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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 02/17/2011

STEM Sell: Are math, science really more important than other subjects?

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Alfie Kohn, the author of 12 books about education and human behavior. His latest, the forthcoming "Feel-Bad Education . . . And Other Contrarian Essays on Children & Schooling," will be published this spring by Beacon Press. He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn. He blogs at The Huffington Post.

By Alfie Kohn
What’s the single most alarming educational crisis today? That’s easy. It’s our failure to pay more attention to the academic field of whichever educator happens to be speaking at the moment.

Just listen, then, and learn that while there may be other problems, too, the truly urgent issue these days is that we’re just not investing in math and science instruction the way we should be -- with predictably dismaying results. No, it’s that kids are outrageously ignorant about history, a subject that ought to be, but never is, a priority. No, it’s that even in high school, students still can’t write a coherent paragraph. No, the real emergency is that reading skills are far from what they should be. No, it’s that music and the arts are shamefully neglected in our schools. And so on.

Now there may be some truth to all of these assertions, and the overarching tragedy is our failure to commit to -- and adequately fund -- education itself. How unsettling, then, to be overwhelmed by a cacophony of claims by educators from different departments forced to compete for attention.

(Let it also be noted that, if we look carefully, not all of these statements are actually comparable: Saying that a specific subject is underfunded or ignored is different from saying that students are doing poorly in that subject, and vice versa. And saying that either of those things is true with respect to an ideal standard is different from saying that it’s true relative to what happens in other subjects.)

What interests me at the moment, though, are not empirical claims about who’s getting what -- or the competence that students do or don’t possess in a given discipline -- but value-based beliefs about what matters most. Does one subject merit special attention, deserve more dollars, constitute the core of what we expect our schools to offer?

To listen to those who shape our society’s conversation about education -- not educators but public officials, corporate executives, and journalists -- the answer is yes. At the top of the heap sits the compound discipline of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Thus, for example, President Obama announced an expensive new public-private initiative last November called “Educate to Innovate” that will focus on improving student performance exclusively in STEM subjects. Then, in early January, he was back with a new education project. Was its intent to spread the wealth to other kinds of learning that he had overlooked before? Nope. It was to commit another quarter-billion dollars to improve the teaching of STEM subjects. And a few weeks later, in his State of the Union address, the only academic disciplines he mentioned were, yet again, math and science.

Thought experiment: Try to imagine this, or any other, president giving a speech that calls for a major new commitment to the teaching of literature, backed by generous funding (even during a period of draconian budget cuts).

Close your eyes and hear our Chief Executive’s stirring words: “Few experiences can compare to savoring truly wonderful fiction, and our obligation is to make sure that all children are invited to do just that. Moreover, we must help them to appreciate what they’re reading and encourage them to continue reading for pleasure throughout their lives.

At its best, literature enriches our understanding of the human condition and the natural world, while thrilling us with words arranged in combinations that are unexpected and yet perfectly right. The appreciation of the literary imagination is a hallmark of a truly civilized society, yet we have fallen woefully short of making this a priority in our schools. That is why I am announcing today a commitment of $3 billion to establish . . . “

Yeah. Right.

The point of my example is not to argue in favor of studying literature, per se, or, for that matter, to argue against studying math and science. It is to ask a question rarely posed except by educators in other fields -- namely, why STEM subjects consistently attract so much money and attention.

Among decision leaders and the general public, I suspect that STEM enjoys an immediate advantage simply because it tends to involve numbers. Our society is inclined to regard any topic as more compelling if it can be expressed in numerical terms. Notice how rarely we evaluate schools by their impact on students’ interest in learning; we focus on precisely specified achievement effects. Issues that inherently seem qualitative in nature -- intrinsic motivation, say, or the meaning of life -- we consign to the ivory tower.

And when questions that don’t lend themselves to quantification aren’t simply brushed aside, they’re reduced to numbers anyway. Witness, for example, how English teachers have been told that they not only can but must use rubrics to quantify their responses to students’ writings.

As compared with other, “softer” disciplines, STEM usually provides us with the reassurance of knowing exactly how much, how many, how far, how fast, which means that these subjects are viewed (often incorrectly) as being inherently objective, therefore more reliable (another questionable leap), and therefore more valuable (yet another one).

Closely related to our comfort with numbers, then, is our preference for practicality. But STEM seems practical with respect to a specific kind of number -- namely, dollars. Putting aside for the moment the fact that reading and writing skills, too, have obvious implications for real-world success -- and, conversely, that theoretical physics and “pure” mathematics do not -- it’s easy to see how politicians and corporate leaders would favor the fields that appear to be more directly linked to economic productivity and profit.

