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Are Academic Course Requirements Out-of-Date?

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When I was much younger and learning to cook, I wanted to fix a ham in the pan that my mother gave to me. She always made the best hams.
So I proceeded to cut both ends off the ham, prepare it with her special spices and put it into the oven. I wondered to myself, “Why am I cutting off both ends? Mom always did.”
So I asked my mom about it. Her answer was, “Mom always made it that way.”
So I called up my grandmother and asked this question of her. Her answer upended my thinking. She said, “The ham was too big for the pan.”
I wonder if the same is true for calculus. Do we take calculus in high school because we need this skill in our future career, or is it what we historically needed to get into prestigious colleges?
Last week, I spoke to a group of about 130 business people and educators. I asked, “How many of you took calculus in school?” About 90 percent raised their hand. And “how many of you use calculus in your job today?” I didn’t see any hands raised.
Based on job postings from Chmura’s JobsEQ over the last 180 days ending with June 25, almost 6,000 job ads in the nation listed “calculus” as a preferred skill. That’s 0.03 percent of all the jobs posted during that period.
The top job posted was for agricultural engineers with 1,707 job ads. The next highest job postings were for tutors with 820 ads. Presumably, those tutors are needed to prepare high school students to pass courses needed for college.
In the Richmond metro area, there were 11 job postings that required calculus (about 0.01 percent of all openings); most were tutors.
On the other hand, it appears that statistics is not taught as often in high school or sought after by college students. Based on the 2016 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics report, students are more likely to take AP calculus tests than statistics tests in high school. But there were almost 60,000 jobs requiring statistics in the nation for the last 180 days ending with June 25. That’s about 0.3 percent of the job openings over the same period.
The job ads covered a number of occupations. There were 4,431 jobs ads in the nation for management analysts that included the need for statistics. It was followed by 3,950 openings for computer and information research scientists with statistics skills and 2,916 business intelligence analysts.
In the Richmond metro area, 464 job ads required statistics — about 0.4 percent of total openings.
Based on our insights on calculus and statistics, the latter appears to be the skill most in demand by employers today.
Sometimes we just need to ask “Why?”
(This column first ran in the Richmond Times Dispatch on July 2, 2018)
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