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

    by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:19AM (#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 Rei (128717) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:20AM (#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 Sparticus789 (2625955) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:25AM (#40220827) Journal

    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 learning.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:42AM (#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.
  • Re:Where is why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:53AM (#40221245)

    Maybe if "we" got out of the mindset of wanting to pay third world wages, people would move to these kinds of fields?

    It is funny, in my opinion, the ones to the greatest extent setting wages ( trying to keep them low ) seem to be the ones lamenting the fact that people don't want those jobs, and all the while praising the market for all the magic it can do ( and it can ).

  • Re:Where is why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:02PM (#40221379)

    Agreed. 65% of all students having a basic grasp of science may seem high to the author of that article, but perhaps to everyone else it seems low. I think our aim should be 95% at the lowest.

    Maybe they should slow things down a bit. Teach things, but teach them very well. Go in depth into the material before moving onto the next chapter.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:08PM (#40221513)
    The union problem is not necessarily teacher salary. There might be a problem where some teachers make little to no contribution to benefits like health care and retirement, but that is a really complicated issue that can't be generalized. Contracts can vary from place to place, some reasonable, some not. The real union problem is probably union support for teachers who are not good teachers. The unions no longer seem to be the guardians of their craft, enforcing their own high standards of quality upon their members. Unions used to kick out members who couldn't perform to high standards. Today some claim that some union leadership is essentially a part of the educational bureaucracy protecting the status quo.
  • Re:Where is why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:14PM (#40221577)

    When you look at the pay, I don't think you can call a teacher's salary high by any standard.

    When I look at teachers pay I have no problem calling it high. How about $93k/year [teacherssalary.net] in Boulder, CO. $80-ish in surrounding communities like Longmont, and Fort Collins. $75k in Madison, WI where they're trying to recall Walker today.

    That doesn't count gold-plated comprehensive benefits for the whole family right through retirement. That doesn't count the defined benefit pension. That isn't amortized for the 10 month school year or the 35 hour weeks. No attempt is made to quantify the value of tenure privileges or union protection.

    No, our teachers are paid well. They never hesitate to claim otherwise because suckers like you always believe it.

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:40PM (#40221981)

    The US has been able to attract top notch scientists that speak english for a long time. As essentially the wealthiest country of the lot, and english forming the biggest scientific block there's a natural advantage there. The US also has universities that can pay top scientists relatively large amounts of money. I'm in canada and the university I'm at (and the department I'm in) have had two professors who are particularly well renowned in their field, with several prestigious awards. But they get paid the same as everyone else, because there's no room to give them extra money. We are fortunate their spouses have low mobility jobs. One passed away due to heart attack earlier this year so we're down to one. But either way. If they were in the US they'd be easily making 250k and potentially up over 300k whereas here they're stuck at 120 ish. There are only a handful of universities in canada, the UK etc that can pay a premium for premium staff, and even then they can only afford a small group of them, because they charge the same per student as we do. (This would be, in canada. University of Toronto, U of British Columbia, in the Uk Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College and a few others). In the US Harvard can have as many 400k/year staff as it wants.

    In terms of actual scientific output the US isn't in a bad place, unless you consider reliance on foreign born scientists a problem (which it sort of is, and sort of isn't). Where they're always struggling is in science education at lower levels. And even there, there's only so much you can do. If you need 300k people to work assembly lines and 3000 to design the cars that are made on the lines there's only so much motivation for people to be scientifically literate anyway. When you have a political party that institutionally ignores science there's a reinforcement mechanism for generations of people to not learn, and be proud of not learning.

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:43PM (#40222029) Homepage
    This has always been seen as a big problem. People thought that all the advances in technology would obsolete a bunch of jobs. It wasn't long ago that many white collar workers had their own secretary. Those jobs don't exist anymore. We've been pretty good at finding jobs for "normal" or "mediocre" people for the past 100 years, but I see it slowly coming to a point where there are very few jobs in America (or "the west" for that matter) for normal people. Self checkout grocery stores, online shopping, no more music and video stores, robots assembling cars, all of this stuff adds up. People will either have to get a skill doing something that can't be off-shored or done by robots, like car mechanic, barber, tailor, etc. There won't be much room for people working in the manufacturing sector, retail sector, or many other shrinking industries.
  • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:04PM (#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.

