The Field of Statistics Is Growing and Needs Math Teacher Educators to Help It Thrive

Jessica Utts, American Statistical Association President


In late December of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released employment projections ranking statistician among the 20 fastest-growing occupations. In fact, job growth for statisticians is expected to reach 34 percent between 2014 and 2024. While that growth is impressive, it’s not entirely new for the field—statistics has been on an employment growth streak for roughly 15 years.

And it’s not just statisticians who are in high demand. Data skills in general are becoming more important in the workplace. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts the U.S. will need up to 190,000 new professionals with analytical skills to manage and analyze complex sets of information gathered by business intelligence operations in the private and public sectors.

This growth has implications for all of us in the field, particularly educators preparing the next generation of math teachers. Our instruction will have an impact not only on how statistics is taught, and how prepared students are to excel in a more data-driven world, but also on broader student perceptions of statistical science.

Growth of Statistics Education in K-12 and Higher Ed

The opportunity to have an impact is significant, given the growth of statistics education on college campuses and K-12 schools around the country. For example, the total number of undergraduates in statistics has risen by more than 300% since the 1990s. From 2013 to 2014 alone the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees in statistics grew 17%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

The number of high school students taking the Advanced Placement (AP) statistics exam has increased from just 7,667 students in 1997 to 195,526 students in 2015. The College Board this year expects over 200,000 exams to be administered in AP statistics, and that figure does not include students enrolled in the course who do not sit for exams.

The Common Core standard is integrating statistics education much earlier in K-12 education. The American Statistical Association’s (ASA) Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) Report: A Pre-K–12 Curriculum Framework created recommendations and a curriculum framework with examples for teaching statistics in Pre-K–12, much of which has been adopted as part of Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

Resources for Math Teacher Educators

The demand for statistics education presents some exciting challenges to educators of mathematics, and the American Statistical Association is working with math teachers across the country to give them professional development support, training and resources to teach statistics.

This includes workshops, free publications and peer-reviewed lesson plans for Pre-K-12.  For example, the Statistical Education of Teachers (SET) Report  is a free resource to guide statistics instruction preparation of current and future teachers. SET was commissioned by the ASA to clarify the recommendations for teacher statistical preparation in the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences’ Mathematical Education of Teachers II report.

Additional key offerings from ASA for math teacher educators and teachers include:

  • Bridging the Gap Between Common Core State Standards and Teaching Statistics includes 20 data analysis and probability investigations written as guides for teachers to implement in their K-8 classrooms. Each investigation is based on the four-step statistical process as defined by the GAISE report.
  • Statistics Education Web (STEW) is an online resource for peer-reviewed lesson plans and resources for K-12 teachers. Lesson plans showcase the use of statistical methods and ideas in science and mathematics based on the framework and levels in the GAISE report.
  • Workshops for math and science teachers  offer guidance for middle and high school math and science teachers on teaching Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards through conceptual understanding, real-world applications, and use of technology.  Workshop dates for 2016 are forthcoming and will be available at

Mathematics education provides the tools to perform statistical analysis, but another key facet of teaching statistics is showing how it can solve questions beyond the classroom. To help teachers with this, ASA offers Census at School, an international classroom project that engages students in grades 4–12 in statistical problem solving. Students complete a brief online survey, analyze their class census results, and compare their class with random samples of students in the United States and other countries.

Building Excitement About the Field

But how do we as teachers instill students with a greater sense of the impact statisticians have, and the interesting and often exciting work they do in so many areas of society and business? To help with this, ASA is conducting a public education campaign to raise awareness about the role of statisticians. This includes a website,,  aimed at students (and their parents) to show that careers in statistical science are interesting, exciting, varied and involve a lot more than just math.

The website features written and video profiles of statisticians and data scientists, and shows how this long-established profession has experienced tremendous growth and expanded importance in recent years due to advances in technology, the growth of “Big Data,” and the wider adoption of data-driven decision making in the private and public sectors. It’s a great resource to share with students in the classroom to give them a view of the field that they probably otherwise would not be exposed to.

It is gratifying to see organizations develop a greater appreciation for the role of statisticians and statistical literacy. While we still have more work to do as educators, there’s no doubt it’s a great time to be in the field of statistics, and to be among those preparing the next generation of students to discover the value and power of statistical science.