Emphasizing Concepts vs Procedures in Math: Student Achievement and Social Justice

Emphasizing Concepts vs. Procedures in Math: Student Achievement and Social Justice

Over the past few decades, teachers in the United States have faced increasing pressure to boost American students’ mathematics achievement. Comparisons with other countries have revealed that American students lag behind in math achievement, especially when compared to student performance in Japan and Singapore. Thus, American education leaders and policymakers have prioritized mathematics achievement in part to secure America as a globally competitive and innovative nation (Yu 82).

In their paper, “Teacher support, instructional practices, student motivation, and mathematics achievement in high school,” authors Rongrong Yu and Kusum Singh explain that for the past 20 years, mathematics educators and administrators have been engaged in “mathematics wars,” heated debates that have pitted those who favor procedural teaching against those who favor conceptual teaching (81).

Previous studies have shown that students in high-achieving countries like Japan and Singapore “spend more time on inventing, analyzing, and proving, with less time on routine procedures, but U.S. students spend almost all their time on routine procedures” (83).