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THE OPPORTUNITY EQUATION: In Effort to Raise Math and Science Levels of American Students, Report Says that the Nation Must “Do School Differently”

“The nation’s capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the global economy depend on a broad foundation of math and science learning, as do our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility for young people that lie at the heart of the American dream.”

A new report from Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education argues that the United States must “mobilize for excellence” in mathematics and science education so that all students achieve much higher levels of math and science learning. The report, The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy, says that knowledge and skills from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are crucial to virtually every endeavor of individual and community life and maintains that all young Americans should be educated to be “STEM-capable,” no matter where they live, what educational path they pursue, or in which field they choose to work.

“The nation’s capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the global economy depend on a broad foundation of math and science learning, as do our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility for young people that lie at the heart of the American dream,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “We need an educated young citizenry with the capacity to contribute to and gain from the country’s future productivity, understand policy choices, and participate in building a sustainable future.”

The report argues that the nation must “do school differently” in order to make excellent mathematics and science learning possible for all Americans. In the different world envisioned by the report, math and science are at the center of the education system and new school models reengage disconnected students in academically rigorous math and science education. The result is an education system that raises the levels of performance of all American students, providing them with a strong foundation for success in college and careers while enabling many more individuals to pursue advanced training in STEM fields.

In order to get there from here, the report finds that the nation cannot make the necessary improvements to mathematics and science education by solely focusing on mathematics and science learning. In addition, the nation will need to give “at least equal weight to driving fundamental change to the nation’s schools and to strengthening the innovation capacity of the educational system.”

The report presents a comprehensive program of action complete with recommendations for the federal government, states, schools and school districts, colleges and universities, unions, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropies. Recommendations are grouped into four priority areas: 1) Higher levels of mathematics and science learning for all American students; 2) Common standards in math and science that are fewer, clearer, and higher, coupled with aligned assessments; 3) Improved teaching and professional learning, supported by better school and system management; and 4) New designs for schools and systems to deliver math and science learning more effectively.

For priority number one in the paragraph above, the report calls for an awareness campaign that would mobilize the nation for excellence and equity in mathematics and science education. More specifically, it calls for a campaign that would “generate public awareness of math and science as central to the revitalization of the American economy and social mobility for young Americans” and increase public understanding that math and science are connected to “virtually any secure and rewarding job in any sector of the economy.” Also included under this priority is a recommendation that improvement in math and science outcomes, especially by historically underperforming groups, be a benchmark in designing and evaluating school improvement efforts at all grade levels for all students.

Priority number two calls for common standards that are fewer, clearer, and higher and guide instructional improvement in mathematics and science, as well as sophisticated assessments and accountability mechanisms that, along with common standards, stimulate instructional improvement and innovation in mathematics and science.

Under priority number three, the report calls for an increase in the supply of well-prepared teachers of mathematics and science at all grade levels through improved teacher preparation, recruitment, and professional learning for all teachers and an upgrade in human capital management throughout U.S. schools and school systems toward ensuring an effective teacher for every student, regardless of socioeconomic background.

Priority number four focuses on building high expectations for student achievement in mathematics and science into school culture and operations as a pathway to college and careers, enhancing systemic capacity to support strong schools and act strategically to turn around or replace ineffective schools, and tapping a wider array of resources to increase educational assets and expand research and development capacity.

“Math and science education today falls far short of meeting students’ future needs or the needs of society,” said Phillip A. Griffiths, chair of the Commission and past director of the Institute for Advanced Study. “Recent rounds of school reform have paid far too little attention to math and science. Schools must inject rigorous and relevant math and science throughout the curriculum. The goal of improving math and science should sound a call for change that will reverberate throughout our schools and increase student learning in all areas.”

The complete report is available at

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