It all adds up: How to get smart

August 17, 2009 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

From the Economist:

[A recent paper by Joshua ] Goodman has found that each extra required maths course raised the annual income of black males by 15%. (More reading classes had a negative or no effect on earnings.) More maths also increased the likelihood of young black men going to university and someday having a job requiring quantitative skills. But an advanced degree or better job accounts for only a fraction of the earnings increase. Mr Goodman reckons most of the wage increase reflects greater worker productivity.

One reason why people who learn more mathematics earn more is because doing maths makes you smarter and more productive. According to Clancy Blair, a professor of psychology at NYU, the act of performing mathematical calculations improves reasoning, problem-solving skills, behaviour, and the ability to self-regulate. These skills are associated with the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain, which continues to develop into your early 30s. Solving maths problems improves the way your brain functions and, according to Mr Blair, this can translate into an ability to earn more money and form stable relationships.

Curiously, Mr Goodman found that requiring more maths did not have much impact on the income of black women or whites. He suspects that these groups already had basic maths skills, and the reforms he studied did not teach more advanced maths. But for many black males, learning even basic maths may have been an improvement. Mr Goodman’s research suggests more rigorous requirements will be necessary to reach the other students.

Of course, finding qualified teachers to teach advanced maths courses will not be easy. According to a study published by the Education Trust in 2002, many middle- and high-school maths classes are taught by teachers who did not even minor in a mathematical field. Attracting qualified maths teachers will require paying them more. That presents a challenge, not only for strained state budgets, but for local teaching unions who often oppose market-based pay for hard-to-fill jobs.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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