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Education United States Science Politics

Taking Issue With Claims That American Science Education is 'Dismal' 564

Posted by timothy
from the note-this-is-an-editorial dept.
TaeKwonDood writes "We've all seen the stories about how 'dismal' science education in America is. It turns out that it's kind of a straw man. America has long led the world in science but the 'average' score for Americans on standardized tests has never been good. Instead, every 2 years American kids get better but we keep being told things are terrible. Here is why."
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Taking Issue With Claims That American Science Education is 'Dismal'

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  • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:16PM (#40220653)
    Every few years we have people trying to legislate science out of the class room because it conflicts with their vision of religion. Of course our science classes are messed up, people have a vested interest in them being so. Frankly, much of what is taught is not even science. Anyone who comes out of high school thinking that science is about facts has been done a disservice.

    And on the science vs religion front. Religion has rewritten itself often to adjust to realities that science has postulated. Science has never changed based on belief. So as a betting man, my money is on science. But as a scientist, I accept the possibility that I could be wrong.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Coolhand2120 (1001761)

      Science has never changed based on belief.

      Huh? Ever hear of a paradigm shift? There's a gestalt moment there where it's all about your perception of the problem. I.e.: what you believe to be so.

      • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:23PM (#40220795)
        For it to be science, it has to be based on observable evidence and not belief. What you are talking about is the moment when what you believe is shown to be wrong, which is a change in belief and not a change in science.
        • by the phantom (107624) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:15PM (#40221601) Homepage

          For it to be science, it has to be based on observable evidence and not belief.

          That is the ideal. In reality, scientists are human, are prone to error, and often become attached to bad ideas. For instance, it took decades for plate tectonics to become accepted scientific theory, even among experts, even in the face of solid predictions and observations.

          I assume that the grandparent poster was using the term "paradigm shift" in the way that Thomas Kuhn used it in The Structure of Scientific Revolution. While there are many valid critiques of his work, Kuhn was a sociologist, and sought to describe the way that science is actually done, rather than how scientists feel it should be done---that is, the book should be read more as an ethnography of scientists than a manual for doing science. In that context, Kuhn's thesis is that the community of scientists gloms onto a particular paradigm or way of seeing the world. Once such a paradigm becomes entrenched, it is difficult to replace it, and an "old guard" may actively suppress new paradigms through selective publication. Eventually, the evidence becomes overwhelming and the new theory is accepted (or the old guard dies off, and the new theory is accepted).

          In this way, the ideal of science (i.e. science based on observation and experimentation) is ultimately born out, but the route is not as direct as many scientists might claim it to be.

        • I guess for you to understand you'd have to read a little bit. Changes in science happen all the time. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions [wikipedia.org]. Thomas Kuhn is the guy who created the idea, not me. People that hold to the old scientific paradigm do so out of belief in their paradigm. They continue to use science to give more credence to their theory long after it has been falsified. These are reasoned and logical highly intelligent scientists, yet they ignore falsificat
          • Why do you accept the bitter words of a failed scientist as fact?

            The bottom line is that no theory of the philosophy of science actually matters to science at all. We just happen to like Popper best (or, dislike him least).

    • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@NOSpam.Gmail.com> on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:39PM (#40221039) Homepage Journal

      Every few years we have people trying to legislate science out of the class room because it conflicts with their vision of religion. Of course our science classes are messed up, people have a vested interest in them being so.

      Oh Rubbish. One of the reasons why people think science education is bad is this kind of nonsense. "There's a religious conspiracy to kill science!!!". Please.

      The nasty truth of it is that there are two kinds of problem with science education, and neither of them are related to religion whatsoever. The first is a huge section of students with generally poor scores in science classes and tests. But these students almost always have poor scores in everything, so it's not a science problem here, it's an education problem as a whole, which could be anything from bad teachers and schools, to.. and this is more likely... unmotivated students that frankly don't care about school, with parents that could care even less. All of the money and resources and promotion of science education in the world won't change this.

