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Math Skills Survey Shows U.S. Lags Behind

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the 'rithmetic dept.

Education 1528

3l1za writes "The New York Times reports that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released its results (pdf) for a test of mathematical skills given to 15 year olds in 40 different countries. A few apparent anomalies: The US kids rated 28th of 40 (so in the bottom third) while the Czech Republic, which spends in education 1/3 of what the US spends, ranked in the top 10. Further, only about 1/3 of US kids reported that they did not feel as though they were good at math, whereas about 2/3 of Koreans reported this--and the Koreans ranked in the top three. 'Mr. Schleicher said that students in countries that emphasized theorems and rote learning tended not to do as well as those that emphasized the more practical aspects of mathematics.'"

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1528 comments

First Post (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022088)

Now someone is going to tell me that I can't eve count to one!

Re:First Post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022134)

Oh, shit. My first FP, and I was so afraid I'd fail it that I posted AC. It's like getting a hole in one on the day you called in sick to work.

Re:First Post (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022214)

Oh, shit. My first FP, and I was so afraid I'd fail it that I posted AC. It's like getting a hole in one on the day you called in sick to work.
At least then you'd have proof of being able to count to one ;)

Re:First Post (-1, Troll)

wickedj (652189) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022137)

"Now someone is going to tell me that I can't eve count to one!"

Well, you certainly can't spell.

Re:First Post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022152)

Now someone is going to tell me that I can't eve count to one!
Surely not. That's because someone's going to tell you that you can't "even" spell.

Re:First Post (0, Troll)

flu1d (664635) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022184)

No, but I will say something about your typing/spelling skills :)

Re:First Post (2, Funny)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022234)

Chalk the "even" up to trying to type too freakin' fast. It's the same suggestion I get all the time, "slow down and take longer strokes." ;-)

Laziness (4, Funny)

moronicidiot (820628) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022089)

We = Lazy. Leave us alone and quit picking on us :)

Re:Laziness (3, Insightful)

Orgazmus (761208) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022135)

The day you leave everybody else alone :)

Re:Laziness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022215)

Ain't that the truth, I am American and I 100% agree with orgazmus

Re:Laziness (1)

moronicidiot (820628) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022218)

Fair point, but I was racing for first post. Which I lost cause I suck...I didn't have time for such things as logic.

Re:Laziness (5, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022228)

Everyone = Lazy. It's common to humanity as a whole; that's not the problem. The problem is summed up here:

"'Mr. Schleicher said that students in countries that emphasized theorems and rote learning tended not to do as well as those that emphasized the more practical aspects of mathematics.'"

Exactly. People need to feel that what they're being taught is relevant to them; otherwise, they'll never learn it. I can attest to this, as I'm sure can most people here.

The goal should be to make the children see *relevance* to what they're being taught. That's why I support programs that give kids hands-on reason to use what they learn - for example, ameteur rocketry to get them to learn physics, simple robotics competitions to learn electronics and mechanics, programming competitions to learn computer skills, etc. We need to make being a geek *fun* for kids.

Re:Laziness (2)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022272)

You can sum it all up with FIRST Robotics competition.

IMO I think almost every high school should have a FIRST Robotics team.

Re:Laziness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022241)

we are lazy..........the Democrats/Liberals/Progressives are screwing OUR schools up with this touchy/feely stupid nonsense......

Yabbut... (4, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022092)

Our American Football programs are still tops!

Re:Yabbut... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022246)

Only for American Football...

Re:Yabbut... (3, Funny)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022299)

But the folks who choose who plays for the national championship still can't count higher than two. (Though, in their defense, they seem to grasp numbers in the billions, as long as there's a dollar sign in front of the first number)

I could've told you that.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022094)

I could've told you that...

US's education sucks....

brain stumper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022095)

15 year olds in 40 different countries...
...US kids rated 28th of 40...
...which spends in education 1/3 of what the US spends...
...only about 1/3 of US kids reported that they did not feel...
...whereas about 2/3 of Koreans reported this...
..plus 4, minus the 7 equals...

oh man...I am confused already..


It's COOL to suck at math (4, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022102)

In this country, there's a huge stigma attached to being good at math. If you are good at math, you're a nerd, where as all the cool kids suck at math, and are proud of that fact. Change the perceptions, and you'll go a long way toward improving the scores.

