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Education Science

Math Skills Survey Shows U.S. Lags Behind 1528

Posted by michael
from the 'rithmetic dept.
3l1za writes "The New York Times reports that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released its results (pdf) for a test of mathematical skills given to 15 year olds in 40 different countries. A few apparent anomalies: The US kids rated 28th of 40 (so in the bottom third) while the Czech Republic, which spends in education 1/3 of what the US spends, ranked in the top 10. Further, only about 1/3 of US kids reported that they did not feel as though they were good at math, whereas about 2/3 of Koreans reported this--and the Koreans ranked in the top three. 'Mr. Schleicher said that students in countries that emphasized theorems and rote learning tended not to do as well as those that emphasized the more practical aspects of mathematics.'"
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Math Skills Survey Shows U.S. Lags Behind

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  • Laziness (Score:4, Funny)

    by moronicidiot (820628) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:41PM (#11022089)
    We = Lazy. Leave us alone and quit picking on us :)
    • Re:Laziness (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Orgazmus (761208)
      The day you leave everybody else alone :)
    • Re:Laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rei (128717) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:47PM (#11022228) Homepage
      Everyone = Lazy. It's common to humanity as a whole; that's not the problem. The problem is summed up here:

      "'Mr. Schleicher said that students in countries that emphasized theorems and rote learning tended not to do as well as those that emphasized the more practical aspects of mathematics.'"

      Exactly. People need to feel that what they're being taught is relevant to them; otherwise, they'll never learn it. I can attest to this, as I'm sure can most people here.

      The goal should be to make the children see *relevance* to what they're being taught. That's why I support programs that give kids hands-on reason to use what they learn - for example, ameteur rocketry to get them to learn physics, simple robotics competitions to learn electronics and mechanics, programming competitions to learn computer skills, etc. We need to make being a geek *fun* for kids.
      • Re:Laziness (Score:4, Insightful)

        by eeg3 (785382) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:01PM (#11022523) Homepage
        That's easier said than done. Telling a child "you'll need this if you grow up to be a physicist or an accountant" will just get you "BUT IM GOING TO BE A BASKETBALL PLAYER IN THE NBA."

        Accountability should be held on the parents, they should force their children to learn for their own good. Blame decreasing accountability on parents for decreasing academic excellence, don't blame the teachers. While there are a few bad teachers, there are a lot more good teachers.
        • Re:Laziness (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ebyrob (165903)
          Blame decreasing accountability on parents for decreasing academic excellence, don't blame the teachers.

          And I suppose we should never blame the school system which soaks up 80% of the kids time and energy but offers little of interest to anyone but the least common denominator...

          Ya, kids are really going to spend 6-7 hours a day sitting in class "learning" nothing, then come home and spend 2-3 hours actually studying something new and interesting. Some might, but that's the minority.
          • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:43PM (#11023256)
            And I suppose we should never blame the school system which soaks up 80% of the kids time and energy but offers little of interest to anyone but the least common denominator...
            You can blame the schools all you want. But blaming them won't change the results.
            Ya, kids are really going to spend 6-7 hours a day sitting in class "learning" nothing, then come home and spend 2-3 hours actually studying something new and interesting. Some might, but that's the minority.
            It isn't up to the kids. They're pretty much lazy and looking to coast through life playing games and talking to their friends. Just like kids have always been.

            It's up to the parents.

            Only the parents can change the outcome.

            It is the parent's choice whether to take an active role in their children's education or to abandon them to someone paid by the state to perform that service.
            • by alcourt (198386) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @05:37PM (#11024056)
              Tell me about lazy kids and schools not being accountable. I just came today from a meeting with my son's school teachers about his math program. My son wants to do more advanced math work, has been ready for it for some time. The school's response was to claim that the ability to perform arithmetic on paper has little to do with mathematics and then deny him access to ability appropriate mathematics. So a child who has been doing full multi-digit addition and subtraction with carrying and borrowing is asked to do single digit addition with answers no higher than 15 as the most advanced math they will offer him.

              Part of it is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has allegedly endorsed a program that deemphasizes pencil and paper arithmetic to the point that some of the more extreme advocates of this program have proposed banning traditional algorithmic arithmetic until close to fourth grade.

              The listed criteria that the school has identified as necessary skills are available at the NCTM website [nctm.org].

              This list may look initially acceptable, but the application of it at least in my son's school was to claim that arithmetic is not even a significant part of math, at least not a standard algorithmic understanding of how to do the standardized problems. Instead, an emphasis on "strategies" is supreme to the point that if a problem cannot be done in one's head, it isn't worth doing.

