Success Starts in Math Class

Large diverse group of students studying together in library

Math is the great equalizer. Math offers equalization in ways that additional money or other resources simply cannot. Even more than a child’s demographic or gender, math scores better predict the likelihood a student will one day reach college and graduate into a successful career beyond. But before we jump into data crunching, let’s focus on why any of this matters.

It is here that parents and businesses can have the biggest impact on fostering what will ultimately be a stronger, more capable, and more intelligent future workforce. Parents and corporations have the pivotal opportunity to ensure their legislators and school administrators advance a strong math curriculum in all public schools. Right now, that critical math curriculum is all too often missing. In fact, it is sorely lacking precisely where it is needed most. This disparity directly hinders our children’s growth.

Research shows that not all students receive the same math education. The classic Adelman study shows that public schools with predominantly minority demographics have significantly lower math standards, fewer classes, and fewer advancement opportunities compared to schools with predominantly white and higher economic class demographics. This is immensely detrimental to our children’s growth because, as the Adelman study concludes, “the highest level of mathematics reached in high school continues to be a key marker in precollegiate momentum, with the tipping point of momentum toward a bachelor’s degree now firmly above Algebra 2.”

Knowing this, what does it mean when we continue to neglect math for children of minority backgrounds? The facts go on to show, for example, that “Latino students are far less likely to attend high schools that offer trigonometry (let alone calculus) than white or Asian students.” Just as unfortunate, students from lower socio-economic classes experience similar disadvantages in their access to math curriculum.

For example, Greg Duncan, a renowned professor of education at the University of California Irvine, conducted a landmark study on the role math plays in childhood development. Duncan concluded that while our emphasis for young children has historically revolved around reading and behavior, we must not ignore math going forward. He found that elementary math skills are more important than any other subject in predicting a child’s long-term success.

Amazingly, a child’s kindergarten math scores are a better predictor of his or her third-grade math and reading scores, than a child’s kindergarten reading scores. As the most accurate predictor of a child’s long-term success, math best prepares and develops a child’s mind to accept, analyze and execute complex ideas. But this is only part of the equation.

If we believe that our children are our future, their mathematical blueprint must then be drawn and secured early enough for them to benefit from it. Another study known as “The Forgotten Middle” reveals eighth grade as the ‘deadline’ that most accurately predicts a child’s success in college and beyond. In other words, if a child has received the relevant math education and training by eighth grade, two things become much more likely. First, that child will have a higher likelihood of going to college. And second, that child will likely be more successful in high school, college, and careers beyond.

Math can significantly close the gap between a wealthy white student and an underprivileged black or Hispanic student. Math can connect all our children to new opportunities never before made available to them. Math provides a blueprint for both aspiring and established businesses alike to recruit new and diverse talent primed for success. An effective education in math is the vehicle that will transform the increasingly diverse talent pool that comprises America’s student body into consistent candidates for successful future companies.

Written by Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (@EducationIQ), as guest columnist for Forbes Magazine, May 8, 2015.