By the Reasoning Mind Central Texas Regional Board: Mike Burke (Chair), Ana Acevedo, Carol Mendenhall, Nancy Mutscher, Harvey Najim, and Glenn Stotts
A few months ago, we—a group of community leaders—established a regional board for the nonprofit Reasoning Mind in Central Texas. The organization develops effective, engaging online math programs for Pre-K through the 8th-grade. Additionally, Reasoning Mind helps schools implement their programs in their classrooms, and prepares teachers to use technology effectively to bring the greatest advantage to their students.
Reasoning Mind has a long history of supporting math education in Texas, engaging students, empowering teachers, and using technology to help educators provide a first-rate math education across the state. This new Central Texas Board is intended to build upon that work in Austin and San Antonio. We want to further the Reasoning Mind mission of supporting math education, and we want to do it right here in the heart of Texas.
The strength of Texas’ math education programs is vital, not only for the success of our students but also for the success of our communities, state, and nation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported significantly higher job growth in STEM fields than in non-STEM fields, with STEM workers also commanding higher wages. The STEM job group projected to grow fastest from 2014 to 2024? It was the mathematical science occupations group at a whopping 28.2%, compared to the average projected occupational growth of 6.5%. The jobs of the future require mathematical proficiency. Preparing our students in the field is essential.
Central Texas’ educators are passionate and hardworking; on the 2015 NAEP, our state outperformed the national average in 4th- and 8th-grade mathematics. Still, improvement is needed. Despite Texas NAEP results being above the national average, they also showed only 44% of our 4th-graders and 38% of our 8th-graders being proficient in math—less than half. This is part of a national trend. The 2015 international PISA exam resulted in a U.S. ranking of 35 in math, underperforming the OECD average. Another international assessment, the TIMSS, paints a more positive picture, with U.S. students performing above average while showing long-term improvement. Still, these results are mixed. For our students and communities to succeed, we need more than mixed results in math; we need to excel.
There are promising methods for improving math instruction. Many of the countries outperforming the U.S. use curricula that heavily emphasize conceptual understanding of mathematical material. A stronger emphasis on math concepts, married with an appropriate dose of procedural practice, can prepare students to connect mathematical ideas as they progress through more advanced material. Educational technology saves teachers’ time on more automatable tasks like grading and lecturing, affording them the opportunity to lead group discussions and work one-on-one with students. This gives teachers a greater ability to address misconceptions and help students build critical-thinking skills and problem-solving strategies. Teachers will then be able to provide students with mathematical experiences that are both engaging and interesting for students, ensuring that students see math not as a chore, but as a joy.
Reasoning Mind isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s one of the most promising solutions to our math crisis. After-school programs, extracurricular activities, and engaged parents are all essential for driving students toward positive educational experiences. Most importantly, amazing, dedicated teachers will always be the cornerstone of any educational program. But Reasoning Mind can help by providing a proven, rigorous curriculum, which develops conceptual understanding of mathematics and deliberately prepares students for algebra and other more advanced subjects. Furthermore, Reasoning Mind gives teachers the support they need to bring their students the benefits of an online curriculum.
Reasoning Mind is a piece of the puzzle to providing our students with a first-rate math education, and it’s the piece we’re able to provide. We all have pieces of that puzzle, and we’ll have to work together if we want to prepare our children to be the leaders of tomorrow.