Friday, May 2, 2014

Four years of math?

Published in the Washington Post, May 6, 2014, with the title: Maryland's new math requirement doesn't add up.
Maryland will now require all high school students to take four years of math ("Maryland to require math for all years of high school; universities also adjust rules," May 2).
The fourth year, moreover, must be "non-trivial," such as algebra 2, trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus, statistics and college algebra. This is in order to prevent students  from "getting rusty" and not being prepared for college.

But not all students go to college. And of those who do, few select majors that require this much math and few jobs require this much math.  Michael Handel of Northeastern University in his "Profile of US Jobs" reported that only 22% of all workers use math beyond fractions, decimals and percentages, and of those who do, most only only simple algebra.

Requiring four years of math makes about as much sense as requiring four years of Latin.

FINAL SENTENCE NOT INCLUDED IN THE PUBLISHED VERSION (I should point out that I love math. I took AP calculus in high school, and advanced calculus and differential equations in college. But I took these courses as electives.)

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Original article:
This letter:

Handel, M. 2010. What do people do at work? Available at‎  See also:

1 comment:

  1. Stephen, I love your personal note here about loving math. This highlights a danger that can occur from forcing all these rigorous standards on children. You can force them to learn "non-trivial" math etc. but what if after being through all that forcing they decide they hate math and want nothing to do with it. I knew someone who's brother discovered that his daughter had a talent for piano. So he and his wife signed her up for lessons and forced her to practice two hours every night. She became a very skilled pianist. However, something interesting happened we she left for college. On the day that she was leaving home she told her parents that she intended to never touch the piano again. Her parents were shocked and asked her why. She replied that after being forced to do it for so long she hated it and had absolutely no desire to play. Often when the parents just allow the children to follow their own interests it allows the children to preserve a positive relationship with learning, which is the true secret to academic achievement, in my opinion - just like you, Stephen, with your "fun" high math electives. The truth that a lot of these people don't get is that the kids, at some point or another, will be free to choose and if you've made the experience negative and pressure-filled they might be more likely to choose against what we hope. You can lead a horse....