Originally posted by the Statesman Journal.

The prosperity of Oregon depends on a workforce that is prepared for jobs in and around the Portland innovation hub.

Where that workforce will come from – including how many of these employees are Oregonians – is up to us.

Based on the number of patents being issued annually, Portland is a major national “innovation hub” and ranks 14th out of 306 U.S. metropolitan areas in the percentage of the local workforce with college degrees, another key feature of innovation hubs.

Yet, this innovative capacity increasingly may not be homegrown. The U.S. attracts talent from all over the world. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 10 percent of the U.S. workforce is foreign-born and foreign employees make up 25 percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce. Meanwhile, about 50 percent of the firms founded in Silicon Valley have chief executive officers who were foreign-born.

This isn’t to say Oregon or the United States should exclude talented foreign employees. Rather, we should embrace these employees, while also greatly fostering improved teaching of mathematics skills in our schools here in Oregon and across America.

But so far, we are struggling to improve math learning. In fact, the No. 1 academic obstacle keeping a large number of Oregon students from completing a diploma or degree is math.

But the irony is that we know how to get better. The question is, will we?

Research is making remarkable inroads in overcoming the traditional rigid model of teaching math by a strict set of computational equations, and instead fostering rich discussion of mathematical ideas.

Student test scores and other data collected upon entrance to two- and four-year colleges are clear. Credits in required math subjects are often not enough to successfully prepare students to use math after high school. Students need opportunities to reason orally and at length by utilizing challenging, interesting and meaningful math problems. So far, the results are compelling but admittedly small in scale and anecdotal.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has developed a scheme for supporting large-scale educational improvement. Its concept is informed by improvement science research and is called “networked improvement communities,” and has been successfully applied to community college math through a project called Statway.

Meanwhile, Oregon State University’s College of Education, Linn-Benton Community College and schools in the Mid-Valley Mid-Coast Partnership will scale up innovative improvement in math teaching in collaboration with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

We have much work to do to overcome the anecdotal objections that we always have heard, such as, “I hate math.” Or, “I’m just not a math person.”

Addressing these objections and addressing the modern day problems of poor math performance – and low U.S. student interest in math – is a community problem that we must solve. Addressing this situation is an essential part of educating Oregonians to be prepared to work in emerging global job markets.

Let’s start now to make math more relevant and useful in all Oregon schools, colleges and universities – and in the public’s mind.

Dr. Larry Flick of Coburg is dean of education at Oregon State University. As a member of the Mid-Valley Mid-Coast Partnership, he participates in the Network Improvement Communities design learning lab project of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that has been funded by the National Science Foundation. Contact him at Larry.Flick@oregonstate.edu.

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