Moreover, anyone whose sensibility is shaped by a zero-sum mindset, such that the goal is not success but victory, is far more likely to be drawn to STEM subjects than to the humanities.

“The nation that out-educates us today,” said President Obama last month, “is going to out-compete us tomorrow.” That is a sentence that could have been spoken by the most reactionary Republican you can name. But it is not a sentence likely to be followed by a discussion of the humanities. Those who confuse excellence with competitiveness are most likely to privilege STEM subjects over others -- and vice versa.

Every educator, in fact every citizen, needs to know how profoundly mistaken are the specific empirical claims that we keep hearing on C-Span regarding the relationship between school achievement and jobs and regarding the relative status of U.S. students. Yong Zhao recently did a fine job of rebutting the specific contentions enunciated in the State of the Union address.

As Harold Salzman and B. Lindsay Lowell have reported, very few jobs require advanced proficiency in STEM subjects and there is actually “an ample supply of [science and engineering] students whose preparation and performance has been increasing over the past decades.” In fact, “each year there are more than three times as many [science and engineering] four-year college graduates as S&E job openings.”

But my point here is more basic. The real question we should be asking when we hear yet another speech arguing, explicitly or implicitly, for the unique importance of STEM disciplines is What does this say about the speaker’s -- or our society’s -- beliefs about the point of education itself? You don’t have to be a music or history teacher to say, “Now hold on a minute!”

In fact, even algebra teachers should be frowning because the reasons for a politician’s (or the Chamber of Commerce’s) STEMcentricity carry implications for what’s taught within a STEM course, and how it’s taught, and whether K-12 education is conceived as nothing more than an elaborate, extended exercise in vocational preparation.

Building on a discussion by the educational historian David Labaree, I once created a simple table, which you can see here, to capture four possible purposes for schooling our children. I am troubled by both the private and public versions of an economic focus, and I am drawn to what, for lack of a better word, might be called the humanistic purposes -- again, in both their private and public expressions.

Yet another respected thinker who recoiled from the educational priorities reflected in President Obama’s State of the Union message was Berkeley linguist Robin Lakoff, who called on us to recognize education’s “less practical (but equally vital) functions.” She added that “education is invaluable not only in its ability to help people and societies get ahead, but equally in helping them develop the perspectives that make them fully human.”

Anyone who agrees with that sentiment -- and who worries at least as much about the state of our democracy as about the state of the Dow Jones Industrial Average -- should think not only about education in general but about which subjects are seen as priorities within the field of education. And why.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 17, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alfie Kohn, Guest Bloggers, Math, Science  | Tags:  STEM, STEM education, alfie kohn, dow jones, obama and STEM, obama school reform, president obama, school reform  
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Comments

As an art teacher, I think all subjects important. The major problem this narrow focus on a few subjects prevents these kids to develop transitional skills. It's difficult to develop creative problems-solvers and critical thinkers when only a few subjects are the focus of education ...or math is only studied in math class or science only in science class.

Example: I often have my art students measure for a border around their drawing. You'd think they'd never had a ruler in their hand before...even the so-called gifted kids. They don't know the meter side from the inches. They can't find 1/2 inch, 1/4 inch, etc. Then they'll say...this isn't math!

IMO...focusing on a few subjects while neglecting other courses of study is the major flaw of American schools; it's arrogant and short-sighted. This narrow focus on a few "core" subjects is preventing our students from seeing the big picture and that the world's opportunities are limitless.

Could it be that's why so many of these kids are so turned off to school?

Posted by: ilcn | February 17, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

This article needs to be on the front page of every newspaper with a headline that screams "An Enemy of the People: STEM Domination Overtaking Education".....or something in that vein.

Either Obama is a lot less bright than many of us gave him credit for, or he is being badly managed/manipulated by other powers.

NOTHING about this administration's educational goals is innovative beyond the
scope of its audacity: RTTT is a contest, hardly a new idea; charter schools have been around for quite some time, thank you; and interest in DATA has been around as long as humankind could count 1-2-3- and taxes became necessary. What is truly frightening, as well as not innovative, is the apparent banishment to the rear of the room of scholars, humanistic writers and artists, people that repressive regimes jail or otherwise get rid of.

??????????

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 17, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

The Washington Post National Education Reporter might have missed this important speech. So I'll help out and post an excerpt.

From NJ Governor Chris Christie:

"The last example of that is education reform and all I'll say about this, is that in my state, where we spend $17,620 per pupil per year, the highest in America, $24,000 per pupil in city of Newark, $28,000 in Asbury Park, and we have 104,000 students trapped in 200 failing schools across NJ and the education establishment says "don't worry help is on the way".

And the help that's on the way is more money, more money.