Re:It's COOL to suck at math (1)

sarlen (836953) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022144)

I think most the problem is that parents don't care. If you have a parent who stresses to his child math and education altogether is important, he'll do much better. Parents just let kids get Ds and Cs and think it's fine though.

Then they complain and blame the government when their dead beat kid can't find a job.

Re:It's COOL to suck at math (4, Funny)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022157)

"In this country, there's a huge stigma attached to being good at math. If you are good at math, you're a nerd, where as all the cool kids suck at math, and are proud of that fact. Change the perceptions, and you'll go a long way toward improving the scores."

Bart Simpson is clearly to blame for this.

You're right its cool to be stupid (1, Insightful)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022185)

Smart kids aren't cool. I think this is a huge problem in schools. When kids don't want to learn, no amount of education will reach them.

Re:It's COOL to suck at math (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022244)

There is no public shame in being bad at math. If a kid is bad at reading he feels shame when he needs to read outloud in almost every class. But for math its all usually pritty quite because they privatly get all the red marks on there tests and the can choose to show it or hide it. And if they are answering problems on the board then if they get it wrong it doesn't mean they don't know math it is just that they got that problem wrong.

Re:It's COOL to suck at math (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022274)

Who needs math? All of our high-end jobs are being outsourced to other countries or being sent to the midwest for shit-wages.

Really, as long as you can punch the button with the picture of the egg mcmuffin on it and count back the change that the machine tells you, what else do you need to know?

Or are we all supposed to be calculus wizards for those high-end math-related jobs that don't exist?

Statistically invalid samples (1, Insightful)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022104)

I always wonder, when I hear that East Slobovia has better math scores than the US, whether they are really testing all their schoolkids, or only reporting the average of the top 5%. The US is pretty egalitarian in our education system, compared to your typical poor country.

Re:Statistically invalid samples (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022189)

Your reference to East Slobovia speaks more than your post...

and the US is pretty much unegalitarian in regard to education. Try getting a decent education in an inner-city 90% minority school district.

and look at college. you need a friggin' fortune to go to a halfway decent one. In most countries they're paid for by tax money.

Re:Statistically invalid samples (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022224)

What lack of education does it take to vote for Bush ? The same as in East Slobovia probably.

Re:Statistically invalid samples (2, Insightful)

Nivoset (607957) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022229)

or how for the money thing. they spend 1/3 but do they have as many students overall we could be spending less overall (giving the country and cost of things versus over there) we could spend 2$ per kid for pencils or something, while to get 2times the pencils per kids, they only spend 2$

America Failing Math. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022111)

We should put our politions on it. They will figure out how to make kids better at math. We know how well they currently handle numbers.

Re:America Failing Math. (1)

karnal (22275) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022166)

This just in - America is falling behind in spelling, all due to a slashdot user named jellomizer.

Barbie said it best (5, Funny)

cephyn (461066) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022116)

Math is hard.

Re:Barbie said it best (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022182)



Followed by: "Now lets forget all our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream"

Re:Barbie said it best (5, Funny)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022295)

Einstein sent this reply, along with a page full of diagrams, to a 15-year-old girl who had written for help on a homework assignment: "Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics; I can assure you that mine are much greater."

My wife's studying to be a math teacher - she loves that one.

Has to be said (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022120)

In Korea, only old people aren't good at math...?

Yearly story (2, Insightful)

Neil Blender (555885) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022121)

This survey has come out at least once a year for as long as I can remember. "US kids lack in X discipline." Next up: US childhood obesity is the rise.

Re:Yearly story (3, Insightful)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022192)

>This survey has come out at least once a year for as long as I can remember. "US kids lack in X discipline." Next up: US childhood obesity is the rise.

That's because the situation is real, hasn't changed and they measure it every year.

Shocking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022122)

It's not shocking at all. When bush wins by a landslide, we aint too bright.

americans (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022125)

That's because most Americans are a bunch of ignorant dumbfucks.

Sorry, but it's the truth. And if you read Slashdot (and probably thus don't belong to that group) you know that I'm right.

Why would we care? (1)

Locdonan (804414) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022136)

Don't we have technology to take care of this for us? That is what makes America great.

