As I make speeches and give seminars around the country I always take a look at the third grade reading and math scores of the community I am visiting. These are telltale signs of success later on. I believe these early scores are predictors of such things as high school completion rates and workforce readiness and it appears I am not alone. In today's Washington Post there are several articles you need to read. The first refers to the need to get young children--third graders--ready for Algebra by insuring that they know the basics like fractions. Many it appears do not. The other startling article by Jay Matthews discusses how the big push to get children into Algebra in the eighth grade has resulted in many failures. A new report out from the Brookings Institution details the situation. What do these articles say in toto? We are not doing a good job in preparing the workforce of the 21st century with the basic math skills they will need to master higher math and we aren't very realistic about it. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel has outlined what is needed by grade to be successful in Algebra. This is the blueprint we need.
I will say to you what I say to audiences: if a child can't do math in the third grade what makes us think that he/she will be able to do it in the fourth grade without significant intervention and help. The answer is obvious--these students will continue to struggle. What is the answer? A communitywide effort to improve reading and math at the lower levels through mentoring, after-school programs, and summer work is the only answer it seems to me. These are not issues that can be solved in the classroom alone.