      The second problem really isn't a problem at all. It comes from scientists and mathematicians and educators that are unhappy that more kids aren't taking an interest in hard science classes. We regularly see lamentations from these advocates that America is sliding to hell in a handbasket if we don't have more high schoolers taking calculus, physics, software development classes, etc. But this is foolish. Most people aren't going to become scientists anymore than most people aren't going to become engineers or symphony conductors or astronauts. Professional math and science fields tend to be an elite, populated by a few capable people that are highly motivated and truly love what they do. That's reality, and if you don't like it, tough. You can no more make more scientists out of our kids than you can make more Beethovens.One of the problems I have with movies like "Stand and Deliver" is the idea that if we just had a few more Jaime Escalantes in our classrooms, we'd have this wave of untapped Isaac Newtons just waiting to make new discoveries in math and science. And it just isn't true.

      Most people are not particularly brilliant at anything. Most people, with work and experience, can become at least competent, and maybe good at something. But these somethings are usually pretty ordinary fields. Unless they destroy themselves with bad decisions... drug addiction, for example... then most kids generally gravitate to what they want to do if they have any motivation. And if they don't have any motivation, then they just work at whatever pays the bills. The former might take an interest in science, but most wont. The later is pretty much a lost case, as far as science ed goes.

      All we can do is make sure there are opportunities for those interested to learn. The vast majority of these kids will. The rest... why worry about it, as far as science education is concerned? A calculus or physics class will do them no more good than a class in Sanskrit. They won't like it, and they'll forget about it, and it'll generally be a waste of time all around for all involved. The truth of it is that hard math and science really isn't for most people. Instead of trying to cram more kids in an AP Physics class, we should instead provide better general science classes to kids that are more interesting and that give an appreciation for the fact that science and math is important. What you really want is a large population that supports math and science, not one that does math and science. The later is unrealistic.

    • by Brett Buck (811747) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:39PM (#40221041)

      Why are people here so damn obsessed with religion VS science debate? It's not a significant issue (queue up apocryphal stories...). Virtually every scientist in the history of science was religious and science has progressed nicely despite the fact that the vast majority of the human population is religious.

            People tend to focus on these obscure side issues like creationism, etc. I am as conservative as they come, I was raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and spend all my time with people who are religious to one degree or another. No one I know sees a significant conflict here,

      • by internerdj (1319281) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:05PM (#40221447)
        Evangelistic aethistic scientists have a fundamental disagreement with the attitude that humans can segregate parts of their lives into different thought processes. They think that someone cannot perform rational thought in one area of their life with demonstratable proof that they have logical flaws in other areas. The problem IMO with this line of thought is that they are pretending the human approximation to logic is closer to how we should think than the evolutionary-designed heuristic processes that allow us to think. We think within a context of data chunks, between roughly 5 and 9 chunks of data at any one time. As we gain expertise, then our chunks grow to encompass wider concepts, but we are still limited to a processing blob that deals with reality in a very segmented context. That isn't to say there aren't places that a religious scientist needs to be careful, but it is quite as intellectually honest as any other method.
        • by Brannoncyll (894648) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:13PM (#40221573)

          Evangelistic aethistic scientists have a fundamental disagreement with the attitude that humans can segregate parts of their lives into different thought processes. They think that someone cannot perform rational thought in one area of their life with demonstratable proof that they have logical flaws in other areas. The problem IMO with this line of thought is that they are pretending the human approximation to logic is closer to how we should think than the evolutionary-designed heuristic processes that allow us to think. We think within a context of data chunks, between roughly 5 and 9 chunks of data at any one time. As we gain expertise, then our chunks grow to encompass wider concepts, but we are still limited to a processing blob that deals with reality in a very segmented context. That isn't to say there aren't places that a religious scientist needs to be careful, but it is quite as intellectually honest as any other method.

