Better education and savings would result from schools’ teaching only metric
From the September/October 1996 issue of USMA’s Metric Today.
by Lorelle Young, USMA President
A transition to metric usage in the US would be a major factor in correcting the poor performance shown by US students in math and science, according to an article in the February 1996 Evaluation Review, by Richard P. Phelps, a consultant to the Education Consumers Clearinghouse. Phelps’ study shows that the current practice of teaching two systems of measurement in US schools wastes time and is very costly. The use of the metric system is mandatory for working in many key professions such as medicine, science, and engineering; therefore, metric must be included in the curricula. However, there is no overwhelming need to use customary units in daily lives because metric units can easily be substituted.
In the article, Phelps’ conclusions are reached by examining three methods of teaching measurement. He calculates the net benefits of each system by development of quantitative measures of benefits and costs, then compares the results. His research shows that teaching solely metric system measurement could save 82 days of mathematical instruction-time annually and would provide a yearly $17 653 million in savings to US education. The time and funds gained could be used to teach more math, giving students better skills, and increasing their scores in international mathematics tests. [Presently, the US ranks 13th out of 17 countries on international math tests given to 8th graders.] The current practice of trying to teach both metric and customary usage is wasteful and unnecessary.
The author lists a number of practical reasons why teaching only metric measurement would greatly benefit US education. One example: In learning customary measurements [for length, capacity, and weight (mass)], the student must memorize 21 names and 18 conversion ratios, versus needing only to remember 9 names and 2 conversion ratios for metric measurements. Therefore, time is saved in teaching only metric measurement, and students can make metric calculations with greater facility and fewer errors.
Phelps used the Addison-Wesley Mathematics series as a basis for his calculations to determine instructional-time, and used data from the US Dept. of Education to calculate dollar amounts of education costs. The article also reviews background and current status of US conversion. He makes the provocative suggestion, based on his calculations, that the dollar savings from teaching only the metric system in schools would pay, many times over, for converting all US highway signs to metric. Evaluation Review is a Journal of Applied Social Research and is published in the US by Sage Publications Inc.