Study shows how brain builds path for math

Malaysia Grimball, who was part of the advanced studies magnet program at Haut Gap Middle School, answers questions during a math class in March.

The five best jobs in America, chosen by the national recruiting site Glassdoor because of salaries, job satisfaction and availability, are jobs that most of the Lowcountry’s eighth graders will not qualify for after graduation.

Here’s why. Data scientists, “devops” engineers (who combine software development and information technology operations), data engineers, tax managers and analytics managers all need strong math skills, and most who graduate in this area don’t have them.

The tri-county is expecting 26,000 new jobs by 2020. But those jobs are driven largely by growth in the technology and manufacturing sectors.

Something must be done, and it must be done soon. Another undereducated generation in the Lowcountry would perpetuate poverty and could derail its promising economic gains.

Charleston County Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait says the area’s “abysmal” scores reflect the state’s difficulty “recruiting, retaining and rewarding mathematics teachers.” Unless they are committed to teaching school, good math students might reasonably set their sights on jobs that can pay $100,000 or more instead.

The answer, of course, is for local schools to produce enough graduates with solid math skills to meet both needs. And it would help to reward good math teachers financially.

The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative has been collecting data like these for three years. Anita Zucker, who chairs the endeavor, has said it is important to gather accurate information to inform wise decisions.

The collaborative’s recommendations deserve serious consideration. They include requiring high school students to take a math class in their senior year and training math teachers better.

Cradle to Career also recommended a web-based program that has shown success in Florida. And given the acute shortage of math teachers, such a computer program could fill some gaping educational holes.

Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester county school districts should know that there is no easy fix. If there were, their high school graduates would be prepared for college-level work. Presently, only 35 percent are. And 91 percent of graduates who attend Trident Technical College need to take non-credit-bearing remedial math courses.

It is difficult to think of a job that does not require a good grasp of math. Health care technology requires math. Financial jobs require math. Day-to-day living requires people to use math when making purchases, paying taxes and choosing insurance plans.

School districts across the country are grappling with similar problems. The United States lags behind too many other developed countries in math and science. In a survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 46 percent said K-12 STEM (science, technology, math) education was below average.

Several years ago the Charleston County School District focused on reducing the unacceptably high rate of illiteracy among students. The programs initially indicated progress, but then faltered. Literacy continues to plague the district.

The Charleston County School Board — indeed every school board in the state — should be insisting that educators come up with solutions for teaching literacy and STEM courses. And voters should hold them accountable.

Doing less is a travesty educationally, socially, morally and economically.