In 2001, then-President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, which was intended to, among other things, get the nation’s public school students to 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by the year 2014. Recently released math test scores show that we are not on target to reach that goal. Math is a critical component to so many industries that drive our new economy; if our students—future workers—don’t master the subject, the financial health of our nation is at risk.
According to the test results, just 39 percent of the nation’s fourth-graders and 34 percent of its eighth- graders scored at or above the proficiency level on the nationwide math test given this past spring. There’s been very little improvement in student’s scores and the goal of reaching proficiency by 2014 is in jeopardy.
Additionally, improvement in math proficiency among students has actually slowed. Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, says that this is the first time in nearly two decades that fourth grade math scores remained the same. More disturbing is the fact that achievement gaps between students and color and their White counterparts are not closing. The average Black and White eighth-grader is separated by about 32 points on the math test; this number represents about three years worth of mathematical knowledge.
Math is the basis for so many science, technology and business careers; industries that are growing and will soon dominate our economy. If our young people are not proficient in the subject, their ability to secure sustainable employment in the future is at risk. America has already lost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars as technology and other jobs have been outsourced to countries like India, because of a lack of qualified candidates here at home. Ensuring our students understand and successfully apply mathematical concepts is important to the health of country if we are to experience and maintain economic growth.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)