I keep hearing that the United States ranks low in student performance in math and science. This can be interpreted at least two ways.

Interpretations 1: The United States is doing a poor job educating students in two subjects that are vital to the future of the world.

Interpretation 2: Students in the United States realize they will never need to know that mylonite is a breccieated metamorphic rock frequently found in a fault zone.

If you have kids, you know that most of what they learn in math and science is completely useless. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that kids have figured it out too.

I grant you that it is important for the future of the economy that we produce plenty of scientists and inventors and researchers. But how does it help anyone that a future chef can tell you which critters evolved in which epoch? He just needs to know which ones are good eatin'.

I'm all in favor of benchmarking against other countries for education. But isn't the average grade for math and science the most obviously useless and misleading statistic one could follow?
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Oct 20, 2008
but, ... if more americans have a basic grasp of math, more would understand that mortgage payments go up as intrest rate go up....for example.

US institutions of higher learning do indeed still rate as the best in the world, and many people from all over the world are attending them, and even with english as a second language, are finishing at the top of the class, based on the the same tests, questions and grading curve.

Let's be honest, US education is failing it's students, whether you measure internationally or not, and yes I think it is valid. I have spent a long periods of time in Europe. I would bet that if you randomly picked 100 kids/young adults from the US and 100 from Europe (one of the original EU countries), and tested them on 20th century US history, the Europeans would score higher.
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Oct 20, 2008
Great point Scott. Several others have noted that the measure compared to other countries is a bit skewed and very difficult to ever make appropriate corrections. Most other, if not all, DO NOT measure ALL of their student population. In fact, most only test "university" bound students and not the agriculture students. I'll make the great leap that if you only measured our kids who are going to college that we would stack up pretty nicely to our counterparts internationally.

Don't take my word for it, ask a statistically valid sample size student population's parents where they would want to send their child to school and I "betcha" they choose the good 'ol USA. Just for fun, go visit a college campus of any major university and listen to the multiple languages being spoken. I think we have created quite an amazing educational system.
Oct 20, 2008
What do you expect from the country that couldn't figure out metric?
Stuff like this...
Oct 20, 2008
When comnig up with the scores, for the purpose of measuring school performance, they should only count students born and raised in the United States. How many uneducated illegal aliens does it take to lower the average scores or dropout rates?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2008
Interpretation 3: It's another thing you keep hearing that's not entirely true.

I'd really like to know the truth of what I keep getting hints of: education statistics between countries is an(other) example of different metrics having the same name.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2008
I'm in science and I've mentored middle schoolers. No, you don't know about that rock, but more importantly, they don't know how to multiply two numbers together. Or what an atom is. I also work with an undergrad science major and she couldn't understand when I was telling her something was a microliter and not a milliliter.
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Oct 20, 2008
That might explain why many Americans are clueless about the rest of the world. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVbobdL3yi0 Or vote for Bush, for war, and will vote for McCain, I guess.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2008
Ray Kremer, Amen. i.e. A tiny bit of knowledge and the ability to think critically will keep you from falling for the global warming scaremongering. The only thing that makes the comparison not really apples to apples is the fact that other countries don't keep kids that aren't keeping up intellectually in school. We require that you stay in school thru 12th grade. Not saying it's a bad thing but it will skew the scores in comparison.
Oct 20, 2008
It's not the top 10% that are the problem (the top 10% in the US are among the best in the world). It's the bottom 50% that are the problem. If you don't have the fundamental reading and math skills (say, 6-8th grade level skills mastered), you are not going to be able to adequately perform most of the jobs that need to be filled. I've heard that China has a much better bottom 50%, which is why they are better suited to all of the manufacturing jobs that have been sent there (and lost here) in recent decades (I'm sure the low wages had a lot to do with it, also).

The reality in this country is that there are more jobs available than there are competent people to fill them.
Oct 20, 2008
Goethermal heating is going to save a lot of fossil fuel use... so i hope my kids learn about rocks.

In general, you don't really fight a war in boot camp, but if you can't make ti through the exercises, it's a pretty good indication we don't want to rely on you for the defense of our nation.

If you can't do math, how can you balance a check book?(word problems are real world in application if not really "real").

Plus, the brain only grows when exercised... school provides some of that exercise (as though not as much as in many countries).

Oct 20, 2008
Being one who indulges in conspiracies, I've always thought that it is part of the class maintenance structure that in a system run by lawyers and accountants, we have neither fields taught at the the primary or high school levels. I have always been smarter than my peers but even I was completely oblivious of finanance and law until I was considerably older. I do remember, however, that amidst of being a lucid writer of conventional essays and reciting useless scientific facts, that something wasn't right.

On another note, I've also always been a social surfer- not that I'm very social, but I find ways to meet people from different social-economic groups, whether the people themselves or their progeny (when I was of that age range); and I find that there is a very discernible difference in the attitude towards those two key governing principles-rules of law and finance. While rich kids pretend they get it, poor kids are in fearful ignorance of it. Since knowledge and attitude are key to placement within the social structure, wouldn't the system want to keep that knowledge in the hands of those already in power?

