"There are lies, there are damned lies, & there are statistics".
It is not coincidental that the US has, all at one time: 1) one of the world's lowest math skills, 2) one of the lowest rates of saving, and 3) the largest public debt, consumer debt, and home loan debt. The official gross savings rate of 15% of GDP is not enough to pay the interest on these ponderous debts, requiring that the White House recently declare that the US now has a negative savings rate.
Japan saves 34% of GDP and has such small interest payments on such small debts that most of it becomes personal savings. It is esimated that the national net worth of Japan increased by $22 trillion since 1970, at the same time that the national net worth of the US decreased by $7.5 trillion. It cannot be proven that the decreasing quality of US math education is the only factor--but it alone is sufficient to have caused the problem. The ease by which the American voter, who no longer has the accuity to reject erroneous media reporting, can be misled by media sound bytes, is part and parcel the reason for our ponderous government spending. During the height of World War II, the American voter worried about the 25 cents of each wage dollar taken by government. Now, during the height of peace, there is almost no concern that government takes 42 cents out of each wage dollar.
Had this 17 cents been saved by those who earned it, rather than spent by a government which recklessly spends it, the savings picture in the US would have been dramatically different. Japan may still have increased its net worth by $22 trillion, but the US, rather than decreasing its net worth by more than a year's GDP, might have increased it by 4 years' GDP. Today's average citizen doesn't have the math skills to understand fully why a dollar saved by him is worth $50 in the long run, while a dollar taken by government depresses GDP by more than $5 in the long run. He could not possibly understand this unless and until average math skills are improved by more than the 98 points that SAT Scores plunged since 1960.
The TIMSS data suggests that a TIMSS Math point is equivalent to 2 SAT Math points. Increasing math skills of US students to an equivalent quality of Japanese or Korean students requires a 105 point increase in TIMSS scores, which is 210 SAT Math points. Is it possible, desirable, or even cost effective to increase the average math skills of US students from 476 points to 686 points? The mere fact that even one country, much less a handful of them, have achieved average math skills which are 210 SAT points higher than US students (and did so at a cost to taxpayers which was equivalent to what the US spent for education in 1959--4.8% of GDP) is proof positive that it can be done. In addition, the proper approach has a high probability of saving several hundred billion dollars per year along the way. It is both cost effective and possible, and it would be undesirable only if Americans no longer care about what our forefathers, ancestors, fathers, sons, and compatriots spilt their own blood to protect. It is a crisis more dangerous and costly than all of the wars and national disasters this nation has faced in its lifetime, combined. It must be resolved.
The highest SAT Math score achieved by any state in recent memory was 584, by Iowa in 1992. This is 102 points lower than the national goal which is needed to achieve national math skills equivalent to Japan's. The average SAT Math scores of math majors is only 607, 79 points lower than a "National Math Goal" of 686. Is it even possible to raise the average math skills of our youth by 79 points higher than math majors? The TIMSS data shows that it cannot be done by further decreasing class sizes. It shows that it cannot be done by further increasing education spending. It shows that it cannot be done by focusing all of our energy n the lowest common denominator. It shows that it cannot be done by continuing to trivialize the importance of the family. It was done in Korea, but it is impossible to do here without *FIRST* increasing the math skills of the educators themselves--whose average math skills are 211 TIMSS points lower than Korean educators.
Increasing the math skills of teachers that radically is a drop-dead prerequisite. The math skills of students will continue to decline until the day the math skills of their teachers is at least equivalent to, and preferably far better, than the math skills of the students they are trying to teach. Riley notes that more than half of our students are being taught by teachers who neither majored nor minored in the subjects they are teaching. This is the prescription for national tragedy which a "National Math Goal" should immediately address.
Over the last 20 years, more than 716,000 males and 24,000 females scored over 640 on the Graduate Record Examination, and they are the people who can and should teach math to our youth. The short term cost of paying them enough to encourage them to teach math to our youth would be more than offset by the long term benefit of a 210 point increase in SAT Math scores of American students. The TIMSS data suggests that the number of students per classroom could be doubled to 46 students at the same time that math skills were improved. At a cost per student of $4,000 per year, the $92,000 additional per classroom would be enough to pay these math teachers, and this would also reduce overhead costs.
US educators confronted with simple facts revealed by TIMSS quote Samuel Clemens and say "there are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics". They shrug when asked "ok, then, why do you think the US spends more than most nations for education, has some of the smallest class sizes in the world, but barely scores higher than Jordan or Mozambique in every math test?" It might not be that they don't care--but the fact that they don't know why, particularly when confronted with the TIMSS study, is evidence enough that they will not play any constructive role in reversing the dramatic plunge of the US to last place in the world in math education.
The evidence is sound and reasonable. The problem is clear. The soltion is to set a minimum math skill for the teachers who would hope to teach math to our youth.
Comments and suggestions on how to do this are requested, and would be greatly appreciated firstname.lastname@example.org