          This sounds a lot like doublethink to me. From 1984:

          "To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink."

          I think your 'fundamentalist atheistic scientists' are right to look down upon such behaviour.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by internerdj (1319281)
            If my brain isn't chunking religous thought into the same chunk as scientific thought, then it is baffling to me how someone can think that someone would think how one chunk would corrupt the other. If my brain is chunking them both together it is baffling how a religious man ties his shoes in the morning. As posted somewhere in the mass of comments above (I'm not sure if even this thread), a number of scientists with foundational principles have been able to successfully arrange their thoughts in such a
            • If my brain isn't chunking religous thought into the same chunk as scientific thought, then it is baffling to me how someone can think that someone would think how one chunk would corrupt the other. If my brain is chunking them both together it is baffling how a religious man ties his shoes in the morning. As posted somewhere in the mass of comments above (I'm not sure if even this thread), a number of scientists with foundational principles have been able to successfully arrange their thoughts in such a way as to accomodate religion. The scary part occurs when people make policy or scientific decisions by chunking religion with science and you can't detect that. However, there are a number of other subjects when chunked with science makes for results just as terrible, e.g. politics, e.g. money, e.g. fame.

              Many great thinkers seem to have managed to separate their religious beliefs from their rational mind, for a while at least anyway. However their beliefs were often ultimately responsible for their fall from grace. Just look at Newton, he contributed much to science but was also strongly religious; he jumped the shark later and spent the latter part of his life writing discourses disputing the holy trinity and experimenting with alchemy (giving himself mercury poisoning in the process). Einstein was also re

      • by jpstanle (1604059)

        You must not be from Texas.

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:42PM (#40221077)
      The whole science vs religion thing is a straw man. The idea of the rational unbiased scientist is also somewhat mythological. This history of the big bang theory, the current prevailing cosmological theory on the original of the universe, is quite insightful. The theory was offered by a Roman Catholic priest. Some of the leading scientists of the day dismissed this theory merely because it was developed by a priest, they dismissed it as "smelling of creationism".

      If you want to make a claim that some group is anti-science it would be accurate to say that *some* churches may be so. The truth is that many other churches are perfectly fine with science. That scientific observations and discoveries are not in conflict with faith. Again, the whole notion of the universe originating in a big bang billions of years ago came from a priest. The western tradition of the scientific method was promoted by a bishop and other members of the clergy. The Roman Catholic church operates a world class observatory doing serious cosmological research in cooperation with other leading world class universities.

      To say that religion is anti-science, well, that seems to display a mindset awfully similar to some preacher claiming that the earth was created six thousand years ago. Both comments delivered with absolute authority and passion, both comments being objectively and demonstrably false, both comments none the less held as as articles of *faith* of their respective mindsets. Reality if far more complicated than either of these mindsets believe.
      • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @02:04PM (#40222349)

        The [Big Bang] theory was offered by a Roman Catholic priest. Some of the leading scientists of the day dismissed this theory merely because it was developed by a priest, they dismissed it as "smelling of creationism".

        Not because it came from a priest, but because the church was specifically trying to frame it as proof of creation. Lamaitre had to write the pope telling him the science implied no such thing and asking him to please stop saying it did.

        Basically, even while being a priest, Lamaitre was wise enough to keep religion out of his science.

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          The [Big Bang] theory was offered by a Roman Catholic priest. Some of the leading scientists of the day dismissed this theory merely because it was developed by a priest, they dismissed it as "smelling of creationism".

          Not because it came from a priest, but because the church was specifically trying to frame it as proof of creation. Lamaitre had to write the pope telling him the science implied no such thing and asking him to please stop saying it did. Basically, even while being a priest, Lamaitre was wise enough to keep religion out of his science.