Well more money is not going to solve this problem until we take on the issues that really causing the problem, and until we as Americans are willing to do that final tough thing, which is to look the teacher's union across America in the eye and say to them 'you do not represent the best the teachers have to offer, you often represent the worst'.

And it's time for us to honestly say, that we can separate the teachers from the union.

We have great teachers in New Jersey, working hard and making a huge difference in the lives of many children, but we don't have enough of them.

And one of the reason why we don't have enough of them is because the bad teachers who remain with lifetime tenure are crowding out opportunity for the good ones, and then when you have reductions the last ones in are the first ones out, because all that matters is seniority, and not talent.

And so we send a new generation of teachers, good enthusiastic teachers away because we have built a system, as Michelle Rhee put better than I could, that cares more about the feelings of adults than it cares about the future of our children.

I will not take responsibility for that approach. I will not take responsibility for leaving a generation of children behind in America. I won't do it.

And we need to speak out and say it's time to fix that system.

Tell me where else in America, well really there's two places, left in America where there's a profession where there is no reward for excellence and no consequence for failure.

Of course we all know the first one is weathermen. It doesn't matter, it's going to snow 6 inches, it snows 18. Well I said it was going to snow what's the difference? And they're right back on TV the next night.

Unfortunately the second one is teaching. Because the great teacher, the only reward they get is the psychic reward of knowing that they've done a great job for the children in their classroom.

And the teacher next door, the lousy teacher who doesn't care gets paid the same as the teacher who stays late and comes early, the same as the teacher who communicates with parents, the same as the teacher who feels it his or her their personal responsibility to lift each child up to the next grade."

Christie spoke February 16, 2010 in Washington at the American Enterprise Institute


Full speech at: http://www.aei.org/speech/100195

Posted by: frankb1 | February 17, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Christie spoke February 16, 2011

Posted by: frankb1 | February 17, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Good writing.

"What’s the single most alarming educational crisis today? That’s easy. It’s our failure to pay more attention to the academic field of whichever educator happens to be speaking at the moment."

But Valerie Strauss told us the problem with all the hype regarding STEM a week ago.

The reality is that American students are doing very poorly in reading.

Like it not President Obama the problem is not STEM or any other subject, the problem is reading. All the focus in the world is not going to matter if there is a problem in reading. And by the way even books regarding mathematics with their own language of symbols requires the ability to read.

Focus on improvement of the ability of students to read since this is required for study in any field.

And it is time to understand that being proficient in reading is not the goal. The students that can read well and interpret correctly material they have read have the ability to read far above their grade level.

According to the national test of 2009 of the 8th grade the number of students with advanced skills in reading and read above their grade level are only 3 percent which is the same number that we had in 1992.

It is also interesting to note that national tests of the 4th grade indicate 8 percent of advanced readers that are then are then reduced to 3 percent by the 8th grade.

The goal needs to be students enjoying reading and reading above their grade level.

The reality is that students do not enjoy reading simply because they can not do it well.

The reality is that real gains in public education will be made in the primary schools and no place else. There can be no gains when so many students later on see reading as a chore that they hate simply because they can not read well.

And reading is actually a skill that gets better when done more by an individual.

Where are the computer reading labs in primary schools where children can be assigned a book on their current level and can press the mouse over a word to hear it pronounced or give the definition. Computer software to do this has been available since 1992?

Where are the primary school book labs where children have access to books with different levels of reading skill?

Both of these labs could be staffed by lower paid teacher aids that could provide individual assistance to children at wages not much higher than minimum wage.

And where are reading books with short reading stories that can be assigned as homework with a quick quiz in class. Wow just imagine if primary schools actually required children to lug around books that they actually enjoyed reading.

The solution is not a focus on STEM or any other subject that is subject of the month.

Take the billions wasted on standardized testing and spend it on the aim of improving reading in every primary schools.

The reality is that reading is the key to education.

Reading really does have to become a past time for students.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

It is interesting that we continuously hear the voodoo education of this President when in the past we used to hear voodoo economist.

The reality is Americans do not want to spend more on public education because they see no benefit to themselves and so the President has to come up with voodoo education.

Create programs and legislation to improve education in every primary public school in the nation and there would no longer the need for voodoo education from the President.

And the reality is that this would not cost that much more to the American public if the billions that are wasted on standardized testing were instead used for these new programs.

And yes the belief that large numbers of students with serious problems in reading will learn by simply taking more standardized tests in voodoo education.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 11:30 AM | Report abuse

As a bizarre side note to any STEM discussion is how the timing of that emphasis has merged with the educational philosophy of Fethullah Gulen and his followers (Gulen movement) who have opened up the largest network of U.S. charter schools.

