Since the inception of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) in 2000, the United States has dropped from 20th in 2000 to 24th in 2003, tied for 26th in 2006, dropped to 30th in 2009, and stands 26th/32nd in 2012 (click here to read more about the 2012 PISA results) for mathematics. Clearly the United States is being out performed year after year by high achieving countries around the world.

While our top performers tend to excel on the global stage, our “average” kids do not compare well with kids in other countries—those with whom they will soon be competing for the good jobs of the future.

The results from the PISA are particularly significant in light of the fact that as far as math is concerned, the test measures 15-year-old students around the world in only one specific category:  problem solving, which is generally considered to be the crown jewel of mathematics education.

When the President used the word “math” five times in the 2006 State of the Union Address, he was expressing a widespread concern that the United States is losing its competitive edge in the world economy.  The Wall Street Journal has called the problem an “economic time bomb.”

The final report of the president’s National Math Panel (2008) soberly reported that grade by grade, America’s students are not learning enough math and science to keep pace with the rest of the world. As evidenced by the 2009 and 2012 PISA reports, as a country, we are not yet changing the direction of the trend line.

Over the past 50 years, many attempts have been made to “reform” mathematics education. “New Math,” “Back to Basics,” various flavors of “Reform Math” (Mathland, Everyday Math, TERC, and Connected Math, to name a few), and No Child Left Behind, were all heralded in their time as being the approach that would move the needle in the right direction. The new kid on the block is the Common Core. It will be several years before we know whether or not it will fare any better than previous attempts to put mathematics education on a truly positive course.

As we start a new year with the changes coming from the Common Core curriculum, pressure to increase the performance of US students on the world stage, and continuing demand for math skills in the workforce to support the vast technological developments that continually shape and reshape our world, it is important to keep in mind that at Mathnasium, we will continue to meet the needs of the students who grace our Centers by providing a safe haven for them from the frustration, boredom, and embarrassment they have been enduring in their everyday classroom experience.