              The other issue is the "No Child Gets Ahead Act". It requires teachers to bring up to minimal standard as many students as possible and ignore those students who meet the minimum requirements without trying. This approach discourages advanced work in all too many cases that I have seen.

              There are often problems with lazy students, but that is not the whole of the situation, overly rigorous school programs are just as much to blame.
          • Re:Laziness (Score:3, Insightful)

            by hb253 (764272)
            Parents are THE most important factor in a child's success in school and life in general. My parents expected a lot from me and I delivered. I expect a lot from my children and they deliver too. They understand the importance of education to their future. They understand respect for others and the meaning of responsibility. It is not the school's job to do what parent's don't do.
      • by geekoid (135745) <[dadinportland] [at] [yahoo.com]> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:18PM (#11022817) Homepage Journal
        interesting to me.

        When I was taught that you can tell if a wall is straight with only a measuring tape.
        3 foot out make mark
        4 foot up. make mark.
        mearsure the distance between the marks, should be 5 feet.

        • by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:49PM (#11023350) Homepage Journal
          Fool!

          You're assuming space is Euclidian! What if the wall is rotating at 80% of the speed of light in relation to you?

          Go back to school, "geekoid".

          Seriously though, that's one of those things that sounds tricky but is obvious in retrospect, although technically you'd need some way to measure a right angle.

          I was turned on to math by my engineer Dad. One of the first things that blew my mind about how cool numbers were was the idea of logarithms. In sixth grade I computed the prime numbers up to 1000 for an extra credit project and in doing so realized I only had to check prime factors up to the square root of the number I was checking.

          Math normally becomes interesting when it's applied to do useful and interesting stuff, although some freaks like me are attracted to numbers for the sheer beauty and coolness of them.

          Some people point to a sunset or a mountain as evidence that there must be a God. Me? I point to Number Theory. Anyone can heap up rocks or make a planet orbit, but to me, it takes an Omnipotent Creator to achieve the infinite and sublime beauty of numbers.

      • Re:Laziness (Score:3, Insightful)

        I think I've had teachers who were actually offended when a student asked how practical the course material was.
      • Re:Laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Alzheimers (467217) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:23PM (#11022904)
        An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Yes -- Humanity, on the whole, tends to the paths of least resistance.

        Look beyond that generalization and consider how part of the culture of America is how uncool school is. From stories of our heroes, Presidents and CEOs who dropped out of high school, to the glamorization of the 'cool' kids who cut class we have created the impression that shunning public education as the hip way to start being successful.

        We've all sung along to lyrics like "We don't need no Education!" and "School's out for ever!" We've all rooted for Ferris Beuler, the Breakfast Club, and the kids from Saved by the Bell to outwit their bumbling teachers and principals and cut class in the most extreme ways possible. But it's songs and movies like this that has turned education into Enemy #1 for our youth.

        If America is to do better academic-wise, it has to do more than just pour money down the public school drain. It has to change the image of education in our culture as something to be respected and appreciated as a necessity and not just an option. For every successful highschool dropout there are a thousand on food stamps and public welfare. For every professional athlete earning millions in the big leauge, there are a hundred thousand earning minimum wage.

        Until we impress on young minds the fact that cool or uncool makes no difference when you're grown and penniless these facts will never change. If people want to talk about how the Rich Minority are taking over the country, just look at the uneducated majority and understand why. Sometimes it's not a conspiracy -- sometimes, it's just logic.
        • by JavaRob (28971) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @09:44PM (#11027328) Homepage Journal
          Until we impress on young minds the fact that cool or uncool makes no difference when you're grown and penniless

          An interesting tangent on this -- my wife grew up in Malaysia, and when she was a kid the smartest kids *were* the most popular. No one wanted to hang out with the kids who were doing poorly in their classes, because they weren't cool. Appearance mattered somewhat, too, but was less of a factor. And all the kids she knew *liked* vegetables -- she was totally baffled when she learned about how everyone in the US "knows" that kids just automatically don't like vegetables, need special kids menus with chicken fingers, etc.. None of her friends were like that. Here favorite food growing up was spinach (still is, actually). Yes, I'm totally serious.

          Malaysia has problems of their own that seriously hinder education, like blatantly racist policies controlling access to higher education, but the totally different path to "cool" is worth noting. It's NOT automatic that the "nerds" are unpopular (and then never learn proper social skills...), or even that there is some derogatory name for them.

          I wish I could follow this up with some good suggestions for fixing this problem... but I'm kind of lost for answers on that one. The first step is at least pointing it out -- then maybe we can work on building better ways for kids to actually use what they learn to do cool stuff; that should help.
      • Re:Laziness (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Mr.Zong (704396) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:24PM (#11022924)
        I agree.

