Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article about global math scores and the U.S. did poorly. Poorly only by PC standards, of course. Asian and white American eight graders, the ones being tested, did better than international averages.

My problem is that I know math skills are vital to economic growth but the relationship between average numbers, testing and economic growth are incomprehensible to me.

The fact that Blacks and Latinos have trouble with math seems to be a personal problem for the people involved. There are too many exceptions to suggest that educational policy is the issue. Assimilation is the issue and that takes generations and social patience. Some groups assimilate faster than others. (Five million blacks migrated to urban areas from the mid-1950s to the 1970s, it is their children who skew the numbers down).

The eight grade math testing gives weight to fractions. Why do we deal with fractions in the first place. I am a heavy user of math but I use fractions only when doing household construction work or cooking and that never requires adding or multiplying dissimilar fractions. Leave fractions out of math, stop scaring decent kids with an irrelevant and difficult problem, do us all a favor.

What is there about the average national score on math that makes a difference to economic growth? What we need are scientists and managers who are confident and proficient in their math. Those groups comprise 10% of the work force. So we just need to be sure that the top decile knows math.

Moreover, since I have used math for my entire working life, I can say clearly what is needed in the contemporary work place. You have to be able to read tables of numbers to extract meaning, read and make a wide range of graphs, conceptualize numbers and enjoy playing with numbers. A large number of people could be trained for that if we wanted to. Someday we will want to.

I will know we are on the right track when I see a conceptualized number question of the following nature: How many turkeys were served within a three block radius of your residence on Thanksgiving?

You need to estimate a few factors and multiply them together. I would estimate my number on the side of Twin Peaks in the Castro District of San Francisco at 180-210 turkeys. The whole point is not logic, nor keeping statistics in your head … it is paying attention to numbers.