CJ Bartolozzi

Saint Albans School

Washington, DC

11th Grade

Grand Prize Winner

Why Statistics Instead of Calculus Would’ve Made My Mathematical Experience In High School More

Relevant to My Future

Students often complain that what they learn in school will never be applicable in life and when it comes

to how math is taught in the United States, these students aren’t entirely wrong. The math curriculum in

the United States requires its students to follow the track of pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, algebra II,

pre-calculus, and then to calculus. This is the model that students follow in the United States with a few

exceptions and possibly in a different order, but this mathematical system is flawed. I want to advocate

for a much more applicable course within mathematics called statistics. The math curriculum in the

United States leads high school students on a confusing and tedious journey towards calculus, but when

these students reach college and the workforce, the applications of calculus only affect a small number

of students on a day to day basis. However, the application of statistics can be applied to many lucrative

fields with much higher applicability for students because statistics can be used in everyday life as

opposed to calculus. Moreover, there is a demand for statisticians and data scientists, and the

prioritization of statistics over calculus could solve this demand. I believe that mathematical education in

the United States should be overhauled to reflect the needs of the 21st-century high school student, be

based around effective forms of education that are applicable for students, and reflect the needs of our

workforce and economy. To accomplish this, educational institutions should prioritize statistics at the top

of the mathematical pyramid as opposed to calculus.

Building the American mathematical model around calculus is a fundamental misunderstanding about

the applications and opportunities that calculus can offer to those who have studied it. The calculus

curriculum forces students to memorize complicated equations in the pursuit of mastering calculus

without even knowing the significance of these equations. What is also puzzling about calculus is that

many of these skills that students are learning have already been made obsolete by the computer or

calculator. I want to clarify that just because computers already have this information doesn’t make the

information irrelevant, but education in the United States should be focused on effective learning as

opposed to useless and mindless memorization. Furthermore, the pursuit of calculus equations and

theorems is unnecessary for the majority of students who take calculus. Calculus is only needed for

engineering, economics, advanced science, and teaching advanced math, yet why are so many students

forced to pursue a math track that leads to calculus. According to mathematician Arthur Benjamin who

appeared in a video for TED and spoke on this very subject stated, “The mathematics curriculum that we

have is based on a foundation of arithmetic and algebra. And everything we learn after that is building up

towards one subject. And at top of that pyramid, it's calculus. And I'm here to say that I think that is the

wrong summit of the pyramid ... that the correct summit -- that all of our students, every high school

graduate should know -- should be statistics: probability and statistics”. Arthur also commented on the

applications of calculus and how it compares to statistics, “I'm here to say, as a professor of

mathematics, that very few people actually use calculus in a conscious, meaningful way, in their day-today lives. On the other hand, statistics -- that's a subject that you could, and should, use on daily basis.

Right? It's risk. It's reward. It's randomness. It's understanding data”. Calculus is still an important math

that should be taught to students who are heading into fields that require complex mathematics,

however for the majority of the country and high schoolers; it is time for greater access and promotion of

statistics to make high school education more relevant for the 21st-century student.

In the coming years with the further integration of “Big Data” into the lives of people around the world,

there is an urgent need for students who understand statistics and data trends. Now more than ever is

the time to make the change from calculus to statistics and shift the American high school mathematical

education model to aid the needs of our workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in

2017, “jobs that require data literacy and statistics are among the 10 fastest-growing occupations in the

country”. Furthermore, according to Business Insider, there is a dearth of experience within the field of

data, “The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the US will face a shortage of up to 190,000

professionals with advanced training in statistics and machine learning ("data scientists") within six

years. But more broadly, another 1.5 million executives and analysts will need enough proficiency in

statistics to work closely with data scientists to design experiments and make better decisions”. The

American high school education system is not offering adequate resources or information to its students

to inform them of this massive opportunity. The Standford Review stated, “As of 2015, however, only 8%

of graduating seniors have taken an AP Statistics course, and 77% have never taken any form of a

statistics course whatsoever”. There is a growing need for members of the workforce who are proficient

in data analysis, and the high school educational system must take advantage of that. Statistics is

applicable in almost any profession. A statistician can go into the food industry or the sports industry and

offer insight on which food items are the best sellers and why, or what play causes the highest percent

injury. The movie Moneyball is another perfect example of the effect and importance of the Data Scientist

in today's day, and age and much like in the movie the skill is undervalued until it changes the game.

Finally, in the age of “Big Data” with enormous amounts of data being collected through smartphones

and many other sources, our educational institutions should evolve much like our technologies to fit the

needs of the next generation and offer applicable education to high school students.

Educational institutions must adapt much like any other institution in our society. High school education

should phase out calculus and leave colleges to teach the advanced course while allowing high schools

to promote the widely applicable math of statistics. Through offering statistics, students have a greater

opportunity at applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to a profession that needs people who

understand how data and statistics work. Statistics is a better alternative for students who will get a poor

grade in calculus and leave school not understanding what they have been taught, or even worse

dropping math all together due to the confusion that calculus often inspires. Statistics is the new wave of

mathematical education and encourages students to use what they’ve learned in the classroom and

apply it to the real world. Furthermore, the field of statistics is severely undermanned and educational

institutions are doing a disservice to their students by not giving them the tools to utilize this

fundamental lapse in our high school education system. In conclusion, statistics is more applicable, in

demand, and more effective for high school students compared to the confusing math of calculus which

is why I believe teaching statistics over calculus would have made my high school experience more

relevant to my future.

Work Cited

Benjamin, Arthur. “Transcript of ‘Teach Statistics before Calculus!".” Ted, Ted, www.ted.com/talks/arthur_benjamin_s_formula_for_changing_math_education/transcript?language=en#t- 18089.

“Big Data.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data. James Manyika, Michael Chui. “MBAs Can't Afford To End Their Math Education With Calculus.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 12 Mar. 2013, www.businessinsider.com/why-statistics-is-worth-more-than-calc-2013-3.

Sparks, Sarah D. “Calculus Is the Peak of High School Math. Maybe It's Time to Change That.” Education Week, Editorial Project in Education, 20 Feb. 2019, www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/05/23/calculus-isthe-peak-of-high-school.html.

Stanford Review. “Calculus Is Overrated: Why We Should Prioritize Statistics.” The Stanford Review, The Stanford Review, 20 Aug. 2017, stanfordreview.org/calculus-is-overrated-why-we-should-prioritizestatistics-ec8b147389a3/.