What is Numeracy?

Some call it Numeracy, an expression first used in the UK's 1959 "Crowther Report" to include secondary school students' ability to reason and solve sophisticated quantitative problems, their basic understanding of the scientific method, and their ability to communicate at a substantial level about quantitative issues in everyday life. Others call it Quantitative Literacy (QL), and describe this comfort, competency, and "habit of mind" in working with numerical data as being as important in today's highly quantitative society as reading and writing were in previous generations. Still others refer to it as Quantitative Reasoning (QR), emphasizing the higher-order reasoning and critical thinking skills needed to understand and to create sophisticated arguments supported by quantitative data.

For a history of the evolution of these concepts and expressions, see Bernie Madison and Lynn Steen's article Evolution of Numeracy and the National Numeracy Network in the premiere edition of the NNN's journal: Numeracy.

Seminal Books and Articles

Achieving Quantitative Literacy: An Urgent Challenge for Higher Education, 2004

In this brief volume (115 pages) Lynn Steen offers a synopsis of major issues raised at the National Forum on QL that was held at the National Academy of the Sciences in Washington, DC in December 2001. Steen describes the place for QL in higher education – preparing students for civic and economic life in an age dominated by computers and quantitative data.

Quantitative Literacy: Why Numbers Matter for Schools and Colleges, 2003

This volume, edited by Bernie Madison and Lynn Steen, presents the proceedings of the National Forum on QL held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC in December 2001. The forum, hosted by the NCED, in cooperation with the National Research Council and the Mathematics Association of America, offered background papers and forum papers. The background papers are divided into three types: need of QL for work and learning, curriculum issues, and policy challenges. The forum papers are of four types: need of QL for work and learning, policy perspectives, international perspectives, and reflections and observations.
On-line version

Mathematics and Democracy: The Case for Quantitative Literacy, 2001

This publication, produced by the National Council on Education and the Disciplines (NCED) and edited by Lynn Steen, begins with the now oft quoted line "The world of the twenty-first century is a world awash in numbers." (This phrase inspired Beth Fratesi's "Wave of Numbers" used in the NNN's Web site banner.) Mathematics and Democracy makes a strong case for the universality of QL, which is essentially defined as "the use of mathematical and logical tools to solve common problems" in real world contexts. The case statement, a collaborative work by the sixteen-person design team, details the importance of quantitative skills in a wide array of academic fields, in various professions, and in everyday life (particularly in citizenship, personal finance, and personal health). This first chapter also describes the various elements and skills of QL, painting a rich picture of QL. Twelve chapters follow the case statement, each a response by invited authors.
On-line version

Why Numbers Count: Quantitative Literacy for Tomorrow's America, 1997

This collection of essays written by diverse consumers of quantitative information represents one of the early attempts to distinguish between mathematics (which was well-defined) and quantitative literacy (which clearly meant different things to different people). As Robert Orill describes in the foreword of this volume, the authors' observations about QL "challenge traditional approaches to orienting the mathematics curriculum" in the US.
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