top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Data literacy' will widen STEM gaps

I was willing to swear a solemn vow to not major in math or science in college, I told my teacher. All I asked was to get out of trig. Once math had made sense, but logarithms and cosines had broken my spirit. Now, I believed it was an endless cycle of suffering, a sadistic conspiracy to make me jump through one more set of hoops on my way to never, ever majoring in math or science or pursuing any career that required trigonometry.

"Armed with trendy buzzwords and false promises of greater equity, California is promoting an approach to math instruction that’s likely to reduce opportunities for disadvantaged students — in the state and wherever else educators follow the state’s lead," writes Brian Conrad, director of undergraduate studies in math at Stanford, in The Atlantic.

California's "math misadventure" will create an easier math track in high school for those who don't want to face advanced algebra and trigonometry, he writes. Students are promised future careers in "data science," but won't have enough math to earn a four-year college degree in data science, computer science or other quantitative fields.

Most high school classes that teach "data science" are really teaching data literacy, Conrad writes. It makes sense to teach "citizens enough about statistics and data to follow the news and make educated financial and health decisions." However, "much as a music-appreciation course won’t teach you how to play a piano, data literacy is not data science."

I was confident at 17 that I'd pursue a math-lite future. I majored in English and Creative Writing, and launched a career as a journalist. I have no regrets.

But many teenagers want a shot at those high-paying high-tech jobs. They may be persuaded to take the easy path, not realizing it is an "off ramp" from a STEM future, as Conrad puts it, rather than a viable alternative.

Let's be honest with students. You hate math and want to do as little as possible? Okay. Some careers will be off the table. They tend to be the ones that pay the most.

211 views13 comments
bottom of page