Lack of basic math skills hurting students

Posted2/5/2018 1:00 AM

I am a retired high school physics, chemistry and advanced mathematics teacher from the Chicago Public Schools. Over the years, I have found that a large number of high school students, of both majority and minority groups, have not learned their elementary mathematics to adequately perform well in college-level technical subjects such as physics, chemistry, engineering and medical subjects such as laboratory work and even nursing.

Not being competent in basic mathematics may mean not being able to earn a comfortable living in a technical or medical type job which often pays a good wage as opposed to a nontechnical type job which often pays a smaller wage. This weakness in basic math skills may even extend to lower test scores on intelligence tests, and employment tests, for example and may also extend for an entire lifetime of promotions and job opportunities.

I believe this crisis in lack of competence in elementary mathematics skills in our current high school population may even constitute an urgent national situation of great seriousness since we need many engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians as well as other technical personnel to run our great country.

Also, I have found a number of high school students, of majority and minority, who get their physics and chemistry wrong not because they do not know how to do the problem correctly, but because they do not know their fractions, decimals and long division properly to obtain the right answer on the other sign of the equal sign.

Much potential in our schools is being wasted by our precious students not properly learning their elementary mathematics which is one of the foundations for higher level math and science career courses and a lifetime of adequate employment.

Stewart Brekke

Downers Grove

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