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Gabriel Frankel Headshot

Rethinking How American High Schools Teach Math

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I recently read that 15-year olds in the U.S. rank 25th out of 34 countries in math. I was shocked! Shocked! I didn't think we'd make it in the top 30! For teenagers who do not see math in their college or career future, math class is an opportunity to catch up on some sleep. As the school year drones on and summer break flies by, students forget what they learned the previous year. As a junior studying for the SAT, I find myself having to seriously review geometry, which was covered over a year and a half ago. Like a majority of students who are not math whizzes, learning how to complete difference of squares andVenn diagrams, or interpreting functions feels meaningless. We complete the required math course that looks good on a college transcript, but once that student has begun university, the least demanding math courses are taken. If one has the intentions to go into a non math-based career, he or she no longer needs to take a math course to impress an academic institution. If a student is majoring in political science, any potential employers (such as a political consulting firm) will look at the student's political science, English, and history grades more than their math grades.

However, when it comes to the SAT and ACT, it seems that most students across the country, except for those darn math whiz kids, are totally unprepared for taking these exams. Recent findings, cited by The New York Times' Jenny Anderson, have shown that private schools strongly criticize students' use of SAT/ACT prep organizations.

After all, it makes them look weak because they haven't covered the curriculum significantly. I find myself, an A student in math for the last five years (but far from a whiz), using an SAT/ACT preparation company. And I'm not the only one. Most students at private schools hire expensive, fancy organizations to help them. But I recognize that the system is totally unfair. What happens to the kids who can't afford the expensive prep companies or tutors? Why should the kids of wealthy families have a clear, financial advantage that helps them do better on the SAT and ACT? This is why math courses from ninth to 12th grade, in all schools, should be solely focused on preparing for the SAT/ACT. Each unit of a math course should be focused on a specific aspect of the SAT. From the beginning to middle of the junior year, all of the knowledge would accumulate, preparing the student significantly for the standardized test. By teaching for a standardized test, every student would have incentive to study, be more attentive, and participate more in class. They might even start to like math and not see it as the enemy. In-class instruction would level the playing field and make it easier for a much wider range of kids to show colleges they're ready. This would eliminate the need for expensive prep organizations, which would help parents who sacrifice so much to put their kids into programs like this while also satisfying the complaints raised by private schools. And most importantly, private and public school students would be given a more equal chance to succeed on their college entrance exam. For kids who are exceptionally good at math, or who have aspirations for a math-based career, supplemental courses would be created to accommodate their accelerated pace. Finally, school administrators and the government would control the structure of the curriculum and provide more jobs for teachers.

American education is in a deep hole. If this country continues the path that we are currently on, we will soon be a country of idiots falling behind the rest of the developed world. Math and science are essential for any society and we must find a way to get many more students on the right track. The future of the country depends on it. If the U.S. is truly committed to helping its youth become the leaders of the future, we must rebuild the math curriculum in American high schools.