A decade after U.S. schools began efforts to improve math education in public schools, students still lag significantly behind their peers in Japan and Taiwan, according to a study in today's issue of Science magazine.
The study was based on tests of public school students in Minneapolis; Taipei, Taiwan; and Sendai, Japan. Its authors warned educators that unless major revisions were made in math education, U,S. students would fail to lead the world by 2000 in mathematics abilities. That quest is one of six national education goals adopted in 1990 by President Bush and the 50 state governors.
In the study of 240 fifth graders in each of the three cities, pupils in Minneapolis answered correctly an average of 24.6 questions on a test with 54 questions in 1980, as against 30.4 for those in Taipei schools and 32.9 for students in Sendai, according to the study conducted by two professors at the University of Michigan and another at the University of California at Irvine.
Although U.S. fifth graders improved slightly when tested again in 1984 and 1990, they still lagged behind their foreign peers the last time all students were tested two years ago. Americans scored an average of 25.7 on the test of 54 questions against 35.3 for Taiwanese students and 32.6 for Japanese students.
In the 11th grade, about 1,000 students in each city were tested on 46 questions, and U.S. students scored an average of 13.4 against 24.1 for Taiwanese students and 21.7 for Japanese students.
The pool of 11th-grade students came from vocational and academic high schools in each of the three cities.
"What the study says is the further our students go in school, the greater they are falling behind the Asian students," said Harold W. Stevenson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who was an author of the study, along with Chuansheng Chen, an assistant research scientist at Michigan, and Shin-Ying Lee, an assistant professor of social ecology at the University of California at Irvine.
"One of the big impediments that American teachers face is they don't have enough time to plan their lessons."
Mr. Stevenson also noted in a telephone interview yesterday that Japanese and Taiwanese teachers did a better job of teaching mathematics using concrete examples and application to everyday lives. He said Minneapolis was chosen as the U.S. representative because of its low high school dropout rate and Minnesota's widely documented system of academically rigorous public schools. Sendai, 180 miles northeast of Tokyo, was chosen because schools there most closely resemble those in Minneapolis, the authors said.