If I have to do math all day, I'd go nuts. Hell, when I was in highschool, we had games on our TI-89's

Very Telling Indeed (5, Insightful)

TrollBridge (550878) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022148)

"while the Czech Republic, which spends in education 1/3 of what the US spends, ranked in the top 10."

Perhaps instead of demanding more money, schools should evaluate how they are spending the money they already get.

HINT: I bet Czech schools don't spend millions of dollars (or preferred local currency) on state-of-the-art sports facilities and equipment.

Re:Very Telling Indeed (3, Insightful)

stanmann (602645) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022245)

HINT: I bet Czech schools don't spend millions of dollars (or preferred local currency) on state-of-the-art sports facilities and equipment.
Or even on universal education. Hmmm, perhaps we should follow the lead of other nations and let the dropouts drop out, and kick out the ones that need kicking out?

BUT THAT WOULDN'T BE FAIR!!!

Re:Very Telling Indeed (1)

catherder_finleyd (322974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022303)

It might be better to look at % GDP, or other measures. The Czech Republic is a much poorer country than the US. They can pay qualified teachers for a LOT less than in the USA.

With Bush in office its no surprise (5, Funny)

fanboy19 (726017) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022151)

"Rarely is the question asked, "Is our children learned"."

Re:With Bush in office its no surprise (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022239)

So you're blaming Bush for your language and memory deficiencies?

Corrected Subject: With Bush in office it's no surprise.

Corrected Text: "Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning?'"

Re:With Bush in office its no surprise (1)

fanboy19 (726017) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022293)

Actually, the corrected text would be, "Are our children learning?". If you're going to correct grammar at least get it right. And you missed the whole point of the post obviously. As you can see, the text was a quote (which is the purpose of quatation marks) of something George Bush said during his first term.

So? (0, Troll)

Captain Trolltalk (832485) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022154)

Not all occupations demand good mathematical skills. Secretaries, truck drivers, construction workers, basketball players, etc. do not need advanced math. It so happens that America is a nation where a large number of our occupations are not highly intellectually demanding. Apples and Oranges here.

Re:So? (1)

sarlen (836953) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022198)

By your logic most jobs in America don't require a college education either. I think that's probably inaccurate.

Re:So? (0, Troll)

Captain Trolltalk (832485) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022223)

The jobs I listed do not require a college education. Try again.

Re:So? (1)

sarlen (836953) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022281)

The jobs I listed do not require a college education. Try again. ...I know. That was my point. Listing those jobs and saying "see! No math is good, these people don't use it!" could just as easily have been "see! No college is good, these people don't use it!"

Unless the entire idea you were trying to convey is higher education is simply unnecessary?

Re:So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022286)

The Iraq occupation is another such example.

Re:So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022314)

math skills of 15's isnt what i call advanced mathematics. Anyways it would be good to see the actual test.

Controlling for IQ (-1, Troll)

Henry V .009 (518000) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022159)

Once you control for IQ (in this context it means race, of course)you find that the school systems of most developed countries are just about the same.

Schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022160)

As I highschool student, I can say that math/science isn't stressed as much as it should be, and as much as I remember, Algebra 1 was crap, didn't retain anything of value because it was lost in the sea of crap.

Does it really matter? (0, Troll)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022161)

How many careers actually use higher-end math at work? Even in programming for biz apps, one does not use much algebra, and zero Calculus. I agree that it is a nice skill to have, but it may be costing tens of thousands of dollars per student to force them into something not used that often.

It may make sense for other countries because they are getting all our offshored brain-work, while we do only the marketing and shmoozing and all the other fluff stuff that our unemployed geeks are not good at.

Face it, math is old-school.

Hmmmm (1)

savagedome (742194) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022165)

The U.S. performance was about the same as Poland, Hungary and Spain

That should make your President happy! ;)

youforgotpoland.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022292)

Not this time!

US School System (5, Insightful)

stupidfoo (836212) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022167)

The US School system needs a f'en major overhaul. The money is there (we're #2 in the world in public funding per student behind Sweden).

The system is just horseshit. No responsibility, teachers can't teach, kids are a bunch of bastards, and the parents are taking absolutely no responsibility for the kids.

But of course the answer is more money!