          I do not believe that would "exonerate" those scientists. Whether the pope liked or disliked a scientific theory is irrelevant from a scientific perspective. The fact that they made such a comment still indicates an inherent hostility to the theory due to its possible alignment with a theology. They seem to have acted very much like that pope, forming an opinion on a scientific theory due to possible alignment with a theology, merely of the opposite "polarity".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:34PM (#40221883)

      I tell you what, show me the science tests where kids fail miserably at an understanding of evolution but score crazy high on common place science matters like basic physics and chemistry and I might begin you think to have something there.
       
      The bottom line is that it matters little when you question evolution if Little Johnny can't understand high school Physics 1, Biology 1 or Chemistry 1. To date I haven't seen of a religious group that's trying to get f=ma or the earth orbiting the sun tossed out of the science classroom but I bet you there are more students who don't understand these concepts as there are those who reject evolution.
       
      You make it sound like there is a substantial number of people in this nation who are still following Christian dogma from the 6th century and this simply isn't true. The questions where religion and science are likely to conflict are so few that they're not going to have an overbearing effect on the testing. Little of what's taught on the high school level is controversial.
       
      Stop making religion your punching bag for ten minutes and consider *where* these students are failing in science and math and you'll see that religion isn't a problem. At least not as much of a mountain as you make it to be from the molehill it started from.

    • Wish I had mod points, because what you are saying is nonsense and overrated.

      Sounds like you are in the group that is all for science, like the gov of California, who now holds education hostage to plug the budget, while flushing 60 billion to the unions to build a train no one will ever use.

    • How could this be deemed insightful? It is a gross oversimplification and mostly wrong. Religion has waged wars against segments of science that involve the past and trying to ascertain what has happened. Prime examples are evolution and methods for dating fossils. Religion has left most (aka 99.9999999%) of chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, and on and on completely alone. Claiming that religion is "trying to legislate science out of the class room" is nothing but hyperbole derived from an obviou
    • Religion is science's enemy alright, but the real threat to science is the growing for profit education market that keeps pushing testing and the importance of their products over the needs, experience, and autonomy of classroom teachers and students. They are sucking far more money out of the pipeline directed toward educating students and building the necessary infrastructure essential to actually create future jobs than any random absurd religious notion.

      Of course, test scores are going up. It's well k

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:16PM (#40220657)

    They siphon billions away from education and into worthless metrics that tell you little of value.

    Individual student assessment may be valuable, but a whole class, school, district, even state?

    How much are you really learning there?

    Not much. But big lobbyists want you to believe in the snake oil they're selling, and they convince a lot of people to be scared...for the CHILDREN!

  • by mu51c10rd (187182) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:17PM (#40220667)

    Isn't it the right of every generation to complain of the generations coming after them? I see my kids (in public schools) having more rigorous standards and classes than when I was younger, yet I work in a bleeding edge field in the world of technology. Perhaps we have all become cynical to the point that we think kids today won't make it...although that seems to hold true by every older generation.

  • The result of all this complaining is convince legislatures to spend more money on education "to catch up". At least this true in good economic times.
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:18PM (#40220693) Homepage Journal

    the undue amount of focus now on standardized tests. Teaching to the test, as it where.

    remember, test makers make test designed to test things kids don't know, not what kids have learned. When the teaching focus becomes teaching the test, we have difficult.

    Grades should be based on participation, and how 'far' a student move forward in the subject.

    A kids trying hes damndest and getting a B is better then a kid getting an easy A.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "Grades should be based on participation, and how 'far' a student move forward in the subject."

      What's the point? Sure, effort marks might make kids feel good, but the point of a grade is to say how well you know a given subject. No, standardized tests might not be the best way to measure that.

    • Grades should be based on participation, and how 'far' a student move forward in the subject.

      So what do you do when you have a student who aces every exam you throw at him, but never does homework and routinely cuts class? The problem is that no single grading standard could possibly be fair to all students, and if you give the student who aces exams without putting in any effort, you get a flood of complaints from other students and their parents about how unfair it is -- unfair that they have to work hard to understand the material.