        Not that people are lazy, that's as profound as saying people are selfish (though accurate).

        The problem with this county is that it sees education as elitist. You know the old Hollywood stereotype. Evil genius gets the crap beat out of him by buff super guy using big guns.

        We have fox news with o Riley calling Yale alumni pinheads. It's fucking Yale, YALE. Hell, we have fox news, which alone says enough about our problems.

        Even on Slashdot we get into these regular retarded arguments about how your code is more important then your college degree. Never mind the good it does for society to have another person that can think outside of their narrow scope. It's this attitude that's the real problem.

        Only 27 % if Americans (over 25) have earned college degree in 2002. Is that higher then the past years? Sure. But damn it, we are the richest Country in the word, but more then 2/3 of the people only have (at best) a high school education? That's fucking ridiculous.

        Seriously, majority rule and the majority have the education of chimp on tequila binge?

        Not cool.
        • Re:Laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

          by corngrower (738661) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:54PM (#11023436) Journal
          IMHO, no more than 10% to 15% of jobs probably require a college education. It's just that the quality of education up through H.S. in the U.S. hass, for the most part, deteriorated to a large degree. Running a small retail establishment, construction, trades, most manufacturing jobs, telemarketing, sales, many first level management, all these should not require a college degree. They didn't in the past. So with 27% of Americans getting degrees, that's twice as many as what's really needed.
      • Re:Laziness (Score:3, Interesting)

        by eno2001 (527078)
        This is a good point. But how can math be shown to be relevant to most Americans in their everyday lives? Most slobs don't cook their own meals, so the fractions in measurement won't come up. If your day job consists of saying "Hi and welcome to Walmart" I don't think you're going to be doing much math. People no longer work on their houses, cars or home appliances because everything is becoming disposable. It's cheaper and safer to pay someone else to come in and swap in a new home heating system than
  • by geoffrobinson (109879) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:41PM (#11022091) Homepage
    All those numbers in the post are hurting my head.
    • In fact, though, this is the irony of the annual "American Children Falling Behind in math!" freakout -- the stories are always phrased in terms of "The US placed xth out of y countries!" with no notion of error bars, relative size of margins or any other of the statistical basics that are necessary to make the slightest sense of the results. (Not that the mathematical geniuses posting here seem troubled by their absence, mind you.)

      If you look at the graph on page 94 (page 92 of the PDF) what seems to be ha

  • Yabbut... (Score:5, Funny)

    by russotto (537200) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:41PM (#11022092) Journal
    Our American Football programs are still tops!
  • by eln (21727) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:41PM (#11022102) Homepage
    In this country, there's a huge stigma attached to being good at math. If you are good at math, you're a nerd, where as all the cool kids suck at math, and are proud of that fact. Change the perceptions, and you'll go a long way toward improving the scores.
    • "In this country, there's a huge stigma attached to being good at math. If you are good at math, you're a nerd, where as all the cool kids suck at math, and are proud of that fact. Change the perceptions, and you'll go a long way toward improving the scores."

      Bart Simpson is clearly to blame for this.

    • by LiberalApplication (570878) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:58PM (#11022457)
      In this country, there's a huge stigma attached to being good at math. If you are good at math, you're a nerd, where as all the cool kids suck at math, and are proud of that fact. Change the perceptions, and you'll go a long way toward improving the scores.
      ...academics in high-school are extremely competitive, with large numbers of students enrolled in afterschool study programs. It's actually a point of pride to be academically competent, and it's not unusual for ones' childrens' achievements to be the subject of local gossip, for better or worse, regardless of socioeconomic status.
      • And a high suicide rate, IIRC
      • Asian kids are in school from 6 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon (typical, may vary). On top of that, a number of them get sent off to private tutors for an addition couple of hours of instruction to reinforce concepts they just learned in the last 10 hours of the day. The other kids perhaps get to study music or other non-athletic activities.

        And you wonder why the US is behind in math and other assorted subjects?
    • by Lord Kano (13027) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:03PM (#11022564) Homepage Journal
      Chris Rock once said that "Nothing makes a nigger happier than to not know something"

      Imagine being a nerdy black kid. I was. The black kids sometimes though that I was "trying to be white" because I was good at math. The white kids often resented that I was "showing off" that I was good at math.

      LK
      • by Kunta Kinte (323399) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:52PM (#11023405) Journal
        Imagine being a nerdy black kid. I was. The black kids sometimes though that I was "trying to be white" because I was good at math. The white kids often resented that I was "showing off" that I was good at math.

