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A Stanford professor says we should teach more math in preschool

November 13, 2017
Jenny Anderson

Most parents do not have to be convinced that early literacy is important. Reading, singing, and talking to children before they can read themselves helps pave the way for curiosity, empathy and, hopefully, a lifelong love of reading.

But what about math? Deborah Stipek, a professor at Stanford and the former dean of the school of education, says math is just as important—if not more—to laying the foundations for educational success. But we are not nearly as focused on planting the seeds for a future love of math as we are for reading. “For a variety of reasons, people haven’t paid attention to math,” she says.

Research from 2007 found that math skills for kids entering kindergarten were a strong predictor of both math and reading skills in the third and fifth grades. Author Greg Duncan, a professor at the University of California Irvine, said it goes far deeper: Kids with persistent math problems are 13 percentage points less likely to complete high school than kids with no problems, and are 29 percentage points less likely to attend college.

“It’s intuitive you need to learn to read; even for math, you need to be able to read word problems,” Stipek says. “It’s not intuitive that math lays a foundation for learning.”

But it does. Plenty of research, including from the National Research Council underscores the importance of early mathematical thinking for developing cognitive abilities later in life.