      Of course, there is a deeper issue here than being "fair,"

    • Re:The issue is (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@NOSpam.Gmail.com> on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:48PM (#40221161) Homepage Journal

      the undue amount of focus now on standardized tests. Teaching to the test, as it where.

      remember, test makers make test designed to test things kids don't know, not what kids have learned. When the teaching focus becomes teaching the test, we have difficult.

      Grades should be based on participation, and how 'far' a student move forward in the subject.

      A kids trying hes damndest and getting a B is better then a kid getting an easy A.

      The problem with removing standardized testing is that you'd revert to a situation where we really had no idea if they were learning anything at all before. At least if they pass the standardized tests, we know they have at least a basic grasp of that material. Testing was implemented precisely because of your "participation" idea... you had kids getting decent to good to even great grades just for "class participation"... when they really weren't learning the material.

      And frankly, some of the crying about the standardized tests are just silly. It's not like these test have esoteric things on them that the students don't need to know. They're standardized so that there's an assurance of a uniform field of common knowledge that's been gained. Some of it is through rote instruction, but so what? Rote instruction can be very useful. Tweak and reform testing, but don't chuck it aside completely.

    • A kids trying hes damndest and getting a B is better then a kid getting an easy A.

      Sorry, I want to reward the medical student or the mechanical engineer that gets the "easy A" because he/she truly knows the stuff rather than the student that "makes the most improvement"...

      sad but true, kids, students, humans are not born equally endowed with smarts and ease of acquiring skills. The flaw of "No child gets left behind", is no child gets ahead. The best and brightest should be given every means to do as best

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A disturbing percentage of Americans don't understand the concept of a double blind placebo controlled test.

    A disturbing percentage believe the universe is a few thousand years old, and that evolution never happened.

    A disturbing percentage is unable to understand the difference between basic concepts like power and energy.

    A disturbing percentage do not grasp the difference between causation and correlation.

    A disturbing percentage are completely mathematically illiterate, unable to comprehend basic things li

  • Our education is great for the 1% who can afford private school, private tutors, and so forth. For the majority who need to go to public schools, our education system is terrible. The article points to the successes of those whose parents could afford to give them the best education money can buy.

    My German friends were expected to be able to solve calculus problems in order to graduate high school. Calculus was considered college level when I went to high school, and still is. Girls achieving parity
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sparticus789 (2625955)

      There's more to education than attending school 5-days a week. I practically slept through school, never studied for a test, and only brought homework home when I had to type it on my computer. Yet my GPA was still excellent. It's because I wanted to learn, not go on American Idol or join the Jersey Shore. When I got my first computer, the stipulation was that I had to fix it when it broke. So it breaks, I learn how to fix it, so I can keep playing Command and Conquer Red Alert. In that process I am l

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Are you talking about differential calculus? In this case, i guess, somebody German mistranslated "High School". Differential calculus in Germany is either college level, or -if you choose to specialize on maths/science- part of 12th class higher leading schools, which are not "High Schools". Education systems are quite different, so there's no direct analogy but our middle schools would be next to US high schools.
    • by the gnat (153162) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:06PM (#40221473)

      For the majority who need to go to public schools, our education system is terrible. The article points to the successes of those whose parents could afford to give them the best education money can buy.

      This is not universally true. I have a PhD in biochemistry, and until college I had always attended American public schools. So did many of my close friends, who now have PhDs as well. The (large, urban) high school I attended had some massive systemic problems that are probably unfixable, but at least 60% of our graduating class went to four-year colleges, including about ten or so students who attended Ivy League schools. I have very little good to say about those four years of my life, but I honestly think most of the teachers did the best they could with what they had. The quality of the science education was very mixed, but we had some terrific innovative programs (especially marine science and tech ed) that were as good as anything the private schools could offer. I know I'm not the only student who was inspired to pursue a scientific career as a result of this.

