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Math Could Make the Difference for Our Students’ Futures – If State Leaders Act Now

Urgent Action Needed in the States to Reverse K-12 Math Crisis

Governors’ State of the State Addresses Show Need for Greater Focus on Math

Contact: Josh Parrish,

A top priority for the nation’s governors in their current legislative sessions is building a strong economy.  But that will be a tall challenge because U.S. K-12 students lack the foundational math skills required to have a skilled workforce. Ninety-four percent of workers use at least basic math in their jobs, and jobs requiring math and statistics facility are projected to grow by 30 percent over the next decade—much faster than the average for all occupations.

U.S. students can’t fill that demand if current trends are not reversed.

U.S. Performance is Dismal

Far too many K-12 students aren’t equipped with the math skills they need to thrive in the future. The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend Results showed that nine-year-olds’ math achievement declined seven points between 2020 and 2022—the first-ever decline in math since the assessments started in the 1970s.

Just as troubling is that in a 2022 assessment of how well 15-year-old students can apply math to solve real-world problems the U.S. placed 28th out of 38 economically advanced nations, well below many of our country’s international peers. The test was conducted by the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment.

The common misconception that math is only relevant for careers in science or engineering – combined with the stereotype that it is okay to believe that someone “just isn’t a math person” – is the one-two punch that wreaks havoc on America’s approach to math education.

The concern about what the trend portends for the economy and the nation is widespread. Caitlin Codella Low, Vice President of Policy and Programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, shared in part: “Today’s students are the workforce of the future, and American businesses cannot compete on the global stage if our students continue to fall behind in the fundamental skills of reading, science, and math.”

Math Achievement Lags Across the Country

Leaders simply aren’t doing enough to support educators in restoring math achievement back to the level it was before the pandemic—and to boosting it even more to meet the needs of our economy. A recent study of 30 states showed that only Alabama can claim students returned to pre-pandemic achievement levels in math during the 2022-23 school year.

In 17 of the states (AR, CA, CT, IN, KS, KY, MA, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NV, OK, OR, VA, WA and WV) students remained more than one- third of a grade level behind in math, compared to 2019 levels.

Nation’s Governors Must Activate to Address the Problem

Despite the imperative to prepare students with the math skills they need to succeed in life, an analysis of governors’ 2024 State of State addresses demonstrates a severe lack of state-level commitment to improving K-12 math education.

  • Only seven of the 40 governors who have delivered addresses so far have mentioned math in any way.
  • Among the 17 states where math achievement remained far below pre-pandemic levels in 2022-23, only two (New Jersey and Virginia) have governors who made a nod to K-12 math in their 2024 addresses.

These and other states, including Colorado, Rhode Island and South Carolina, should be commended for working to increase the quality of math teaching through access to high-quality instructional resources and curriculum-based professional development, key approaches for reversing declines in student achievement. Yet, with 8 states (Texas and Nevada excluded) left to deliver a gubernatorial address this year, we encourage local advocates to call for increased state leadership and investment. Far too few state leaders are appropriately responding to the math crisis at hand.

Similarly, only a handful of state legislatures have introduced legislation to improve K-12 education in the current session. However, there are some notable exceptions as highlighted in a recent ExcelinEd brief, including:

  • Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the state Department of Education to approve a professional development course on math instruction that would be free for K-8 educators; the bill would also mandate an analysis of current math proficiency levels in the state.
  • In Kentucky, a bill will provide universal math screeners for students in grades 4-8 as well as math improvement plans.
  • And in Indiana, legislation would establish requirements for math instructional materials and provide optional screening and interventions for students struggling in math.

It’s time for ALL state leaders to step up and commit to improving K-12 math education for all students. We need strong investments to address lost learning, to accelerate learning, to broaden math opportunities, and to connect math experiences with careers and higher education. Perhaps most importantly, state leaders can and should use their positions to publicly underscore the importance of math to our communities and to champion a belief that everyone truly can be “a math person.”

Join Us in Taking Aim at the Math Crisis

At the Collaborative, we are excited to kick off “March Mathness”—a month where we will focus intensely on the challenges to and promising investments around improving math education.

  • Join us at SXSW EDU in Austin, TX where we’ll be Busting Society’s Math Myth through a live podcast recording with our special guest and Math Guru Vanessa Vakharia.
  • Follow along with us and The 74 Million as we host an NCAA-styled bracket elevating the best math policies and practices across the country.
  • And in April and May, we will keep the drumbeat going by inviting you to join us in taking a range of actions to advocate for a greater focus on improving math education in your state and district.

The time to renew the U.S. relationship with math is now. Join us as we amplify and elevate leading work by educators and leaders to transform math education for our students.

About the Collaborative for Student Success

At our core, we believe leaders at all levels have a role to play in ensuring success for K-12 students. From ensuring schools and teachers are equipped with the best materials to spotlighting the innovative and bold ways federal recovery dollars are being used to drive needed changes, the Collaborative for Student Success aims to inform and amplify policies making a difference for students and families.

To recover from the most disruptive event in the history of American public schools, states and districts are leveraging unprecedented resources to make sure classrooms are safe for learning, providing students and teachers with the high-quality instructional materials they deserve, and are rethinking how best to measure learning so supports are targeted where they’re needed most. 

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