The Bad News: Mathematics Education at School is ‘Broken’

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Is your child struggling with Maths at school – if so, he/she is not alone. You could even say your child is normal! The problem is in epidemic proportions.

In technologically advanced nations like Australia, UK and USA you would expect Mathematics education to be highly developed. You would also expect the vast majority of students would leave school with reasonable levels of Mathematics achievement.

Not so!

Despite the fact that on average, American Maths students perform better than Australian students, in 2008, a major study by the US Government’s National Mathematics Advisory Panel considered the US results in Mathematics Achievement showed that their Mathematics education system ‘is broken and must be fixed’:

“This Panel, diverse in experience, expertise, and philosophy, agrees broadly that the delivery system in mathematics education—the system that translates mathematical knowledge into value and ability for the next generation—is broken and must be fixed. This is not a conclusion about any single element of the system. It is about how the many parts do not now work together to achieve a result worthy of this country’s values and ambitions.” (Principal Messages, page xiii)

What This Means for Your Child

If your child has only average Maths skills then he/she will NOT do formal Mathematics in Year 12 – in Australia, less than one third of Year 12 students study Intermediate or Advanced Mathematics subjects.

In my experience, most high schools start the process of segregating the students who will do higher Maths in Year 12 from as early as Years 8 or 9 where students are moved into classes which ‘do the same curriculum but are given more help’. Yeah, right! These students almost never get back into the normal stream (unless they work with us at High Performance Learning).

Then comes the crunch at the end of Year 10 when many children are not allowed to choose to study Advanced Maths in Year 11 based on the marks in the end of year exam, even though they have been getting A’s and B’s in Maths up until that time, and you as a parent have been given no previous warning that there was a problem. (If this happens to you, contact us immediately so we can fix the problem straight away.)

The biggest crunch of all comes after the half-yearly exams in Year 11. It is not unusual for more than half the students in Advanced and Intermediate Level Maths classes to get ‘weeded out’ at this stage. (We can still help your child at this stage – but you are sure making our job even more difficult by not having acted sooner.)

More students drop out of Advanced and Intermediate Level Maths at the end of Year 11, and of course, not all those who keep going until the end of Year 12 get high enough marks to get into the course of their choice.

The Good News: The US National Mathematics Advisory Panel Recommendations

The US National Mathematics Advisory Panel didn’t offer a solution to the problem of a broken system but they did highlight the key indicators of future success in Mathematics.

They recommend:

Primary School students should be proficient in fractions, and before that with whole numbers, geometry and measurement:

‘A major goal for K–8 mathematics education should be proficiency with fractions (including decimals, percent, and negative fractions), for such proficiency is foundational for algebra and, at the present time, seems to be severely underdeveloped. Proficiency with whole numbers is a necessary precursor for the study of fractions, as are aspects of measurement and geometry. These three areas—whole numbers, fractions, and particular aspects of geometry and measurement—are the Critical Foundations of Algebra.’ (Curricular Content, point 4, page xvii)

Junior High School Students should be proficient in Algebra:

‘All school districts should ensure that all prepared students have access to an authentic algebra course—and should prepare more students than at present to enroll in such a course by Grade 8.’ (Curricular Content, point 6, page xviii)
‘To prepare students for Algebra, the curriculum must simultaneously develop conceptual understanding, computational fluency, and problem solving skills. Debates regarding the relative importance of these aspects of mathematical knowledge are misguided. These capabilities are mutually supportive, each facilitating learning of the others. Teachers should emphasize these interrelations; taken together, conceptual understanding of mathematical operations, fluent execution of procedures, and fast access to number combinations jointly support effective and efficient problem solving.’ (Learning Processes, point 10, page xix)

When to Act if Your Child Is Struggling with Maths


If you can’t help your child yourself then you need outside help:

  1. Do NOT blame your child for being lazy and berate him/her to work harder – your child does not know what to do.
  2. Do NOT rely on the school – if they let the problem develop in the first place they are unlikely to be able to fix it once it has become serious.
  3. Do NOT get a tutor who just goes over the school work or who gets your child to do a lot of repetitious work – there is no point repeating the mistakes that were already made in the teaching of Maths at the school.
  4. YOU NEED to find someone who will diagnose the cause of the problem by assessing your child’s thinking, learning, literacy and maths skills. And you need to be sure they have a detailed program which is different from what happened at school to fix the underlying causes of your child’s Maths problems. Not surprisingly, this is what we do at High Performance Learning, and we can work with your child anywhere in the world. You can contact us here.
  5. DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOUR CHILD. Maths is the easiest subject at school if your child has been taught to do it in the correct way.

To find out more about Our Mathematics Programs click here.

Chris Brooks
High Performance Learning

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