      The biggest problem I faced was that a faction of the education bureaucracy was fiercely opposed to college prep courses (because they were elitist) and wanted to homogenize the curriculum. This was not the fault of the teacher's union or the politicians; I still haven't figured out where these people get their ideas. (Just to clarify, "these people" were very racially diverse - a handful of white teachers were some of the loudest advocates at my school.) However, it was every bit as anti-intellectual a movement as the right-wingers trying to force pseudoscience into the classroom. By the time I was partway through high school, my parents decided they didn't like where things were headed, and sent my siblings to a private high school (where they appear to have received the same quality education, albeit with less senseless brutality).

      The more general problem is that funding is indeed limited - the difference between a high-quality private school and a large public school is that the classes in the latter will be twice as large, so teachers can't give individual students they attention they require (or that their parents feel they deserve). The really smart students will always be screwed unless there are enough of them to fill a classroom - otherwise you have to explain to the PTA why five students get their own teacher for AP American History while the rest of the students get class sizes of 30.

      My German friends were expected to be able to solve calculus problems in order to graduate high school. Calculus was considered college level when I went to high school, and still is.

      The high school I attended had not one but two levels of calculus - I took AP Calculus I my senior year. All you need is enough students at that level to fill a classroom, and we had enough for two periods. That was actually one of my favorite courses in all of high school - it was the first time math seemed truly intuitive to me.

  • Law of big numbers? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:19PM (#40220723)

    Could it be due to the Law of big numbers that the United States of America keeps the pace?

    First, the average student still is among the top 20, which is not bad considering the number of nations.

    Second, the number of students in each class is drawn from a population which is about 300,000,000 citizens...

    So, the best one percent still boil down to 3,000,000 people. That is a lot of bright people.

    So, just from the sheer size of the US there are many more good students in absolute numbers than most other of the top 20 nations, combined!

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
      There are other large countries, so I don't think that's all that is going on. A major part seems to be that the tail end of science ability is very long. The US does a very good job of encouraging the really talented kids, giving them good educations and lots of resources. So even as the average is bad, the outliers from the fat tail are very good. Unfortunately, for some things (political decisions on science related issues, making informed medical decisions, etc.) the knowledge level of the general popul
  • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:20PM (#40220747) Homepage

    the US was the second lowest in the OECD [nationalgeographic.com] in terms of evolution acceptance, with just 14% saying "definitely true" and a third saying "absolutely false" (as a side note, Iceland, where I live, is #1 in terms of acceptance - whoo!)

    Until the public can come to grips with the basic tenets of science, yes, America is lagging way behind.

    And I'm sorry, this "Americans suck at standardized testing" excuse is one of the flimsiest I've ever heard. Their only counterevidence -- that which has been accomplished in the US and the quality of US universities -- is hardly pinned on the understanding of science of the average American. It's a combination of the understanding of science of the top percentiles of Americans combined with research and venture capital networks and a strong H1B program (scaled by a population of over 300 million).

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:20PM (#40220757)

    The US is a large, extremely diverse country. Doesn't it stand to reason that if you lump every kid in such a place into a single category and test them on something that the overall results are going to come out to be about average? Maybe it's just really, really hard for anyone to upset that bell curve by too much? Maybe improving the bell curve isn't as important as we think it is? Perhaps it's the outliers that are the most important for cultural success? These are basically the questions the article asks and, while it pretends to have the answers, I doubt many or any of them are backed up by actually facts.

    Personally I actually agree with them. The goal should be to get as many people as possible up to the education level that they themselves can tell if they enjoy it and excel at at, then provide resources for those who are capable of greatness to achieve that greatness.

  • Clearly the summary's "why" is referring to the consolidated wisdom of the Slashdot cognoscenti expressed below.... :P

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:24PM (#40220825) Journal

    Column: Quit fretting. U.S. is fine in science education

    The article is correct in a lot of respects. But one thing I personally disagree with is that we should quit fretting. If you believe you are the best in the world at something, you might quit working hard to achieve that and stagnate into irrelevance. Personally I always view myself as "behind the curve" and therefore I am always working harder to overcome my self-perceived adjustment.

