### The Math Barrier

July 02, 2010
– Comments (14)

I am looking at this article about looking for skilled workers for manufacturing and in the article it says:

**All candidates at Ben Venue must pass a basic skills test showing they can read and understand math at a ninth-grade level. A significant portion of recent applicants failed, and the company has been disappointed by the quality of graduates from local training programs. It is now struggling to fill 100 positions.**

Here are my observations about math. West Vancouver, which is Canada's highest income per household city, has one math essentials class per grade in their high schools. These classes tend to have about 15-20 students. A student that graduates from high school with math essentials as opposed to academic math finishes with what I'd call about grade 7 math. In West Vancouver this is about 5-8% of students. Then look at the suburbs, where families have moved because that is where they can afford housing. In these school there is typically 4 or 5 essentials math classes per grade, for something like 1/3 of students in essentials math.

Apparently Canadian students do better in math then American students.

So... Right out of high school you have at least 1/3rd that simply lack adequate math skills for what this employer is testing for.

Something I have observed is that it seems people with skills to make a good income seem to have better skills across the board, including parenting skills. Students are more on task and motivated in West Vancouver then students in the suburbs. The are also more co-operative when you ask them to do something. Parents have expectations of their children and their children tend to meet those expectations. If you go way out of town, where housing is even cheaper, you have students that find no relevance for school at all and strive to do no better then 50%. If parents here have expectations of their children, it is hard to determine what those expectations are from the actions of students.

When I was growing up, if you didn't pass your courses you went to summer school or you repeated the school year. Now students are moved with their age peer group and there are no consequences to students who choose to not do their work within the school system. In West Vancouver parents make sure their children are up to grade level. They hire tutors or send them to after school math programs or summer math programs. As income declines, you see less and less of this and you have a much more challenging classroom mix of a much higher range of abilities until around grade 9 or 10 when those who lack the skills are streamed to essentials math. Essentials math classes have some students that genuinely have math learning issues, but a much bigger problem is behavioural issues and attitude and far too many students are streamed to essentials math because of behavioural issues rather then ability issues.

Just my observations.