April 2021

Over the past year, there’s been increased alarm among educators and parents about “learning loss,” the risk that students will forget important academic content, or miss learning it altogether due to COVID-19. Mathematics is of particular concern, given that learning loss, as traditionally measured over summer break, is greatest in math. But, in a world where so many current debates are rooted in mathematical understanding, schools really should be asking how to prioritize data fluency and make math relevant to our civic lives, notes Just Equations founder Pamela Burdman in this piece in in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The standard approach to math teaching in the U.S. is leaving too many students behind.

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION—Over the past year, there has been understandable alarm among educators and parents about “learning loss,” the risk that—due to technological and pedagogical limitations of distance learning imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic—students will forget important academic content or miss learning it altogether. Mathematics is of particular concern, given evidence that learning loss, as traditionally measured over summer break, is greatest in math.

But the narrow focus on students’ math skills obscures a larger, and potentially even more worrisome, loss: the absence of shared mathematical understanding. As has become especially evident, the use and misuse of math and statistics can divide us and even threaten our wellbeing.

Whether about mask-wearing as a public health strategy, funding police as a criminal justice strategy, or counting votes as an element of democracy, so many of our current debates are rooted in mathematical understanding. And as we calculate the risk of activities ranging from attending a protest to sending our kids to school, widely varying interpretations of data have been sources of strife.

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