Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The science and math education crisis

From a recent episode of Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria:

Fareed Zakaria: This week like millions of Americans, I took my kids to school. You know that summer is really over when parents start shopping for the new school year and worrying about their kids’ future. Well here’s more to worry about; you’ve heard all about the statistics that show when tested, American kids lag behind those in Britain, France, Germany and Japan. Well they’re now being out-tested by countries like Poland, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. And this is true even at the highest levels. The top five percent of American high school students placed twenty-third of twenty-nine in a recent ranking. And then there’s science; in 1996 only 21 percent of American twelfth graders were considered proficient in math and science. By 2000 that number had dropped to 18 percent; it has almost certainly dropped even further in the last five years. Many Americans continue to believe that their kids are going to superb schools and American school children when polled say that they are confident that they have superior skills. But the statistics increasingly suggest that we have become a lot better at teaching self-esteem than science.
We desperately need to attract more people with backgrounds in science and math to teach- and not the way we've been trying so far: loan forgiveness, recruitment drives, and peace corps-type programs like Teach For America. If we want people to teach math when they have a job offer at Oracle, or teach biology when Genentech is banging on their door, we have to pay them more. There is a scarcity, so their price should go up. Conversely there are plenty of humanities majors who want to teach elementary school, and high school English and social studies. There is a surplus of them, so their price should go down. This may be anathema to teachers unions, but they had better get over themselves quickly (or we need to get over them). Their politics may operate in an economics-free zone, but the future of our kids won't.


At 5:36 AM, Blogger bioqubit said...

Yeah, I have a comment.

Vaporize the teachers unions.

Meantime, this kind of problem just gets me fired up to the point of being out of control.


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