Americans Are Bad at Math, but It’s Not Too Late to Fix

080414bucks-carl-sketch-superJumboWhen I lived in Las Vegas, there were billboards everywhere advertising different casinos. One of the most common was the type that promised "98 percent payouts." I remember thinking how amazing that was. After all, 98 is a lot of percents! It seemed like a really good deal — until I thought about it for a minute.

It’s pretty simple, really. A 98 percent payout meant that, on average, for every dollar you gambled, you’d get back 98 cents. Now how attractive does that 98 percent look? No investor I know would be happy with that return on investment. Yet, based upon the number of people who visit casinos, they don’t seem too worried about it.

I suspect it's tied, in large part, to the problems Elizabeth Green outlined in painful detail in her much-discussed article in The New York Times Magazine, "Why Do Americans Stink at Math?" She wrote, "As a nation, we suffer from an ailment that John Allen Paulos, a Temple University math professor and an author, calls innumeracy — the mathematical equivalent of not being able to read. On national tests, nearly two-thirds of fourth graders and eighth graders are not proficient in math.” The results aren’t much better among adults. As Ms. Green noted, “A 2012 study comparing 16-to-65-year-olds in 20 countries found that Americans rank in the bottom five in numeracy.”

Read the rest of the article on The New York Times.


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