School mathematics in work and life: what we know and how we can learn more

Underlying current K-12 math-education reform initiatives are two premises: First, math education is necessary and should aim for success in the adult world of work and everyday life. Second, aligning the methods and content of K-12 math programs with those of real-world adult math use will facilitate learning. The existing research, however, challenges these premises. Studies of the actual demands of everyday adult practices reveal that most occupations involve only a low level of mathematical content and expose the disparate natures of everyday and school mathematics. Several limitations of existing mathematics-in-practice research, however, make it problematic to draw clear implications for school programs. In this article, I summarize the current research and identify some of its shortcomings for guiding educational content and pedagogy, including its focus on occupations and practices known to involve little math, its use of stereotypical conceptions of math, and its reliance on surveys and worker self-report. I propose a conceptual framework for future investigations of math in practice that would better inform K-12 education.