Re:US School System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022258)

Cost of living is also high in the US. Teachers have to be paid more here than in other countries to live.

It's not simple to overhaul the system-- be happy that we have public education at all.

Re:US School System (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022264)

The system is just horseshit. No responsibility, teachers can't teach, kids are a bunch of bastards, and the parents are taking absolutely no responsibility for the kids.

Sounds like perfect preparation for being president someday to me

Toddler math (4, Funny)

saddino (183491) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022172)

The New York Times reports that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released its results (pdf) for a test of mathematical skills given to 15 year olds in 40 different countries

Um, according to these figures the average age of these "children" in each country was barely five months old (15/40 = .375 years old). Something's fishy here.

Re:Toddler math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022225)

LOL

Toddler math indeed.
Thanks for the chuckle my trollish friend.

What the test targets. (1)

teiresias (101481) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022173)

'Mr. Schleicher said that students in countries that emphasized theorems and rote learning tended not to do as well as those that emphasized the more practical aspects of mathematics.'"

I'd agree with this. In high school, I enjoyed (and tended to do better) on more practical mathematics as opposed to theorems, proofs, etc. However, when taking the AP test, I felt having a knowledge of proofs helped in several key areas.

I think we are moving towards tests which are targeted at more real world problems which the U.S. systems do not emphasize (or at least, did not when I attended school) in their curriculm.

liberal ideology (0, Troll)

Squeezer (132342) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022176)

just goes to show you liberal ideology is wrong. throwing more money at something doesn't fix the problem.

Re:liberal ideology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022311)

just goes to show you liberal ideology is wrong. throwing more money at something doesn't fix the problem.

Hello, we appear to have sent your talking points to the wrong address. "Throwing more money at something" is now part of the conservative [commondreams.org] ideology.

Sorry for the oversight.

-GWB

numbers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022191)

In Soviet Russia, numbers count you!

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022204)

So this is news why? Its been that way and been known since my mother was a kid. Nothing better to do today eh?

Completely unsurprising (5, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022212)

Does Korea spend much time or money worrying about how their children feel about their school performance versus helping them improve it? For that matter, is any country as concerned with their childrens self esteem as the United States?

I have three kids that will be starting school soon (one of them being in Montessori preschool already). Do I want them to feel good about themselves? Sure, as long as it's because they're doing so well in the classes that they're working hard to excel in. If my kid's flunking math because he won't apply himself, then I want her to feel embarrassed about her performance and not proud of the fact that the school would probably advance her to the next grade anyway.

There are some cripplingly serious problems with the American educational system. A severe overemphasis on underserved self esteem is high on that list.

New Math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022213)

Teacher does'nt want anyones feelings to get hurt. :(

Outsourcing - or - Do you want fries with that? (2, Informative)

notthepainter (759494) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022227)

At a recent job, exceptionally strong math skills were required. I had them, as did all of us in Engineering. Of the 16 or so folks there, only 4 of us were not in H-1B visas. Why? We couldn't find anybody locally who qualified for the job. I graduated from MIT, that got me into this job. We had one kids from Russia who just blew us all away.

The engineers from outside the US were able to do the job. Only the top notch products of the US school system could cope.

It was very sad.

Steeper learning curve? (1)

isometrick (817436) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022230)

Mr. Schleicher said that students in countries that emphasized theorems and rote learning tended not to do as well as those that emphasized the more practical aspects of mathematics.

Doesn't this stem from the fact that theory-based instruction has a much steeper learning curve?

Emphasizing the theory encourages creativity later on, but students initially grasp it less quickly.

Students who know the "mechanics" of standard problems will always do best on standardized tests (hence the standardized?).

An Excellent Book That Covers This... (1)

Chagatai (524580) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022235)

Read The Underground History of American Education [johntaylorgatto.com] by John Taylor Gatto. This book gives some good information on why American education is falling behind

Incidentally, I found that my brother, who is a freshman in high school, learned multiplication several years ago in one messed-up way (I'm 13 years older than him). While we would simply write this:

137
x23

...he was taught to break it down into:

137 x 20 + 137 x 3

While I have no problem with distributed equations in, say, algebra, this was a bad way of explaining it to someone new, I think. Hooray for public education.