        As another nerdy black kid, I have had plenty of time coming to terms with that phenomena. The problem is race perception.

        Many very well-meaning people unknowingly sterotype the intelligence and preferences of others. They reserve their limited use the latest "street slang" for you, even if you usually converse with them in near perfect english. They comment that the music at the party sucks and they'd much rather rap hoping to strike a cord. They are nice people, but that attitude is very dangerous when that person needs to interview you for a job or somehow otherwise assess your capabilities.

        The sad thing is that after a while people begin to lean towards what is expected of them.

        I highly, highly recommend Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004 [amazon.com] . The essays in this book cover race and other socio-economic factors affecting pop culture and race perception, amongst over things. Coves all the new trends, eg. What does the Bohemian movement and modern rap have in common? This was a mind-opening book, the best I've read all year.

      • by LucidBeast (601749) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @05:27PM (#11023911)
        Being Finnish, I was a minority of my own, when I spent my high school years in New Jersey.

        I got quite excited by the rap culture and other by gone black artists. When I drilled my black school mate about the subject, he was put off by it and told me that I'm applying a stereo type to him, and he propably was right. He was into science, literature etc. and quite good at them if I remember right. It made me think the whole subject in a new way.

        The number of athletes and artists the black community springs forth is amazing. This success, while source of pride to many, might be counter productive to the aspiring scientist of the future, because role models in those fields are invisible hidden in the blaze of the entertainment stars. And number of stars is actually quite small when compared to number of laywers, doctors and engineers.

        All cultures have a set of patterns that young people mimic to succeed as adults, here in Finland many dream of a NHL career for their kid and at expense of school work drag their kids to ice morning and night. So often these patterns can be counter productive to the general population. If the tradition in the family is to work at the local mill and TV shows glittering path to fame and glory, many will not think of the third path. My wife who came from blue collar background, would propably never have done a PhD if she hadn't met me and been introduced to circles where practically everybody had a PhD. On this I might be wrong of course...

    • by BRSQUIRRL (69271) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:12PM (#11022724)
      I think you've hit the nail on the head, but I'd take your explanation one step further: there is a cultural stigma in this country attached to learning or academic achievement of ANY KIND. You simply can't teach someone who doesn't WANT to learn.

      I honestly can't explain this...it might be because some young people see no relevant benefits to an education. The standard-bearers of "success" that they see are extremely wealthy musicians, actors, professional athletes, etc.

      Unfortunately, I think our education system is going in the wrong direction; instead of challenging students to excel, the bar is lowered and simply "trying" will earn you a passing grade.
  • by cephyn (461066) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:42PM (#11022116) Homepage
    Math is hard.
    • by Pxtl (151020) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:51PM (#11022295) Homepage
      Einstein sent this reply, along with a page full of diagrams, to a 15-year-old girl who had written for help on a homework assignment: "Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics; I can assure you that mine are much greater."

      My wife's studying to be a math teacher - she loves that one.
  • by TrollBridge (550878) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:44PM (#11022148) Homepage Journal
    "while the Czech Republic, which spends in education 1/3 of what the US spends, ranked in the top 10."

    Perhaps instead of demanding more money, schools should evaluate how they are spending the money they already get.

    HINT: I bet Czech schools don't spend millions of dollars (or preferred local currency) on state-of-the-art sports facilities and equipment.

    • by stanmann (602645)
      HINT: I bet Czech schools don't spend millions of dollars (or preferred local currency) on state-of-the-art sports facilities and equipment.
      Or even on universal education. Hmmm, perhaps we should follow the lead of other nations and let the dropouts drop out, and kick out the ones that need kicking out?

      BUT THAT WOULDN'T BE FAIR!!!
      • by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:01PM (#11022530) Homepage Journal
        The Czech Republic has universal education until the age of 16.

        And it most definitely isn't fair not to have universal education. The government has a duty to provide the best conditions possible for the happiness and welfare of the people, and a way to do this is to provide education for everyone. In fact, the responsibility to do everything possible for happiness and welfare is a moral imperative. Governments that would ignore the education needs of the people would be exactly like a father that ignores the education needs of his children. A father that raises his children in ignorance isn't any kind of man at all, and a government that doesn't provide for the basic education needs of the people is morally deficient.

    • by Spectra72 (13146)
      You don't even have to look outside the US to see that spending more money on education doesn't necessarily equate to better educated kids. North Dakota and South Dakota both consistently rank high on things like test scores, graduation rates, but rank at the bottom of spending on a per pupil basis.