  • Re:Where is why? (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:24PM (#40222599)

    Union bashers have a point.
    Before you move on, answer this question to yourself: What's the point of a union? Come up with 3 purposes for a union.
    Now that you have those 3 reasons in mind:

    Teachers are literate.
    Teachers are not uneducated.
    Teachers still have low wages.
    The unions takes money from the teachers with low wages.
    There are no performance benefits for excellent teachers.

    And you want to defend these unions? The ones that are not only supposedly superfluous but fail to deliver on any of the promises made to those the unions supposedly represent?

  • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:24PM (#40222609) Homepage Journal

    Did you even READ the frickin' question in the poll? Your conclusion is not based on the evidence.

    Did you? It's actually worse than portrayed. When asked directly "Do you think Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years is definitely true, probably true, probably false, (or) definitely false?", 39% said definitely true and another 27% said probably true.

    If that's not outright rejecting the scientific thought process, I don't know.

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

    by jythie (914043) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:49PM (#40222979)
    well, for starters, the concept behind NCLB as nothing to do with actually not leaving any children behind. In fact it sets up a system where schools have an economic incentive to find ways to rid themselves of children who are not doing well.

    I agree much of the debate over it is philosophical since the majority of people outside education, economics, and psychology know very little about the relative effects of using a punishment/quantitative dynamic rather then a reward/qualitative one. I say people outside because in general the proponents of NCLB do not have any background in the field and used the legislation to test their private theories about how things should be done, including having a nice packaged up metric that is not really based on anything but they can point towards to say it is working.

    Under this new system, children get left behind all the bloody time. Anything that does not contribute to getting that small set of numbers up is pretty much set aside in order to hyper focus on the one metric that determines what your budget is going to be like. There is no incentive for enrichment, no incentive for after school programs, no incentive to give the advanced students the tools that will help them succeed or to help the LD students since they absorb a disproportionate amount of resources relative to their score impact.

    I agree, the stated goal of NCLB, the one used on the press package and political rhetoric is a good one, but that is where it ends. It was a law designed by amateurs who, like all armchair xyz, thought that they knew better then all those 'experts', and it was designed to be sold to an electorate that is also made up of people with no domain knowledge.

    And of course when people who know what they are talking about raised objections, they can easily (politically) be written off as 'protecting the status quo' and 'just unions interested in fat paychecks'... and of course a couple years down the road you have a perfect mechanism for slashing budgets of poor schools (which fits in nicely with the 'poor people are poor because they are stupid and deserve it) and raise budgets of wealthy schools (which fits in nicely with the 'rich people are rich because they are smart and deserve it) and of course push more of our educational system into private hands (which strongly favors people with wealth, who have no interest in helping to fund the public system) so there is even less incentive to have a healthy public one.
  • by AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @02:13PM (#40223401)

    Truly stupid and moron my ass;

    My son has a measured IQ north of 140 but is also autistic. He gets extra help to cope with his difficulty in communicating verbally and is well on his way to university and will be able to handle it without an aide. It is people like you who would have thrown him into an institution in the 40s and 50s.

  • Re:Where is why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tbannist (230135) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:30PM (#40226875)

    First, when you call anything you don't like "a religion", you discredit yourself. I, personally, find it amusing that you have the hubris to call the majority of the scientists in the world, and every country's national science body part of "a false religion" because you disagree with them.

    Second, neither point is "still out in the debate":
    1) Humans are causing it [skepticalscience.com], no other explanations fits the facts.
    2) It's a bad thing [skepticalscience.com]. On economic grounds, estimates for end of century spending for deal with the effects of Global warming are close to 7.5 trillion, and the costs of averting it less than 2 trillion. Then there's the moral problem of having poor and undeveloped nations shoulder most of the worst consequences of our fossil fuel use.

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