Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Do the Math: Cognitive Demand Makes a Difference

Extending high expectations to all students in mathematics is a relatively
new idea.

Learning math can be tough. Not learning it is tougher. Many students lack access to higher-level mathematics courses and teaching at all levels of precollege schooling. This is unacceptable in the face of the ever-expanding technical demands posed by higher education and the 21st-century job market. Research reveals that strong academic experience is needed for both college and the workforce. Raising the cognitive demand in the curriculum is necessary for enhancing students’ career prospects.

Recent trends show progress, such as growth in the number of minority students taking higher-level mathematics classes and earning degrees in mathematics. Still, there is much work to be done.

Curriculum policies that limit course options restrict opportunities to learn for traditionally underserved students. This problem is compounded by the sorting of students according to ability within the same mathematics classes and the low quality of some mathematics instruction in elementary and middle schools. Bringing less advantaged students into higher mathematics study and preparing our future leaders in mathematics and science are not mutually exclusive ends. If we teach math at a higher level of cognitive demand, even in the early grades, we can look forward to a future in which high mathematics achievers better reflect the country’s diverse population. To accomplish this, schools need to be staffed by well prepared teachers, and high curriculum standards should be a priority. Teaching in high-performing schools requires a learning environment that supports sustained student engagement on both basic skills and cognitively demanding conceptual mathematics tasks.

To read the full report:

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