St. Olaf College Quantitative Literacy
Lynn Arthur Steen
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics
Dept. of Mathematics
Statistics, & Comp.Sci

St. Olaf College
1520 St. Olaf Ave.
Northfield, MN 55057

Copyright © 2010.

Expository Writing

In 1976 BC (before computers), I prepared (with Matthew Gaffney of the University of Massachusetts) an Annotated Bibliography of Expository Writing in the Mathematical Sciences to introduce students and faculty to the many fascinating articles about mathematics and its applications that appear in sources outside the domain of professonal mathematics publications. This effort helped open my eyes to the complex issues of mathematical literacy which arise in many areas far removed from the mathematics classroom. Today computer search engines have made such bibliographies nearly obsolete even as the scope of mathematical content and applications covered in the expository literature has grown exponentially during the intervening thirty years.

Why Numbers Count

In the mid-1990s, scientists who advise the College Board on the Advanced Placement exams asked mathematicians to help define the nature and level of mathematical or quantitative literacy appropriate for college-bound students. It immediatley became clear that quantitative literacy was something different from high school mathematics, yet closely related. One product of this investiagtion is Why Numbers Count: Quantitative Literacy for Tomorrow's America, published by the College Board in 1997. This volume contains essays and interviews from professionals in different fields discussing the needs for quantitative literacy from their varied perspectives.

A second product of this investigation is an on-line resources in quantitative literacy containing links to people, programs, projects, publications. (This resource was completed in July 1999 but has not been updated since then.)

Mathematics and Democracy

In 1999, with the support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the problematic question of numeracy—what mathematics is essential for all students?—was taken up by the National Council on Education and the Disciplines (NCED) at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. As a first step, NCED published Mathematics and Democracy: The Case for Quantitative Literacy containing a definitional position paper on quantitative literacy followed by a dozen response papers.

Subsequently, in November 2001, NCED joined MAA and MSEB in hosting a national colloquium on quantitative literacy. The proceedings that I edited in collaboration with Bernard Madison at the University of Arkansas were published in 2003 under the colloquium title Quantiative Literacy: Why Numeracy Matters for Schools and Colleges.

Achieving Quantitative Literacy

These efforts have resulted in a modest movement to engage faculty in grades 11-14 to re-think the relation between objectives and requirements in quantitative and mathematical reasoning. In 2003 MAA published Quantitative Literacy: Why Numeracy Matters for Schools and Colleges, a collection of papers derived from a forum held in December 2001 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. In 2004, the MAA published Achieving Quantitative Literacy, a synoposis of issues emerging from this forum, and also established a Special Interest Group (SIGMAA) on Quantitative Literacy.

Leaders of various QL/QR projects on different campusus have also established a National Numeracy Network to share materials and curricular ideas. A list of selected Quantitative Literacy Programs in U.S. colleges and universities is availabe on an MAA website devoted to quantitative literacy.

Related Professional Service

1999-02   Project Director for Quantitative Literacy, National Council on Education and the Disciplines, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
1998-99   Advisory Committee to Review Mathematics Placement Tests, The Education Trust.
1999-02   Seminar on Democracy, Diversity, and the Disciplines, Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
1998-09   Reviewer for SkillsUSA Technical Math Examination, National Vocational Industrial Clubs of America.
1998-99   Seminar on K-16 Education, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
1997-97   Co-organizer of "Beyond Eighth Grade" workshop, National Council on Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE).
1995-96   Consulting editor for High School Mathematics at Work, National Academy Press.