The co-founder of Microsoft and philanthropist is quite talented at math and likes it, but he also admits that math is "America's least favorite subject."
In essence, Gates claims that math education hasn't advanced to match the pace of society.
"The way that algebra, geometry, and calculus are taught has barely changed—despite tremendous transformation in the labor market," he wrote, adding that tools like calculators, computers, and AI chatbots have made it "harder and harder to explain to students why they should learn how to do long division or find the area of a trapezoid by hand."
For one day, the millionaire went back to the eighth grade to have a better understanding of modern math curricula. On his blog, he described the encounter and offered three solutions to America's arithmetic woes:
- Math instruction should be customized to each student's interests, skills, and objectives.
- Math classes should place a strong emphasis on group collaboration and communication rather than being solitary endeavors.
- Lessons need to apply to actual issues like budgeting or something as simple as "estimating population growth."
Chula Vista's math teacher Amilcar Fernandez provided students with popcorn canisters for a lecture on calculating a pyramid's capacity. One had a pyramid shape, while the other was shaped like a rectangular prism. To secure the greatest deal, Fernandez invited the eighth-grade kids to discuss which one they would purchase at a movie theater.
"Mr. Fernandez provided his pupils with a practical application—which they had probably already encountered—as well as a motivation to learn the solution. Who doesn't want to get the most value for their money, after all? Gates said.
Chula Vista's new arithmetic strategy appears to be effective: According to Gates' writing, the school's math competency rates have risen by 18% in the last three years.
In contrast, math test scores countrywide have been declining for a while. The epidemic slowed down many pupils' educational advancement, and current information on math test results for eighth-graders and fourth-graders nationwide reveals that there has been a considerable reversal since 2019.
But scores were dropping even before the outbreak. According to a survey released in June by the Nation's Report Card, math proficiency among 13-year-olds in the seventh and eighth grades has decreased by 14% in the last ten years, reaching levels not seen since the 1990s.
Gates wrote in his blog post that arithmetic proficiency is a "powerful indicator" of future success and discussed how the Gates Foundation, the charitable organization he and his ex-wife Melinda created, is tackling math education to better meet students' needs.
College graduates who achieve high-paying jobs frequently major in subjects that demand proficient math abilities. According to a New York Federal Reserve research project, many of the highest-earning college graduates majored in engineering, which requires knowledge of everything from elementary math to calculus.