Thursday, December 06, 2007

American math and science scores lag behind the world... again

It's an old, familiar story, perhaps, but one that must be told again and again until it is studied only as ancient history: reports that, according to a new study, "Eighth-graders in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia trail their counterparts in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan in math, and lag behind Singapore and Taiwan in science."

U.S. students as a whole finished 10th in math and 12th in science in a survey of students in 46 nations, according to the article.

Broken down by state, the scores were even more sobering: "Nine states were below the basic level in science -- Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico -- putting them in the same category as Jordan, Romania, and Serbia." Also according to the article, "The District of Columbia had the lowest U.S. performance in mathematics, on a par with Macedonia and Jordan, with the average student scoring 'below basic.'"

"The U.S. has no states where students were considered proficient in math, though Massachusetts eighth graders fell just short," the article said.

As I get older, articles like this scare me more and more. I worry that the United States is on track to become a really big Portugal -- I know I've used that line before -- famous for pioneering innovations in technology and exploration... and utterly irrelevant to current developments.

I've been to two of my children's college graduations now, and I've reviewed the book-length graduation programs. I am astounded by many Asian and Oriental names among the engineering graduates... and the paucity of American ones.

And here's the sad truth: Moms and Dads, if your child doesn't get through Algebra I in 8th grade, he or she will pretty much have no chance to become an engineer.

I've had five children graduate 8th grade. Only one placed out of Algebra I in high school. So far, only one has an engineering degree. Guess who?

The reason that your child needs to place out of Algebra I is so he or she can take Calculus in high school. (I was allowed to double up on Algebra II and Geometry in high school and thereby stay on the Calculus track -- but none of my kids have been permitted to do this in their high schools.) High school calculus seems a prerequisite for engineering majors. Oh, sure, you can stay in school the extra year -- but somehow English or Psychology or Law becomes more attractive then.

Yes, I took a path of least resistance myself: Actually, the only science majors at my undergraduate school were pre-meds... and I never wanted to be a doctor. Thus, my choice of college shunted me off the technical track.

Look, not everybody needs to be a scientist or an engineer, just as not everyone needs to be a doctor. But some people have to do it... and too many of our best and brightest aren't.

This Christmas, give your kid flash cards.


Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

oh curmy this scares the heck out of me! in florida i heard that 25 was passing in history. if not, everyone was failing. now i do have my opinions about the school system and lord knows i am not quiet about them but here i will only say this: when we were kids we did not have computers or calculators or any of that stuff, remember the slide rule? we LEARNED how to use our minds first before we learned all the aids to help us. i cringe when teens cannot make change. how will they survive in future generations? i have no idea...

smiles and shudders, bee

katherine. said...

an older family member was visiting from a very small town in the deep south. He asked my daughter why she had so many "oriental" friends...she answered him right away...cause I am majoring in math.

and gotta plan in junior high to take certain math and science classes in high school.