# A few facts about math in America

Recently the **National Academy of Sciences** published an answer to their previous report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which described some fundamental problems challenging America’s place in the world (i.e. lack of investment in infrastructure, R&D, and a failure in our education system).

The new Report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Revisited is available as a **free** PDF and offers some fascinating facts. The point is fairly direct: to remain competitive we HAVE to increase our leadership and investment in R&D and to do that we need more engineers, scientists, etc. Of course, that’s hard to do since our schools aren’t creating them.

This echos with my own sense that global competition is creating a different kind of competition in the workplace. Whether you get an education in Massachusetts or Xian China, matters a lot less than the quality of the education.

- The World Economic Forum ranks the United States
**48th**in quality of mathematics and science education. **69%**of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without a degree or certificate in mathematics.- The average American K-12 student spends four hours a day in front of a TV.
- According to the ACT College Readiness report, 78% of high school graduates did not meet the readiness benchmark levels for one or more entry-level college courses in mathematics, science, reading and English

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Ilya,

I love mathematics and think it MUST be taught differently and taken more seriously. But please consider this point: Henry Ford was dragged into court to prove that he only had an eighth grade education and thus was too incompetent to run America’s largest company (at the time) because he couldn’t even solve simple math problems. He said that he could call on some of the greatest engineering and business minds in the nation at the mere push of a button so why would he need to know everything they knew. The case was dismissed.

Knowledge of math and ability to use it are not the same thing. Ability to solve complex math problems is far from empowering one to translate real world challenges into simple input-output systems which can THEN be solved with math is not the same as knowing novel ways to solve differential equations (or even knowing what they are and that they exist).

A decent computer programmer would know exactly how to figure out formulas and calculate required HVAC sizes, given house layout, or load berring structure required to hold up a certain weight. Yet you don’t see too many programmers designing and architecting their own homes.

The mere fact that China outperformed America in mathematics education does not create a “problem” per se. Soviet Union was better than America ever was, but we know what happened with that. The real problem, is that American education does not offer required pillars to teach children to THINK. And for that matter, Chinese system is just as bad, relying very heavily on shear brute hard work at practice and memorization. Makes for great Olympic spectacles, but just as impractical in real world. I work with Chinese mathematicians and developers frequently. They drive me up the wall because all they can do is… do. They can’t solve a single problem outside of what they’ve seen before. I won’t generalize. A country of 2Bln people surely has its stars. But the educational system hardly deserves credit.

May I ask you to write a follow up article, that answers the one missing question from this one. “America underperforms in mathematics education, and ranks 48th… SO WHAT?” What’s the real problem? What are your suggestions on solving it? Without answering this question, this blog may as well be less “math education is lacking, join RSM”, and more “social rejection of non-smokers on the rise, buy a pack today!” (surely it doesn’t take that much imagination to see how 20 years ago this slogan would fly so well as an ad on national TV).