U.S. Fails Math

U.S. Fails Math – Brief Article

Keisha-Gaye Anderson

It was most likely your favorite grade-school teacher who attentively assisted you in solving arithmetic equations–but she probably shouldn’t have. New research suggests that American educators don’t let students learn to solve problems on their own–causing kids to score lower in math than their Japanese counterparts.

In a 1997 study funded by the U.S. Department of Education, James Stigler, Ph.D., of the University of California at Los Angeles, and James Hiebert, Ph.D., from the University of Delaware, analyzed videotapes of 231 eighth-grade math classes in Germany, Japan and the United States over one year.

As reported in their recent book, The Teaching Gap (Free Press, 1999), the researchers found that American teachers spent 90% of class time going over procedures, formulas and problem-solving techniques. In Japan, however, students spent over 50% of class time discussing concepts and inventing their own solutions to problems. Although the Japanese students frequently had incorrect answers, Stigler and Hiebert believe they achieved a better understanding of the material than American students, who often quickly forget their memorized facts.

Three years ago, New Jersey-based public-school teacher Bill Jackson adjusted his math curriculum to reflect this research. That year, his eighth-grade students’ standardized test scores increased by 20%; this year, an above-average number entered honors algebra. Jackson says: “To do math, kids must be given a chance to do math.”

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