      Also, in the US, education is mostly a state run thing. I wonder if would be more beneficial to rank the US states individually along side of countries that organize their education at the national level.
    • Perhaps instead of demanding more money, schools should evaluate how they are spending the money they already get.

      *** WARNING: Blog Pimping Ahead ***

      Bingo! I live in DC and see this crap first hand. The students routinely score at the bottom of the national average, the drop out and truancy rates are staggering, and some of the schools, when not falling over from sever neglect, are borderline war zones (and I wish I was exaggerating about this).

      Interestingly enough, though, DC public schools are well
    • by ArsonSmith (13997)
      You must be American.

      Try this math problem.

      School 'A' spends $5 million dollars to put in a state of the art arena with an expected income of $1.2 million in ticket sales annually, side line advertising, and vending sales. School 'B' spends $5 million dollars on a state of the art Math department that will regain $100,000 a year in tuition. School 'A' gets larger attendance and educates far more people, School 'B' sees a 5% increase in Math scores but a decline in attendance. Which school made the bett
  • by fanboy19 (726017) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:44PM (#11022151)
    "Rarely is the question asked, "Is our children learned"."
  • US School System (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stupidfoo (836212) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:45PM (#11022167)
    The US School system needs a f'en major overhaul. The money is there (we're #2 in the world in public funding per student behind Sweden).

    The system is just horseshit. No responsibility, teachers can't teach, kids are a bunch of bastards, and the parents are taking absolutely no responsibility for the kids.

    But of course the answer is more money!
    • by digitalamish (449285) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:57PM (#11022429)
      The answer is to outsource our math tests to an offshore company. There we can not only raise the averages, but do it at a fraction of the cost (which they will be able to calculate for us).
      --
      "Me fail English? That's unpossible." - Ralph Wiggum
    • Re:US School System (Score:3, Informative)

      by The-Bus (138060)
      A friend of mine was let go from the Red Clay Consolidated School District [k12.de.us] for not passing enough of his students (he's a H.S. history teacher). The kids would complain, if you're hard on them, the parents complain to you or to the school -- and when you're fair in grading (and not passing people just to pass them), you're "not a good teacher".

      Now it might be possible there is more to the story but I have heard a lot like this coming from many different people all across the U.S.
    • by gosand (234100) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:14PM (#11022752)
      The system is just horseshit. No responsibility, teachers can't teach, kids are a bunch of bastards, and the parents are taking absolutely no responsibility for the kids.

      I believe that you are describing our society in general. We pretend to value our teachers (in word) yet we pay them peanuts. And don't give me that crap about "but they get summers off!". Our society has made it nearly impossible to live on a teachers salary, yet we demand so much of them. You should not have to be a "saint" to be a teacher, but that is what is required. It is no wonder that our teachers are notoriously not up to snuff, we as a society have made it so that they have no reason to teach. Many still do it because they love it, but that should not be the only reason you do a job. Teachers have to worry about being sued at every turn, dealing with overbearing or non-caring parents. Our society has placed such a high importance on wealth, status, and frivolous crap that I am surprised we still have the teachers that we do. I have known several people who have left teaching because they just couldn't take it anymore.

      Not to mention that we are a quick-fix society. Why actually LEARN anything when you can just grow up to be Britney Spears and make millions!? It's all about "stuff".

    • Top Heavy (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dark Bard (627623)
      Half my family are teachers. From what I can see the money is very tight. They can't even aford paper. My sister like many teachers spends her own money for supplies. The problem isn't the amount spent per child it's the amount that reaches each child in the form of direct education. Most of the money like most government departments gets consumed in bloated administrative costs. You might be shocked to find what the proportion of highly paid administrators are to teachers. Remember the structure is very co
    • Re:US School System (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wass (72082)
      The system is just horseshit. No responsibility, teachers can't teach, kids are a bunch of bastards, and the parents are taking absolutely no responsibility for the kids.

      Actually, quite a bit of the problem rests on the parents. My mom teaches 3rd grade in an inner-city public school, just outside of NYC. There's a strong correlation between the problem kids and the parents.

      This is most notable at the parent-teacher conferences. The kids that do well in the class usually have parents that come to the

  • by saddino (183491) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:45PM (#11022172)
    The New York Times reports that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released its results (pdf) for a test of mathematical skills given to 15 year olds in 40 different countries

    Um, according to these figures the average age of these "children" in each country was barely five months old (15/40 = .375 years old). Something's fishy here.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:46PM (#11022212) Homepage Journal
    Does Korea spend much time or money worrying about how their children feel about their school performance versus helping them improve it? For that matter, is any country as concerned with their childrens self esteem as the United States?