Cultural Issue (5, Insightful)

Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022237)

This is mostly a cultural issue, not an education system issue. As evidenced by data wherein poor countries outperform the US despite our larger budgets.

Kids, and many of their parents don't care about school or education. They will get what they want. They resist teachers and throw up roadblocks. Many parents simply won't help when a teacher explains that their child needs it. That's what's putting our education system in the toilet.

The only case of education system failure is in misapropriation of money (also a cultural issue). Sometimes a wacko or two in high places decide to fund a pet-project instead of math/reading...

Sure American kids are fat and lazy (1)

multiplexo (27356) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022248)

but they're numero uno on self esteem, and school shootings, we're way ahead of every other nation on earth!

Czech Republic = Poverty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022251)

I understand the need for education. It is necessary to gain wealth in the world. However, maybe we should compare our education with those of other successful countries, not ones that are still stuck in the dirt. Arithmetic is not everything.

2+2=3? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022252)

December 07, @02:39PM...3l1za...15...40...28th...40...the bottom third...1/3...10...1/3...2/3

whoah, slow down sonny.

Keep 'em dumb == Keep 'em servile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022260)

why else do you think your tax dollars are being taken away from education and pumped into unneccesary wars?

If your long-term plan is to maintain power by sending kids to die in a desert for whatever "bureaucratic" [bbc.co.uk] reason you can muster, then why bother educating them any further than you have to?

Re:Keep 'em dumb == Keep 'em servile (1)

Captain Trolltalk (832485) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022282)

Taken away? We pump in millions and millions more into our schools every year and our schools are not getting better. Do you seriously believe that if we took the billions spent on Iraq and put it into education that it would get any better?

No child left behind (3, Funny)

Dark Bard (627623) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022268)

He doesn't appear to be missing many. They seem to be failing in unison. At least Bush got them working together.

It's not an anomalie (5, Informative)

mindstormpt (728974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022271)

A few apparent anomalies: The US kids rated 28th of 40 (so in the bottom third) while the Czech Republic, which spends in education 1/3 of what the US spends, ranked in the top 10.


It's not an anomalie, eastern european countries have great education systems, even if "cheap". I live in Portugal and we get a load of imigrants from Ukrania an several other countries of the area, trying to earn some money. They mostly end up in the construction business, but they're all college graduates, management, economy, engineering. And they're well-formed people.

Ditch those funky calculators!!! (5, Insightful)

mritunjai (518932) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022278)

I was surprized the first time I came to know that you folks are allowed to use calculators in high school exams!! And can even use programmable graphing calculators in university.

Tell ya somthing. ditch those calculators, and you'll solve half of the problem!

PS: In India, calculators are banned from exams/classes till high school. In university exams/classes you're only allowed to use at max non-prgrammable scientific calculators!

Yeah, but how fast does Linux boot? (-1, Offtopic)

quamaretto (666270) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022288)

And what about overclocking? Wait, it doesn't run Linux? And why would I want one of these? :)

But on a more serious note, I'll bet a lot of the people posting in here don't mind rebooting from Linux into Windows to play their games, and that takes, what, a full minute or more?

(I note that, in the late 90's, we all bitched about load times on the original Playstation.)

Practical vs Theorems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11022289)

"students in countries that emphasized theorems and rote learning tended not to do as well as those that emphasized the more practical aspects of mathematics."

Well, that just tells us that the test had too many practical problems on it, and not enough theory!

Bottom Third (1)

l1nuxpunk (738263) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022304)

"The US kids rated 28th of 40 (so in the bottom third)"

It's helpful that they said "bottom third". Otherwise, we might've mistaken them for being in the top 10.

Blame a generation of "learning psychologists" (1)

ites (600337) | more than 9 years ago | (#11022308)

The USA has suffered from a strong tendency to teach maths by encouraging students to explore and find their own way.

The Koreans drum theorems into kids' heads until they become second nature.

Anyone who thinks kids can learn maths by thinking about it is so wrong it's a shame. Maths is all about learning a set of tools, built up layer upon layer upon layer, where constant repetition and use are key elements to learning.

Anyone who has actually learned and used maths - and IT is very similar - will appreciate that solid practice over decades from a young age are needed before we are able to solve complex problems.

Ban so-called "learning psychologists" from school boards and allow professionals in each domain to define the curriculum.
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