I'm glad the issue of math achievement made the front page of the paper today (http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/education/blog/2009/07/math_standards_and_maryland.html). Preparing students in mathematics for college level study is indeed an important issue. This blog post repeats my comments on that article.
One thing I'd like to see in such an article would be information about how many more students are now attempting college work than before and therefore are taking "college prep" coursework in high school. It is difficult to judge the trends without such information.
I teach in a Maryland elementary school and I agree there is an issue with students mastering basic facts fluently. The curriculum emphasizes problem solving and concept attainment which is important for 21st century learning. Practicing math facts then becomes homework. I'd like to see more parents support this by quizzing their children in their basic facts when it is assigned by the teacher.
MSA and HSA high-stakes testing is causing negative instructional impacts such as the issue of Algebra I courses being diluted as described in the article. Finland who tops the list of educational performance does not use high-stakes testing (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1340000334/post/20022802.html). Instead they focus on providing a highly qualified, respected, and supported teaching force; project-based learning; and broadband access to the web. I'd like to see the US move in that direction.
Finally, there are great advances in educational technology (interactive whiteboards, learner response systems, individualized learning management systems) these days. I’d like to see more funds available to apply these technologies to mathematics instruction at all levels.