    Likewise, when I am judging the United States, I'm often harsh. Because it's not going to get any better if I say "Yep, education is top notch, best in the world. We're #1." Unsurprisingly enough, my Republican friends call me a self-loathing liberal because my criticisms of the United States are often harsh. Better that than the alternative of stagnation and irrelevance.

    American science education might not be 'dismal' but valid criticisms abound. Also, the measurements used for it being dismal or great are almost always flawed. For example, in the article:

    Yet during this period of national "mediocrity," we created Silicon Valley, built multinational biotechnology firms, and continued to lead the world in scientific journal publications and total number of Nobel Prize winners. We also invented and sold more than a few iPads. Obviously, standardized tests aren't everything.

    Surely, every one of these things had influences and inspiration other than the "United States public science education"? I'm reminded of someone from Alabama chastising me for complaining about states that have low literacy rates. She reminded me that Huntsville has more post-graduate degree holders per capita than any other city in the United States. Great. Good for them. Does that have anything to do with whether or not a random 15 year old can read in Alabama? You can cherry pick statistics one way or the other, I think China's got more published academic papers per year now than any other nation ... of course the quality over quantity can be argued.

    Don't be afraid to look at yourself critically -- if you don't how will you ever improve?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When one views the whole picture, there is a reason that people have grave concerns. A couple examples:

    A friend of mine from China has his tuition, room, board, and such paid by the Chinese government to attend classes here in the US. He is planning to go into chemical engineering as soon as he graduates. Cost of education for degree to him? 0 yuan.

    A relative of mine from Germany graduated college. His room, board, and tuition was paid for by the German government, and he is employed at a firm there de

  • I read TFA. It was basically a political screed with little useful information. However, I tend to agree with the conclusion that it ain't so bad here in America. I tend to believe that maybe we're too science literate in America. I've got a ton of friends with high quality PhD's in chemistry who find themselves out of work or under-employed. Most of the STEM worries are veiled attempts to allow companies to hire scientists at pauper wages or to get tax advantages for off-shoring scientific research.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:29PM (#40220883)

    Their "scientfiic" analysis consists of:

    1) Noting that science literacy among high-school aged test-takers increased 2%. with no offered hypothesis as to the cause of the increase
    2) Noting that the US has top higher-education metrics (without noting the high number of foreigners producing those metrics)
    3) Noting that there are some high-tech companies in the US and scientific achievements take place here sometimes
    4) Noting that girls achieved parity with boys in math (not noting whether that was just because boys' scores fell, or what)
    5) Noting that Bush's No Child Left Behind policies were in place during some of these events

    That's it. Then they say they aren't defending NCLB and take a quick jab at Obama and immediately say they are actually not doing those things in the very next paragraph.

    Also, this was a piece by RealClearPolitics, which is 51% owned by Forbes and is known for conservative bias. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RealClearPolitics

    I'm... not convinced that their argument is sound, to say the least. And not only because they failed at any point to argue for a better metric than our actual test-score rankings. They basically say "we invented iPads therefore science education is fine".

    This is a terrible link.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:36PM (#40220983) Homepage

    Claiming that the US is #1 in the world-- check.

    Vague accusations of anti-Bush bias-- check.

    Implication that teachers can't stand to be held accountable-- check.

    Assumption that the government spends too much on education and wants to spend more-- check.

    Hinting that Obama is subverting the system for political motives-- check.

    Whether or not the article has a good point-- it may be true that we're not as badly off as we think-- the article is written in a divisive way by someone who clearly leans toward the Republican end of things. Throughout the article, there's the running implication that all the doom and gloom is a scam, perpetrated by Democrats, in order to get more funding for education. However, even if we stipulate that our educational system is good, there's still another explanation: As a rule, people throughout history have believed that "the system" is falling apart and they were witnessing the downfall of civilization.

