John Edward, a resident of Chelmsford who earned his master’s degree at UMass Lowell and who teaches economics at Bentley University and UMass Lowell, contributes the following column:
I purchase luncheon meat once or twice a month. A quarter of a pound makes the sandwich a little too thick. I order two-tenths of a pound. If it were a test, deli workers under 30 often fail.
Sometimes the young deli worker will admit their ignorance. I will have to tell them two-tenths of a pound is 0.20 on their digital scale.
More often, they will ask someone else behind the counter. It may end up in a search for the wizened shift supervisor. People over 40 rarely have a problem passing the test.
Most often, they just guess. In a recent transaction, the deli worker sliced the meat and put it on the scale. He looked at the reading of 0.29, and asked if I wanted a little more.
In the most recent assessment of 4th-grade math educational achievement the United States ranked 11th out of 36 countries. The Global Competitiveness Report put out by the World Economic Forum ranks us 51st out of 142 countries for math and science education. We are not even in the top two-tenths.
Cited frequently on the Internet is the tongue-in-cheek claim that “Math illiteracy affects 7 out of every 5 people.” In some sense it does not appear to matter – you can still get a job at the supermarket without 4th grade math skills.
However, it does matter. If we want a strong economy, we need a well-educated workforce. If we need a better workforce, we need well-prepared teachers. If we need prepared teachers, we need programs like UMass Lowell’s UTeach program: “an initiative to prepare a new generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers.” read more »