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Math skills important

July 19, 2012
The Leader Herald

We applaud the fact state test scores for eighth-graders in English language arts and mathematics have generally increased statewide and locally.

The worrisome part is that math improvements have not kept pace with those in language. For example, statewide, 55.1 percent of the students met or exceeded state standards in language, up from 52.3 percent last year, a change of 2.3 percent. However, math scores rose to 64.8 percent from 63.3 percent, a 1.5 percent increase. Additionally, eighth-graders in 10 of 12 area school districts met or exceeded the requirements in language, but eighth-graders in only half of the 12 achieved that in math.

As technology advances worldwide, a strong working knowledge of math is the key to a well-paying job and American competitiveness in general. "Your success in the new economy is really based on STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics]," says Patrick Michel, superintendent of the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

That's why American education is gradually incorporating the methods of the world leaders in math, such as Finland and North Korea, in "teaching the basics really really well - in depth - and the applications," he adds.

As it stands now, 70 percent of students entering Fulton-Montgomery Community College need pre-college-level math education, compared with 45 percent requiring pre-college reading and writing courses before they can handle the college level, according to FM's president, Dustin Swanger.

He says an estimated 65 percent to 75 percent of manufacturing careers require an associate degree or at least some postsecondary education.

Even in a sluggish economy, some 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled nationwide because companies can't find people with sufficient math-science education, including those with hands-on experience with high-tech machinery, says Randy Wolken, president of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York.

To meet the demand, FM is planning to create a one-year advanced manufacturing certificate program. Similarly nationwide, teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade are being trained to better teach STEM subjects.

A minority of students absorb math skills the way they breathe air. It's easy to teach the smartest kids. The real challenge in preparing students for the workforce is helping math make sense to the rest.

Math is a beautiful and amazing subject that is practical and relevant in virtually every aspect of life. What can be done with it seems almost like magic.

Whether a teacher is a math specialist or not, conveying that effectively is crucial to students' lives and the nation's well-being.

We must improve on our improvements.



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