Mathematics Standards

The Understanding Fiscal Responsibility Mathematics Curriculum team assessed the presence (or absence) of knowledge and understanding of U.S. financial systems and their impact on the federal budget, national debt and budget deficit in high school mathematics curriculum standards. We completed a review of each state’s (and the District of Columbia’s) mathematics standards for grades 7 to 12, as well as curriculum frameworks and other supporting documents when available.

Our systematic content analysis of the 51 sets of mathematics standards leads us to two key findings:

(1) The states’ and NCTM standards did not discuss federal fiscal responsibility issues.

(2) Many states’ standards do attend to general “financial literacy” issues in their curriculum, but these are largely related to personal finance.

There is great potential within the mathematics curriculum to build on nascent examples relating to financial literacy and civic participation to drive a discussion about federal budget and national debt issues. Particularly in this time of economic crisis, there are many examples that can be used in mathematics classes. We suggest that inclusion of these topics and their related discussion in secondary mathematics, social studies and economics classrooms require more than basic operational mathematics knowledge.  In short, while students certainly need to understand how to solve problems involving percents, decimals, fractions and ratio, they also need to understand how data is represented and analyzed as well as key algebraic concepts such as functions, linear and non-linear equations,and graphing.  They need to be able to analyze arguments in favor or against a particular policy decision that is based on, in whole or in part, mathematical and/or statistical information. Similarly, they need to be able to use those same mathematical and/or statistical understandings to develop their own points of view in a responsible way.

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