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EDUCATION REPORT - Searching for Better Ways to Teach Math in US

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

A committee has released its final report on ways to improve math education for American students. President Bush created the National Mathematics Advisory Panel two years ago.

Students work on a math problem at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
Students work on a math problem at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute

The panel examined thousands of reports, along with survey results from more than seven hundred algebra teachers. Yet the report, released last month, is short on detailed advice. It says existing research does not show just what knowledge or skills are needed for effective math teaching. The solution? More research.

The report does say basic math skills must be taught completely in the early years of school. Children should be able to add and subtract in the third grade. By the end of fifth grade, they should be able to multiply and divide.

Teachers should avoid revisiting skills year after year. And, the experts say, it is wrong to think children are "too young" or "not ready" to learn certain content at certain ages.

The report says a major goal for kindergarten through eighth grade should be understanding fractions. These skills are needed for algebra. Yet, the report says, at the present time they seem to be severely underdeveloped in American students.

Schools are urged to prepare more students to take algebra by the eighth grade.

Many people think math success depends largely on natural talent or ability; the experts say it depends on effort. Studies have shown that children improve in math when they believe that their efforts to learn make them "smarter."

The report also calls for strengthening the math preparation of elementary and middle school teachers. And it urges publishers to shorten math textbooks, which are often up to a thousand pages long. The panel said math books are much smaller in many nations where students do better in math than American children.

Publishers say American textbooks have to meet the goals of different states for what should be taught in each grade.

The report also calls for more research on the effects of using calculators. Many algebra teachers expressed concern about their use in the lower grades.

And the report says gifted students who can move through the material much faster than others should be permitted to do so.

The math panel says the educational system needs major changes. If not, it warns that the United States will lose the mathematical leadership it possessed during most of the twentieth century.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.

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