MATH: What's the Problem? — Text-only | Flash Special Report
WILLIAM SCHMIDT: I guess the simple summary of this, in many ways, is that at 4th grade and third grade, we tend to do sort of okay around the average internationally. By the 8th grade, we’re below the international average and by the 12th grade, we’re essentially at the bottom of the international distribution. But I think what we’ve learned pretty clearly is one of the major differences among countries has to do with the nature of their curriculum. These countries that achieve well have high expectations, especially during the middle grades. They’re more rigorous and demanding. In 8th grade in these top-achieving countries, the middle school curriculum is about algebra and geometry and in the U.S., for most kids, it’s still arithmetic; fractions, decimals, and percents. The fact that I cited that at the middle grades in this country, we track children and it’s only that small elite group that gets to take “the algebra class.” So, I think we’re hurting our situation by not giving all children this kind of basic education. I think it’s time, after five, six years of arithmetic, it’s time to move on. People in other countries often ask me, “Well, goodness, you keep reforming education but you never get any better. Why do you keep doing this?” And, I think the answer is because we’ve never really attacked the two central issues. We attack a lot of peripheral ones, and the two central are the curriculum, which I’ve spoken a little bit about, and the teachers. Now, I think the curriculum is the heart and the core of the matter. These kids, as they’re growing up, they’re not competing with the kid sitting next to them in school, even in the next school over, not even in New York or in the West Coast, but kids all over the world. So, from their point of view, this is serious because their future is really dependent on their adequate preparation in math and science.