    I have three kids that will be starting school soon (one of them being in Montessori preschool already). Do I want them to feel good about themselves? Sure, as long as it's because they're doing so well in the classes that they're working hard to excel in. If my kid's flunking math because he won't apply himself, then I want her to feel embarrassed about her performance and not proud of the fact that the school would probably advance her to the next grade anyway.

    There are some cripplingly serious problems with the American educational system. A severe overemphasis on underserved self esteem is high on that list.

  • by notthepainter (759494) <oblique&alum,mit,edu> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:47PM (#11022227) Homepage
    At a recent job, exceptionally strong math skills were required. I had them, as did all of us in Engineering. Of the 16 or so folks there, only 4 of us were not in H-1B visas. Why? We couldn't find anybody locally who qualified for the job. I graduated from MIT, that got me into this job. We had one kids from Russia who just blew us all away.

    The engineers from outside the US were able to do the job. Only the top notch products of the US school system could cope.

    It was very sad.

    • Correction: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by raehl (609729)
      The engineers from outside the US were able to do the job. Only the top notch products of the US school system could cope.

      The top-notch products of the US school system hired you to do the work while they rob the company. Sucker.
  • Cultural Issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:48PM (#11022237)
    This is mostly a cultural issue, not an education system issue. As evidenced by data wherein poor countries outperform the US despite our larger budgets.

    Kids, and many of their parents don't care about school or education. They will get what they want. They resist teachers and throw up roadblocks. Many parents simply won't help when a teacher explains that their child needs it. That's what's putting our education system in the toilet.

    The only case of education system failure is in misapropriation of money (also a cultural issue). Sometimes a wacko or two in high places decide to fund a pet-project instead of math/reading...
  • by Dark Bard (627623) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:49PM (#11022268)
    He doesn't appear to be missing many. They seem to be failing in unison. At least Bush got them working together.
  • It's not an anomalie (Score:5, Informative)

    by mindstormpt (728974) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:49PM (#11022271) Homepage
    A few apparent anomalies: The US kids rated 28th of 40 (so in the bottom third) while the Czech Republic, which spends in education 1/3 of what the US spends, ranked in the top 10.


    It's not an anomalie, eastern european countries have great education systems, even if "cheap". I live in Portugal and we get a load of imigrants from Ukrania an several other countries of the area, trying to earn some money. They mostly end up in the construction business, but they're all college graduates, management, economy, engineering. And they're well-formed people.
  • by mritunjai (518932) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:50PM (#11022278) Homepage
    I was surprized the first time I came to know that you folks are allowed to use calculators in high school exams!! And can even use programmable graphing calculators in university.

    Tell ya somthing. ditch those calculators, and you'll solve half of the problem!

    PS: In India, calculators are banned from exams/classes till high school. In university exams/classes you're only allowed to use at max non-prgrammable scientific calculators!
    • by NeoSkandranon (515696) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:16PM (#11022784)
      I got to use my TI-89 calculator in calculus, and I agree that it's help probably hindered me in memorizing a certain amount of things. However I could also check my answers with it, which is certainly a good thing.

      Also, I ask you this-- In my junior and senior engineering courses why in the world should I be forced to work out the time consuming calculus or algebra part by hand when that's not even the concept being taught? It wastes my time, and the instructor's time, and greatly increases the chance of missing an answer due to a mistake somewhere.
      Graphic calculators have their place at school, and that is to let you bypass things that are, at that point in your studies, more or less mundane.
  • My elementary school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meganthom (259885) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:56PM (#11022418)
    More and more, I am seeing that my elementary school must have been an oddity in the US. We were a public school in a small town in TN, of all places, but it was extremely progressive. There was a mix of rote- and practical learning taught at each level. In second grade, we learned the multiplication tables up to 12s, had regular 4M (100 questions in less than 4 minutes) tests, and spent a large amount of time on accounting. We even learned some (very) basic algebra. Throughout elementary school, we had these math projects that involved physical objects, and our tests were generally in word-problem form. Then, in fifth grade, all the kids who were good at math were sent to learn pre-algebra and algebra 1 through interactive computer programs while the other kids got more hands-on help with their math woes. And at some point, we had fraction-based space-invaders computer games to play in between learning segments...

    Someday, maybe I'll tell you all about our phys. ed., art, and music programs. =)
  • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:00PM (#11022499)
    Way to be down on the US man, except you forgot one thing - 28th out of fourty just doesn't work out to being in the bottom third, no matter what country you are from!