I've always wondered what if I took more interest in commerce when I was younger, as opposed to science and art like I was taught...
Oct 20, 2008
Well said. If you can believe it, my daughter is in a high level Chemsitry class and is expected to memorize the periodic table of the elements! I sure wouldn't trust a chemist who used that information from memory! Every room even vaguely connected with chemistry has the periodic table posted somewhere. Geez!
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Oct 20, 2008
I've never heard of mylonite, but I once watched an American Cooking Show where a man made chili by frying up some meat and pouring ketchup on top. Then he poured that stuff over hot dogs. There may have been some American Cheese involved too. Obscure rocks may not be important, but there's some basic skills everyone should learn.
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Oct 20, 2008
While we can debate whether average math and science score declines are troubling, I think they are, it is more disturbing that scores of America's best at math and science are also falling versus the world's best. I do believe that this will have serious economic implications.
Oct 20, 2008
Much of what we 'know' is of little obvious use in our daily lives. This is just as true of 'trivial' pop subjects as it is of 'important' things like math and science. What real use is it to know the lyrics to a Britney Spears song, or the scores and winning teams of the last 10 super bowls?
Much of what we use in our daily lives comes under the heading of 'know-how', where most school topics and trivial knowledge are 'know-what'. Most know-how comes from doing, often in an apprentice-like role. Schools are generally not focused on this.

People are good at learning know-what when the topic relates to something they are interested, hence the abundant supply of sports or lyric experts. They tend not to learn well what does not relate to their interests.

So, some interesting questions are:
Should schools refocus on know-how?
Should we restructure education to relate better to common interests?
Should we focus on how to make 'important' subjects more interesting and connected to life experience?
How does knowledge, or lack of knowledge of 'important' subjects modify the world views of people?

I find the last question the most interesting. I may not use my knowledge of, say, biological evolution, on a day-to-day basis, but I find that it affects my perception of everything from political issues to comments in blogs. If we did a better job generating interest and real learning on the important topics, how would that change our political debates? the 'culture wars'? the topics of interest in popular culture?
Oct 20, 2008
Does any part of this blog subject matter since we will undoubtedly have riots soon and they will evolve into a race war? Our education system will certainly have to be re-worked to facilitate the winning side of said race war. And hence, so will our interest in how we stack up as educated Americans to the other countries.
Oct 20, 2008
Every time the sink stops up, the roof leaks or the fuses blow some one gets charged $100 or more for the repair person to just show up. Way too many people are sitting in college classes that will lead to jobs that are low paying, highly competitive and not very soul satisfying.

Many will not make good rocket scientists or, God forbid, lawyers when they are more suited to working on a BMW at $200 an hour. It would be much more productive after a fair selection process to direct students to vocational training in secondary schools and after graduation to trade schools.

Many countries sort students out of the education system early. They have good technical apprenticeship programs that turn out contributing citizens and skilled workers that are in short supply all over the world.

The US still socially graduates millions of high school students who are functionally illiterate and cannot work simple math problems. They do not know history, economics, geography nor do they care.

They take up space in a open entry community colleges barely participating in a quest for knowledge. They waste educational resources taking remedial classes for years. Sure, there are many who rise above all this pursuing higher education and do well in the professional ranks.

Many just end up flipping hamburgers and end up going back to the same community college in 5 or so years to get a better job as a nurse, x-ray technician, welder, food services, computer technician, specialist or whatever. Too bad they didn't have someone encourage them to go this way in the first place.

Then at anytime in their life as they become more focused can continue their education and seek a more satisfying profession. Meantime they have a decent paycheck and are a good example to their children.
Oct 20, 2008
Math and science scores are important, but with our American Idol worship combined with our worship of sports players, there is no need to study hard for a low paying job as a scientist when you can practice your entertainment skills and become wealthy.

BTW this is why Barack Obama will win and become President. He is tall, handsome, speaks well and comes across with an executive presence, but not like a pointy haired boss. We will only know the true skills Obama has after he is elected President.

What a sad state it is when entertainment skills are more important to our youth than intellectual achievement.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2008
I think by the end of 6th grade people have learned all the stuff the need to know to survive. After that it should be about exposing people to as many different topics as possible so they can hopefully find something they are passionate in. Once they find something they are passionate in, they'll practically teach themselves. Diversity of knowledge in the population in more important than making sure everyone knows the same things to a certain level of proficiency. When get a heart attack, you want someone excelling in hearts medicine, not someone who can find Paraguay on the map.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2008
I think you wrote this to get comments. You know it's wrong. You often talk about what you learned when you studied economics, and how that helps in your thinking about other things. How often do you need to know about supply-demand curves (or whatever they're called, I'm not an economist)? But how often does having learned economics help you in your life and work?
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