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An Important Change by Education Dept.

Started by RussCarroll, 01/27/2011 03:47AM
Posted 01/27/2011 03:47AM | Edited 01/27/2011 03:47AM Opening Post
Here is an op-ed by George Will painting a bleak picture of US education, but offering hopeful praise for changing testing standards that Arne Duncan wants to institute that gives states more flexibility while at the same time rewarding or penalizing results. This is a sobering piece that lays out the predicament we are facing:

It starts with a quote from the retired CEO of Lockheed Martin Norman R. Augustine:

"Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don't improve."
Posted 01/27/2011 05:40AM | Edited 01/27/2011 05:45AM #1
Being married to a high school math teacher here in NYC, and myself having taught some classes in universities nearby and being actively involved in interviewing prospective applicants, I feel obliged to reply.

Allowing states to set their own standards is the worst idea one can conjure. It would all be fine and dandy if each state would have its own K-12 + college system with no interaction with others. In reality, high school graduates frequently cross state lines to attend college.

Now what we have are entering college freshmen with extremely varying standards. All these kids are supposed to be cream of the crop (or better), representing the best the states have to offer. Yet many of them are being hampered by the low standards certain states have. As a result, even Ivy League schools would have low level remedial math classes to bring these talented but improperly nurtured kids up to speed.

I also spent some time in a not-so-top college. God knows how much resources were wasted on remedial classes teaching things that should have been addressed by 9th grade. :S

State standards are fine and all for social studies and whatnot. For math and hard sciences national standard (and make it HIGH, like the IB or British A-Level) is the only way to go.
Posted 01/27/2011 08:47AM #2
Russ Carroll said:

Norman R. Augustine:

"Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don't improve."


Because of the twisty path of my career, I attended Purdue from 1979-83 and the Colorado School of Mines from 1999-03. Mines is a top-rated engineering/technology school. The other freshmen at Mines were scary smart. It seemed to me that they were working in Calculus and Physics at much more than a year beyond where I was in 1979, they were maybe even farther ahead.

I confirmed this observation with a couple of professors. In their opinion, the preparedness of the best US high school students was significantly superior to the preparedness of the top kids in past generations. These same professors acknowledged that the preparedness of the bottom half had fallen dramatically . They were happy to get the best and brightest.

Now, another decade later, in 2011 I have two kids in a challenge program (IB) at a public high school. The amount of work they do in each subject absolutely blows away what I did in high school.

Based upon these data points, I am pretty sure that the top shelf US kids in science and engineering are doing fine. Therefore I don't think the USA is going to run out of engineers and doctors etc. Getting into college is more competitive than ever. There are only so many slots available for engineers, scientists and doctors in the economy anyway, and I do not believe that the data shows any shortage of applicants for the available college slots and career positions.

So, you are asking, what is my point?

1. I think that those who are in panic mode about US competitiveness in science and engineering should take a look at the graduates from our science and engineering schools. They would see high quality students going in and coming out. We have enough high quality grads to fill the available positions. I would argue that the comparison of our overall 4th grade math scores to Singapore is semi-irrelevant except for shock value.

2. None of this changes the fact that the bottom half is educationally in trouble. This is a big time social problem. What is the under-educated group going to do for careers? Manufacturing and heavy industry are going or gone. Is service the answer? I don't know. Either we or the market has to figure this one out though, for the stability of the country.

Posted 01/28/2011 09:16PM #3
Thought 1: It strikes me that higher education is the only business in which it is possible for providers to wring their hands and complain that their customers suck. I'd like to see the American education system transformed with more of a customer focus. If education consumers need remedial education in math, science, or any other topic, it should be available for a price.

This remedial education may mean that some customers will take an extra year or two to graduate. However, it doesn't mean that standards have to be lower. Instead, parents and students will have to come to grips that their failure, their kids failure, and their local school systems failure have cost them an extra $20 to 30K in tuition, room, board, etc. I would think that might result in parents emphasizing education a little more. ("Go do your home work kid; yer not costin' me another $30K...")

Thought 2: I'm not so sure that math and science are the answer. The math that counts is supply, demand, and the cost of labor.

I have several telescopes, but none are semi-APO, APO, or in anyway valuable.