    And you would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those damn SlashDot readers!
  • US Education (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BuishMeister (609135) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:01PM (#11022515)
    I did study mathematics in US and Russia and I can compare the qualtity of education. It seems that teachers in Russia (and probably the rest of europe) emphasize the understanding the underlying concepts of mathematical theories rather than methods of solving a particular problem. The american students were expecting that the problmes given on the exam are exactly the same that were covered in class, and were always complaining when the professor made even trivial changes in the problems. It could've been the quailty of the students in my particular university, but now I am working at the major government research organization and we get a lot of students coming for the internship in the summer, and it seems that people from europe are much better at solving problems that they never seen before. In these days ability to solve a known problems has almost zero value because it is something that could be done by a simple shell script. Although, sometimes I see US students who are very good at mathematics, those studends usually come from the better schools like MIT and Rice, but they tend to be self taught and usually say that they pretty much skip most of their classses regarding them as the complete waste of time, and I can't say that I disagree with that. This applies
  • What ! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tsiangkun (746511) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:02PM (#11022533) Homepage
    Really ? A country where a large percentage of the voting populace believes the world is 6000 years old is performing poorly in an educational evaluation ? Shocking.
  • Bang for the Buck (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mogrify (828588) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:04PM (#11022575) Homepage
    I wonder if the education spending numbers reflect spending on actual education, or on 'educational' extras like school sports programs, transportation, nutrition, etc. Not to argue the relative merit or necessity of these programs... but the fact is that they're there, and it's possible that it just costs more to educate a U.S. student than a Czech or a Korean because of all the overhead. Maybe the U.S. just doesn't get as much bang for its bucks. Coupled with a school culture that places more value on extrascholastic activities, this would explain why you can throw a ton of money into the system and produce generations of kids who hate (and suck at) math.
  • by boatboy (549643) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:04PM (#11022581) Homepage
    Johnny has 5 apples. Suzie has 3 apples. Bob gives one of Johnny's apples to Suzie. How do you think Johnny feels?

  • by melted (227442) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:20PM (#11022859) Homepage
    The purpose of any education system is to provide the opportunity to learn to those who _want_ to learn. I'd rather have an education system that puts out a few brilliant people a year than the one that's good "on average" but doesn't put out any geniuses.

    When I was in high school (and this wasn't in the US), about 80% of the class didn't give a fuck about learning. They've completed their mandatory nine year courses and left the school. About a half of those who stayed really did care about their future and studied really hard for the last two years at least. This allowed them (including yours truly) to enter all kinds of schools in the country, and some of them (including yours truly) graduated with honors from them.

    Did this education system succeed? I think it did. Would the average results look good? I think they would not.

    Let's face it, you don't need math to flip hamburgers or to do plumbing work. Heck, many programmers in the company where I work are puzzled by the most trivial math formulae. Despite of this they do their jobs fairly well.

    I'm not saying that good education is not essential for those who want to achieve things in life (even though "american dream" proves time after time, that you don't have to have any education to make a shitload of money). To the contrary, I feel that people who don't have good education miss out on a lot of things in life.
  • by Prien715 (251944) <agnosticpope.gmail@com> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:27PM (#11022983) Journal
    There's a problem with test methodology here.

    One problem is how we count money. $1 in the US is not $1 in the Czech republic. You can get a very nice meal at a restaurant in the Czech republic for under $5 (US) (groceries/rent/etc are much cheaper as well). Trickle this down, and the Czech republic can afford to pay their teachers much less while maintaining a better standard of living than US teachers.

    Another issue: it's mandatory for everyone in the US to go to school. Everyone. In other countries, it's voluntary or not strictly enforced. Because it's mandatory, not all parents really care about their kids performance. My mom read to me since I was born, and I learned math skills at home before I ever went to school. I don't think it's purely coincidental I managed a 650 in math on the SATs while going to public schools my entire life.

    Lastly, immigrants. The majority come from poorer countries. The proble is that kids who never went to school in Haiti, come over to the US and take this test, aren't going to do so hot. In addition to not having an education, malnourishment is a problem in many poorer counties. Early malnourishment has been scientifically shown to have a stifling and sometimes permanent effect on intellectual capacity. [economist.com]

    I like the use of empirical methodology to measure these things, but we have to study the data a bit more thoroughly before making conclusions (even radical things like spending more money on foreign aid to the world's poorest countries instead of more nuclear subs we're never going to use).
  • Canada ranked third (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DJ_Goldfingerz (612551) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:30PM (#11023037)
    Woo-hoo!

