|A century after the United States crossed the threshold into universal secondary education we are crossing a quite different threshold into universal postsecondary education. Consequently, society now expects of higher education what in the early twentieth century it asked of secondary schools, namely, to prepare students for civic and economic life. In contrast to that earlier time, however, our age is dominated by computers and data, not factory assembly lines. These changes in society have created an urgent demand for multifaceted literacy far more sophisticated than what previously served as the foundation of today's curriculum.
This greater demand for higher order competencies is nowhere more apparent than in the area of quantitative literacy (QL). Although no less important for all citizens than fluency in reading and writing, quantitative literacy too often continues to be the province of the few. Indeed, for too long, our educational system has produced a scientific and mathematical elite while failing to nurture the literate citizenry required for robust democracy. As a result, the gap between expert and citizen has widened dangerously, most notably when numbers and data are brought to bear in deciding public and private issues - and one can scarcely think of an issue in contemporary life where this is not the case.
"Achieving Quantitative Literacy: An Urgent Challenge for Higher Education" is a response to this need intended to stimulate and support QL conversations on campuses across the country. Growing out of an interdisciplinary forum held at the National Research Council, it summarizes for postsecondary educators and policy makers the major curricular issues surrounding QL. Experts cited in "Achieving Quantitative Literacy" stress the importance of embedding QL across the curriculum and of providing context for learning mathematics. The report includes findings and recommended responses concerning student preparation, public awareness, recognized benchmarks, effective assessment, and professional support.