BLOG: Experts: Maths and science scores are the key to America’s survival

A new article by Scientific American says that the United States must find ways to adopt higher educational standards if we are going to remain competitive with the rest of the world.  The piece argues that Americans have grown accustomed to its students falling behind everyone else in the areas of Math and Science, and that it’s time to step things.

Americans have grown accustomed to bad news about student performance in math and science. On a 2009 study administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 15-year-olds in the U.S. placed 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 countries.  On last year’s Nation’s Report Card assessments, only one third of eighth graders qualified as proficient in math or science. Those general statistics tell only a piece of the story, however.

The author mentions Minnesota and Massachusetts as shining examples of what the US could be if we work at it.  Students from these two states performed as well as their peers around the globe and are showing enormous potential.   They say that the commonality between the two states is that they set high standards for students and expect them to perform at grade level.

Unfortunately, the quality of most state science standards is “mediocre to awful,” in the words of one recent report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington, D.C. Several states present evolution as unsettled science—“according to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection,” say New York State’s standards.

The author points to states like Mississippi, which hold onto many biblical beliefs about evolution and conservative views on climate change, as states that continue to lag behind the rest of the US in education.  Mississippi also has equally sad statistics in the areas of poverty and teen pregnancy as well.

The author points to new standards emerging based on recommendations from the National Research Council.  The standards are going to be adopted by all 50 states next year, and it is hopeful that this will help children in the US to catch up with the rest of the world.

Any system of education standards has potential downsides. Mandate too much, and kids will grow bored or overwhelmed and teachers will lose autonomy. But these new standards have already won over important potential critics. Carolyn Wallace, a science education researcher at Indiana State University and a former high school science teacher who believes many standards systems are too “authoritarian,” says the Next Generation standards leave room for teachers to be more creative in how they present material to kids. She does worry that the standards impose more than can reasonably be taught in one school year.



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