    And to improve the actual performance of Americans, it's not out of 40 but out of 41 countries. And in the news paper I read this morning, it said US ranked 24th not 28th, except I couldn't confirm with the OECD's site.
  • Reasons... (Score:3, Funny)

    by SharpFang (651121) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @05:22PM (#11023860) Homepage Journal


    A tap broke in the flat of a professor of maths. He called a plumber. The plumber arrived, in 15 replaced a pipe and charged the professor 1/4 his monthly salary.
    "My god! So much? But it didn't look difficult at all! You must earn quite a bit more than I do!"
    "Sure, just become a plumber and you'll earn as much as me. No, seriously, there is demand, and the job isn't really hard..."
    So the professor became a plumber. He started repairing leaking taps etc, earning a lot of money for very little work. And it lasted until one day when the union decided all the plumbers need to know at least basics of maths, so there will be a training...
    So, the training starts, the maths is extremely simple, just like for kids. And then the teacher calls our professor to the blackboard and asks him to write the formula for the field of circle.
    And professor, in terror realizes, he forgot.
    "Okay, no panic. I'm a math professor, I don't remember the formula but I can derive it."
    So he starts calculating the formula, splitting the circle into infinitely many pieces, filling whole blackboard with calculations, integrals, derivatives... finally comes up with minus pi r squared.
    "No, that's wrong. Field can't be negative. There must be a mistake somewhere." So he checks his calculations once, twice, can't find the error. And whisper arises in the classroom filled with a crowd of plumbers. Finally he starts recognising the words in the whisper, and everyone in the room whispers "Exchange limits of the integral! Exchange limits of the integral!"
  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @05:46PM (#11024184) Journal
    My son graduated from a private American high school with an A average, earned 5's on all five of his AP courses, SAT's in the mid 1400's. He ended up going to UC Berkeley.

    Last year, he took a Quantum Mechanics class. At the course's beginning, the prof said the pace would be harsh but he figured most students would cope. Mid-terms showed otherwise. My son earned a 75% on the mid-term. He was depressed until he found out the class average was in the 40's. That made him feel better until he found out that his house mates aced the test. His house mates are from Singapore and Taiwan.

    When he asked them how they had managed to ace the mid term, they all shrugged their shoulders and said they'd seen the material in high school. They had seen the material in high school for multiple reasons. [greenes.com] The typical Taiwanese goes to school 220 days out of a year instead of 180 here in California. The school days are longer, typically 8-5 instead of 8:30 to 2:30 here. The elementary teachers have strong math skills as opposed to our elemetary teachers. Parents in Asia expect more from their children than American parents do and the end results are Asian children have been trouncing American children academically for the past 20 years.

    In case you're wondering about the source of all the facts cited above, here are the citations. [greenes.com]

    The story isn't completely grim however. The United States is nothing if not adaptable. The alternative school movement in the U.S. has made an opening for schools like this one [whitneyhs.net], this one [pacificcollegiate.com] and KIPP schools [kipp.org] to function. As the existence and efficacy of these kinds of options becomes more commonly recognized, American education will shift.

  • A growing (but now recognized as problematic) movement over the past few years has been the introduction of the "Investigations" math curriculum into public schools. see here [lit.net]. The goal is to make kids "feel better" about learning math, which in many ways has been a code for dumbing down the curriculum so that academic rigor is out and poorer students can achieve better on tests. They learn by approximating answers, like 12x48 will approximately be like 10x50. In my opinion, this is the opposite of math -- where the goal is to find the one *correct* answer.

    In this curriculum, the kids learn by discovering the rules of math on their own, but this is absolutely ridiculous -- the whole point of passing knowledge through civilization is that we don't have to relearn like cavemen from birth. They spend time playing with blocks to count numbers, all the way up to 4th grade. These children are going to be severely hurt. Part of the problem is that teaching math at home has failed many of them, plus the teachers aren't qualified to teach math, so they grasp any curriculum that seems to make the subject more "fun" at the expense of real learning. An annoying part of the curriculum is that it also inserts a very touchy-feely agenda into the textbooks, and while I'm quite liberal about educating kids on history, etc., this has no useful place in math class.

    Also, some people suspect that the test scores are rising because we're dumbing down the tests themselves -- which is outrageous. See here [washingtonpost.com] for example.

    You may not think that these questions affect you, but they do. When we have a large fraction of the population unable to do basic math, we all will suffer. From things like being unable to hire competent workers, to the person serving you at a restaurant or a store unable to compute change, to your kid having access to only the most basic math education because the rest of the kids are so far behind they have to be specially taught, taking away resources for the higher achievers...(part of the No Child Left Behind = No Gifted Child Gets Ahead program) read this report [nationdeceived.org] on how gifted children are done given the shaft in the US..

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