Declining Math Proficiency in the United States Poses Threat to Global Competitiveness

by Joshua Brown
Declining math proficiency in the United States

Kevin Tran, a 17-year-old high school student, has a unique appreciation for superheroes, a fascination that stems from their intellectual prowess. “They are invariably brilliant—engineers, scientists—and you can’t achieve that without mathematical proficiency,” Tran observes.

During the summer, Tran dedicated five hours a day to studying calculus through a program at Northeastern University. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for the subject is not widely shared among Americans. The dismal state of math scores on standardized tests across the United States reveals an alarming decline.

Related Stories on the Math Crisis

  • Sweeping reforms in reading have taken hold, but what about math?
  • Teachers grapple with their own math anxieties
  • The pandemic leaves college students struggling with fundamental math concepts

Business leaders assert that America’s waning aptitude for math is not just a concern for humor but a critical issue affecting the nation’s global economic standing and national security. Jim Stigler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who focuses on educational processes, warns, “The technological advancements that will shape the world in the next half-century are likely to emerge from countries other than the United States due to their intellectual capital.”

The Department of Defense has launched significant initiatives to bolster education in the STEM fields—Science, Technology, Education, and Math—highlighting that China and Russia far outpace the United States in producing college graduates in these disciplines.

Various media outlets, united in the Education Reporting Collaborative, are documenting this math crisis. Josh Wyner, vice president of The Aspen Institute think tank, notes, “Solving the grand challenges of our time necessitates mathematical understanding.”

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that job openings in math-intensive fields are expected to increase by more than 30,000 annually through the end of the decade. Michael Allen, Chair of the Math Department at Tennessee Technological University, emphasizes, “Almost every career nowadays incorporates mathematics.”

However, the majority of American students are ill-prepared for such roles. According to international assessments like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students lag behind 36 other educational systems globally in math, with Chinese students leading the pack. The National Science and Technology Council states that only one-fifth of U.S. high school students aiming for college are prepared for STEM coursework.

Additional Perspectives

  • Alabama’s educational system excels in math improvement
  • How can schools improve lagging math skills?
  • Children impacted by the pandemic still struggle with basic educational skills

Consequently, international students are dominating STEM fields in American higher education. A Stanford economist predicts that current students could potentially earn significantly less than their pre-pandemic peers if this math decline isn’t addressed, impacting the nation’s overall economic health.

Edward Lambert Jr., executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, points out that the state alone anticipates a shortage of 11,000 life sciences workers in the next five years. “We’re failing to channel students, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, into math-related career paths early enough to maintain our competitive edge,” he states.

The Bridge to Calculus program at Northeastern University, where Tran spent his summer, represents one solution. Participants are compensated $15 an hour for their efforts in learning coding, data analytics, and basic electrical engineering.

For American students who do embrace math, such as Steven Ramos, Wintana Tewolde, and Peter St. Louis-Severe, the rewards are intrinsic. “It’s challenging but ultimately fulfilling when you grasp the concepts,” says Tewolde.

Despite this, Todd Thibodeaux, President and CEO of CompTIA, argues that America’s edge lies in its unique focus on creativity and problem-solving skills, which are also valued globally.

Nevertheless, as students tackle advanced polynomial functions in class and come up with correct solutions, their success echoes the phrase coined by their instructor, Jeremy Howland: “Bada-bing.”

The education team of The Big Big News receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The content is exclusively the responsibility of the AP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Declining math proficiency in the United States

What is the primary focus of the article?

The primary focus of the article is the declining math proficiency in the United States and its potential impact on the country’s global competitiveness and national security.

Why is America’s declining math proficiency a cause for concern?

America’s declining math proficiency is alarming because it not only affects individual career prospects but also jeopardizes the nation’s economic standing and national security. Employers in technology, engineering, and other STEM fields are increasingly concerned about the lack of qualified domestic talent.

What initiatives are in place to address this decline?

The Department of Defense and various educational coalitions are initiating programs to bolster STEM education. Specific programs, like the Bridge to Calculus at Northeastern University, aim to engage high school students in advanced mathematical study.

What is the role of the Education Reporting Collaborative?

The Education Reporting Collaborative is a coalition of media outlets that aims to document the math crisis facing U.S. schools and highlight progress and solutions.

What future job trends are highlighted in the article?

The article cites Bureau of Labor Statistics figures which indicate that jobs requiring mathematical skills will increase by more than 30,000 annually through the end of this decade. This growth rate is significantly faster than most other career fields.

How are international students affecting the STEM fields in the United States?

International students dominate STEM graduate programs in the U.S., and most of them are likely to return to their home countries upon completing their education. This exodus could exacerbate the shortage of qualified professionals in STEM fields in the United States.

What does the article say about the importance of math in various careers?

The article emphasizes that math is becoming increasingly critical in various careers, not just in traditional STEM fields. It has applications in data analytics, coding, and even in areas like cybersecurity.

What counterpoint is offered about America’s educational focus?

Todd Thibodeaux, President and CEO of CompTIA, suggests that while America may lag in math proficiency, its educational system excels in fostering creativity and problem-solving skills, which are also valuable competencies on the global stage.

What is the predicted economic impact of this decline on today’s students?

A Stanford economist has estimated that, unless reversed, the decline in math skills could result in students currently in K-12 education earning between 2% and 9% less over their careers compared to their pre-pandemic peers.

What measures are being taken to engage underprivileged students in STEM fields?

Programs like the Bridge to Calculus aim to involve students from diverse backgrounds by offering compensation for participation. However, the article suggests that much more needs to be done to channel students from underprivileged backgrounds into math-related career paths.

More about Declining math proficiency in the United States

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Outlook in STEM Fields
  • Department of Defense: STEM Education Initiatives
  • National Science and Technology Council: STEM Preparedness Report
  • Education Reporting Collaborative: Math Crisis in America
  • The Aspen Institute: Technological Dominance and Global Competitiveness
  • Program for International Student Assessment: PISA Math Scores by Country
  • National Foundation for American Policy: International Students in U.S. STEM Programs
  • Stanford Economics: Impact of Math Decline on Future Earnings
  • Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education: Workforce Shortages in Life Sciences
  • CompTIA: Importance of Creativity in Technology Fields

You may also like


John Smith September 26, 2023 - 11:19 am

Wow, this is alarming. We really need to step up our game in math education. it’s not just about grades, it’s about the future of the country!

Sarah Lee September 26, 2023 - 3:01 pm

This is so true! I’ve worked in HR, and it’s a real struggle to find people good at math. we’re supposed to be a leading nation. what’s going on??

Tim Brown September 26, 2023 - 6:00 pm

The part about how most STEM graduate students are from other countries is eye-opening. We’re basically training the competition. That’s gotta change.

Emily Williams September 26, 2023 - 11:14 pm

I can’t believe how far we’ve fallen behind in math. And it’s scary that jobs requiring math are on the rise but our scores are going down. We need to do something, ASAP.

Mike Harrison September 27, 2023 - 3:03 am

Kinda surprised but not really. My kids hate math. Schools need to make it more interesting and relatable. Right now, it’s just numbers on a board to them.


Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News