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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 @11:23AM (#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.
  • Re:Where is why? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:31AM (#40220905)

    The "why" is in the article: "In 1964, the first time an international standardized test was given, American kids were next to last. In the most recent assessment, in 2009, the U.S. scored 17th in science out of 34 countries.

    "So, why do Americans believe that science education is in a downward spiral when the empirical evidence shows the opposite? Because officials keep telling us that education is abysmal. Also, they seem to hold a grudge against No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which holds teachers accountable and could be responsible for the increase in test scores..... Be wary of education lobbyists who downplay our long track record of scientific success while simultaneously asking for more money. At $91,700 per pupil from kindergarten through twelfth grade, the U.S. is outspent only by Switzerland in the education arena. Cash is not a problem."

    In other words we are told things are bad by UNIONS so they can demand more pay raises & more expensive toys in the classroom. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. EVERYBODY has a bias..... it's just a matter of digging to discover it.

  • by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:32AM (#40220933)

    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 — a metric that partially relies on scientific research output. (Sweden came in a distant second.)

    From the description this seems like a stupid metric that would be obviously skewed towards countries with higher population. With a Sweden's population of almost 9.5 million verses the USA's 315 million one would HOPE that the scientific research output is significantly higher. While TFS doesn't go into depth about the actual metric, I figured I'd need to do some reading through some links.
    I just looked at the report [universitas21.com] and it looks like the metric is more than that.

    It has things like

    • Amount spent on tertiary ed (resources like "per student" "percent of GDP" "per population head" etc)
    • Proportion of female students in tertiary ed
    • Proportion of international students in tertiary ed
    • Total articles produced by higher ed facilities (gross AND per capita)

    So it looks like that might not be that bad of a metric after all. It's far from perfect but there are probably few if any that are. All in all, I'm impressed that the USA is ranked number 1.

    When looking through the ACTUAL scores of the different countries the USA scores a dismal 37 out of 50 in the "Proportion of international students in 3rd ed and proportion of articles co-authored by international collaborators". Where the USA far and away blows away the rest of the field is in the actual scientific article output (weighted by gross and per capita as noted above).

    All in all, it's an interesting report that seems to fly in the face of most of slashdot's readership's (mine included) perception of the direction of the education system in the USA. Maybe most of the bad news is at the secondary education level?

  • by Pf0tzenpfritz (1402005) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:34AM (#40220949) Journal
    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 toadlife (301863) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:36AM (#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.

  • Problem is... (Score:2, Informative)

    by TallDarkMan (1073350) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:37AM (#40220997) Homepage

    At $91,700 per pupil from kindergarten through twelfth grade, the U.S. is outspent only by Switzerland in the education arena. Cash is not a problem.

    ...what we actually have to do is spend that much on each student, rather than on the over-paid administration.

  • Re:Where is why? (Score:5, Informative)

    by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:47AM (#40221147) Journal
    I don't think you can call a teacher's salary high by any standard

    How about this standard [globalrichlist.com]?

    Generalizing is always a bad idea ;-)
  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:52AM (#40221231)

    President Clinton's No Child Left Behind...

    From Wikipedia: "The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB)[1][2] is a United States Act of Congress that came about as wide public concern about the state of education. First proposed by the administration of George W. Bush immediately after he took office,[3] the bill passed in the U.S. Congress with bipartisan support."

  • Re:Where is why? (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlackSnake112 (912158) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:11PM (#40221543)

    Well unions keep crappy teachers teaching. That is a bad thing.

    And no child left behind actually hurt students. Instead of having them repeat a grade since they didn't learn anything (the reasons for that aside for the moment) that student was sent to the next grade unpaired for that grade. That process keeps on repeating. This is from over 300 teachers. They were not allowed to fail a student. No NCLB is bad.

    The reasons for a student not learning can be that student does not care. In those cases either have them repeat the grade so they are away from their friends, or boot them from the school. Repeating a grade can embarrass a student. That might actually make them do the work.

  • Re:Where is why? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:23PM (#40221691)

    Teachers are not the enemy and it makes me sad to see an anti-education screed on Slashdot.

    Let's deconstruct your post.

    First off, "officials" -- also known as "teachers" and "local school board members" -- hate the No Child Left Behind Act [wikipedia.org] because it is an unfunded standards-based mandate for additional instruction. The second standards rear their ugly heads in classrooms you start seeing rote learning [wikipedia.org], AKA "teaching for the test." No one benefits from rote learning. Not even the businesses that depend on the school system to turn out creative and innovative thinkers with a broad knowledge base to draw on. And while it may be responsible for an increase in test scores, students suffer in ways standardize tests can't measure.

    Second, school spending. I don't know where you're getting your numbers from, so I'll have to improvise. The federal goverment's per-pupil spending (you may find how influential federal money really is [ed.gov] enlightening from a big-picture perspective) has barely kept pace with inflation, and that's without going into all the ways the feds twist the arms of desperately underfunded local school districts with laws like NCLB, which cuts funding to the underperforming schools that need it the most (in the name of "competitiveness"). If you really want to know how much is getting spent per-pupil you should take a look at the detailed breakdown [census.gov] from the Census Bureau (warning, PDF). And yes, salaries are the biggest number in the list. Because the most important resource in education is PEOPLE.

    We also need to talk about per-pupil spending in general, where the fundamental inequality inherent in education funding [ed.gov] is most readily apparent. You can't just say that one area's per-pupil funding level is adequate for another's thanks to things like cost-of-living and property values. Most schools are funded at a local level, which opens you up to all kinds of funding issues brought on by things like population density and the economy. You know who was hurt the most by the recent foreclosure crisis? Here's a hint, it wasn't the homeowners, it was the school districts that depend on their property taxes.

    You know what else bothers me? That all the amounts discussed in the above links are counted in the millions of dollars per year. We blow billions of dollars a week in Afghanistan and Iraq. It really shows you where the nation's priorities lie.

  • Re:Where is why? (Score:5, Informative)

    by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:52PM (#40222155) Journal

    That site you pointed to hasn't got anything close to accurate data for teacher pay. Take home is typically closer to half what that site says. Here's the North Carolina (where I live) official teacher pay schedule [ncpublicschools.org].

    Starting salary for teachers with teaching degrees is $34,550. With > 30 years experience, a teacher makes $58,860. Now I wont argue the benefits aren't good, but you've got wildly inaccurate data.

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