EDIT 2:47 p.m.: Added transcription and link to audio, replacing paraphrase.
Interview on NPR's "The Conversation" today: Larry Davis, Executive Director of the Washington State Board of Education, explained why he doesn't support increasing high school math requirements thusly:
Ross Reynolds: Should higher-level math requirements apply to everybody?
Larry Davis: Count me in the group that questions whether that's appropriate or not.
RR: Really? Why's that?
LD: Well, I'll use myself as an example. I'm one of those folks who just, just has total distaste for math. And in high school, nobody could answer the question, when and why am I gonna use this? And what I do for a living now, and it's what I should be doing, I crunch words for a living. I don't crunch numbers. And I, just, my case example and that's my bias, is that I don't need this higher-order math in order to do what I do. And, and it's, I don't like being told, as an individual, that I gotta take something that I question whether I'll actually need.
RR: Well, I think I felt like you did at one time, Larry Davis, but the more I got into doing journalism the more I realized that understanding the world often requires understanding math to a certain degree, particularly statistics and understanding how numbers can be used or misused. And I'm kind of surprised to hear you say that, as the Executive Director of the Washington State Board of Education. Don't, couldn't you use higher math education to not only think about words, but think about the way that education is working, but with a higher understanding of that?
LD: Um, anything is possible. I'm not gonna give you a definitive answer, because I'd have to take some higher math in order to see what the outcome of that would be on my job.
RR: Right. Larry Davis. Thanks for joining us today, I appreciate it.
LD: You're welcome, thank you.
RR: Larry Davis, Executive Director of the Washington State Board of Education.
Attention voters of Washington State: kick this empty suit out of the State Board of Ed. at the soonest opportunity. You owe it to your children.
BTW if you care to hear the whole show, which makes a pretty good case that students do need a better grasp of math,
it'll be online at KUOW's website after 2:05 p.m. it's available from KUOW as an MP3. The outrageous passage above starts at 22:05 and runs till 23:30.
p.s. I also confess that I'm a little mystified at how one could even justify opposition to increasing high school math requirements from two courses to three. What, exactly, are students taking instead? In high school, I took an English course, a social studies course, a math course, and a natural science course every single year. Plus, I always had a slot or two left for electives and, er, gym. Had I not been taking those courses, I really don't know what else I would have taken. What do opponents of mathematics propose that students should be taking instead? Additional credits of gym?
p.p.s. Obviously, increasing math requirements alone won't solve the problem. It would help a little: being exposed to more hours of mathematics education marginally increases the chance that more bits of math will "click" for any given student, and therefore more students will understand a slightly larger amount of math, which is a good outcome. The problems of mathematical education, however, go much deeper than number of hours. Unfortunately, the biggest problems, in my opinion, are weak teachers and widespread cultural hostility to math, neither of which admits easy solution.