Read Beyond the Headlines

  • Read Beyond the Headlines

    By Matt Larson, NCTM President
    June 29, 2016

    On June 20, 2016, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report entitled Equations and Inequalities: Making Mathematics Accessible to All. The report is based on Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data from 2012. As is sometimes the case, the headlines in the media are subject to misinterpretation. In this case, the headline was “Is Pure Math Superior to Applied Math?” After reading the article, it is clear this is a question raised in the report, but could leave a reader with the impression that one aspect of mathematics learning is superior to another. An equally valid alternative headline could have been “Conceptual Understanding is Necessary to Effective Problem Solving.” 

    In addition, the OECD report makes a strong case that high-quality mathematics education can be a lever to address social inequalities when school leaders adopt policies such as the elimination of tracking. Unfortunately these findings are not often given the attention they deserve. I encourage members with interest in the report to read beyond the headlines so they don’t jump to the conclusion that applied mathematics is “bad.” There are few dichotomies in mathematics education. Pursuing conceptual understanding, procedural skill, and application with equal intensity—as is recommended by the authors of the Common Core—makes sense, as all three components are critical to student success in mathematics.

    Read the report in its entirety.



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