    However, I would offer another interpretation of what's going on. For one thing, I would be very careful about trusting any particular standardized test, and even about trusting standardized tests in general. When you say, "Students scored higher on the ABC test this year than the year before!" you can't necessarily assume that students have been educated better. It may be a reflection of changes made to the test. The increase may not be statistically significant. It may be that the teachers started "teaching to the test" at the expense of other lessons. It may be that the school system pulled some other shenanigans to manipulate the test scores. It may be that the test was simply poorly formed in the first place, and is not actually a good reflection of the educational level of the students.

    The article begins with a quote about how education is suffering, and then goes on to note that the quote is from *all the way* back in 1983. This may be a sign that the doom-saying has been going on for a long time and does not reflect a real problem. Or it might mean that the educational system has been suffering since at least as far back as 1983. In fact, I'm sure that there are people who would claim that to be the case.

    • by javaxjb (931766)

      I was puzzled by their reference to a study placing the cost of K - 12 education at the second highest at $91,700 per student (that is a cumulative cost, not annual). The study coves ages 6 - 15, but states K - 12, which would typically be 5 - 18. A look at the PDF, suggests that the headline is just the 6 - 15 age group as it reports, "A high school graduate in 2009 had $149,000 spent on his 13 year public school education." It also states that the US pays more for only middle of the road results that have

  • by toadlife (301863) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:36PM (#40220989) Journal

    ...I would guess that the answer is poverty. My wife and I went to see Cornell West speak several months ago and one of the things he pointed out about our educational system is that if you take out the test scores of children who are living in poverty, the U.S. ranks at or near number one in the world in education.

    Currently the U.S. has the second worst child poverty rate of the 23 countries listed here [nationmaster.com], and higher education rankings general correlate with lower child poverty rates.

  • by Smidge204 (605297) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:58PM (#40221317) Journal

    Additionally, the latest study released by Universitas 21, a global network of research universities, concluded that the United States ranks No. 1 in the world in higher education

    Yeah, let's have a closer look at that study... in the summary:

    Overall, the top five countries, nominally providing the 'best' higher education were found to be the United States, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Denmark. However, broken down into the smaller sections, it was interesting to see that the US, traditionally seen as a country with one of the strongest education systems, did not always hit the top spot.

    Huh. I wonder if that warrants a closer look at the actual data? Nah, fuck it. USA! USA! USA!

    Spoiler: The US only comes out on top because our universities churn out more science publications. This alone is no indication of quality or relevance (there is some reason to think that it's not that great [slashdot.org]), nor of general quality of academic performance. In all other metrics the US is #3, #4 or #36... out of 50.

    And what about big scary China? Adult science literacy there is a paltry 3% compared with the U.S. at 28%. In short, our overall science performance isn't too shabby for a country that has supposedly neglected science education for years.

    3% of 1,340,000,000 is 40,200,000.
    28% of 312,000,000 is 87,360,000.

    So despite having nearly ten times the per-capita literacy rate, we're just barely above twice the total population. China is also catching up plenty fast. Maybe we should do something about it before we're behind?

    So, why do Americans believe that science education is in a downward spiral when the empirical evidence shows the opposite?

    Maybe it's the active effort by the religious-right to specifically exclude actual science from science education, or the systemic denial of scientific truths such as global climate change and biological evolution, or the cynical politicizing of science in general.

    Yes, that's right. Test scores have increased since NCLB passed in 2002.

    This alone does not tell us what's really going on. How hard were the tests? What is the scope of the curriculum? If I was a math teacher I could make every test a single question: "1 + 1 = __ (a) 2 (b) 2 (c) 2 (d) All of the Above " and then claim all my students got perfect scores. Test performance means nothing without accounting for the quality of the test.

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    Well what if it's not broken per se, but merely not adequate anymore? Or heaven forbid, maybe we could continue to seek to improve our education system despite how good you think it already is!
    =Smidge=

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