America has a maths problem. Its pupils have ranked poorly in international maths exams for decades. In 2018, American 15-year-olds ranked 25th in the oecd, a club of mostly rich countries. American adults ranked fourth-from-last in numeracy when compared with other rich countries. As many as 30% of American adults are comfortable only with simple maths: basic arithmetic, counting, sorting and similar tasks. American employers are desperate for science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills: nuclear engineers, software developers and machinists are in short supply. And while pupils’ maths scores are bad enough now, they could be getting worse. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (naep), a national exam, 13-year-old pupils’ scores dropped five points in 2020 compared with their peers’ in 2012. The status quo does not add up. But teachers and academics cannot agree on where to go next.
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