems to be growing. But I have little context for these numbers. How do we compare to other districts? What is being done on the visits?  What percent of possible users does this represent?

I've long encouraged librarians to add context to numbers. In an old column, Demonstrating Our Impact - Putting Numbers in Context Part 2 March 2007, I advised:

Context and Focus Numbers alone, of course, mean little. They need to be interpreted and placed in some type of meaningful context. Context can be achieved by setting and meeting goals and by looking at numbers in a historical context. Look, for example, at how each statement gets more powerful:

  • 28 teachers participated in collaborative units (Is this good or bad?)

  • 78% of teachers in the building participated in collaborative units (This tells me more.)

  • 78% of teachers, up from 62% of teachers last year, participated in collaborative teaching units. (This shows a program that is getting stronger.)

In light of NCLB’s focus on the achievement of subgroups within a school, data that relate specifically to target populations may be more powerful than that which applies to the entire school population. While numbers showing that book circulation has grown by x% this year is good to report, numbers that show book checkout by the building’s ELL (English Language Learners) has increased by x% is probably of more interest to your administration.

Numeracy, not math.

Or you'll never know who your next president might be.


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Reader Comments (1)

22 from 24 is awful. that's better we change our method teaching math. we should be focused on practical math not just theory

March 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterوب مانی

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