Gulen, a Turkish imam, believes in a particular type of spirituality attached to math and physical sciences. Add that to his movement's interest in establishing schools around the globe, Gulen's vision of some sort of neo-Ottoman empire, and his strong sense of Turkish nationalism, along with the movements known MO of secrecy, an American public which is clueless, and the push for charter schools in any form, and, voila, you have Gulen charter schools.

These schools are importing gobs of Turkish teachers (Gulen followers) on H1B visas to teach math and science and robotics and character education and Turkish language and culture, and to serve as administrators of 122+ U.S. charter schools. I kid you not.

http://turkishinvitations.weebly.com/

Ain't STEM grand?

Posted by: sharonh2 | February 17, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

When choosing library books for our kids when they were young, I always kept an eye out for books that would blend art and science because they were often soooo interesting. My husband actually made a large table and benches so the kids could have plenty of space for their art projects. Seeing their creations develop and hearing the kids explain them was fun for all of us. Two are now working in science fields.

One of the many books in our home library, The Art of Science by Jay Young is a pop-up book geared for ages 12 and up. Wonderful book. See link:

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Art-of-Science/Jay-Young/e/9780763607548/?itm=14&USRI=science+in+art+popup+book

Posted by: shadwell1 | February 17, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Would like to clarify that I am anything but against study of the sciences & math; far from it as I have relatives in medicine and obviously math and science are important to these endeavors.

BUT, and this is really important - all of the successful science/math/medicine people I know did not have narrow educations; they studied and have a wide interest in music, anthropology, literature, writing, art, theater.....I would argue that these other interests helped them not only personally, but in being able to connect with the humanistic aspects of their careers.

Re bsallamack's comments on the importance of reading:

Think the most important point made is the emphasis on giving the needed support in the primary schools - that's where it starts. As long as classes of young children stay above 10-12 - (imagine a single parent raising 25-30 young children?!?)disabilities will be missed/overlooked and developmental factors will not be accommodated. And if reading is presented in a sterile atmosphere of skills, facts, memorization, etc. instead of adding the spheres of adventure, imagery, literature, poetry, and assistive technology, you will continue to have turned-off students who see no reason to struggle for higher reading levels.

Unfortunately, we need to remediate at the same time we are trying to get it right in the early grades. All of the older students who have missed the boat on reading need and deserve tutorials with reading specialists.

To achieve a high level of reading skill is a very complex matter - I learned what I know from many different teaching approaches and from having worked many years with students with reading issues.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 17, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, how about trying to obtain an educator with ideas about improving education in the primary schools with the emphasis on reading.

We still continue the same thing and expect that the 25 percents that can not read by the 8th grade will be fixed by more standardized test in high schools.

And of course there are the malcontent teacher bashers that expect that if we fire large numbers of high school teachers this will fix the problem of the 25 percent of students that can not read when they enter high school.

Little point in mentioning to the malcontent teacher bashers that the ability to read is expected of student when they reach high school.

Apparently so many Americans really do believe in voodoo education.

I wonder of the malcontent teacher bashers have little dolls of teachers that they stick pins into.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

One of the many books in our home library, The Art of Science by Jay Young is a pop-up book geared for ages 12 and up. Wonderful book. See link:
Posted by: shadwell1
..........................
My daughter was taught to read before entering public schools.

At three years old, time was spent with my daughter on the computer with "Sammy Science House" and story reading software programs.

My daughter reading skills were tested in the fifth grade with scores of reading ability on a college level.

I never bought pop up books since they were expensive and diverted attention from reading.

I am surprised at a pop up book for children aged 12 and up.

If I were to give such a book to my daughter when she was 12 she would have looked at me as being very strange.

Parents should work to have their children reading before entering public school.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

As an art teacher, I think all subjects important.
Posted by: ilcn
.........................
The reality of STEM and any other subject is what Valerie Strauss pointed out in "When should kids be able to read?":
President Obama has made a priority out of pushing STEM education, or science, technology, engineering and math. If kids can’t read, it isn’t terribly likely they will find their way into one of those fields.

By the way Art and Music are the few subjects that do not depend on reading.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 1:41 PM | Report abuse

One thing that can be said about the malcontent teacher bashers is that they are consistent.

There response to every problem in public education is fire more teachers.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 1:44 PM | Report abuse

How old were President Obama's high school teachers? All of them who were in their mid-thirties or under were themselves in high school after Sputnik, when we were told beating the Soviets into space would prove the American Way of Life was much better and thus it was important to study as much science and math as we could squeeze into our class schedules. If you had two study halls a day, you were advised to take another science course to fill up the time. If you got all A's, you were recommended for special science seminars on weekends (even if you on ly got all A's by not taking any science that year). If you chose a social studies class in preference to an advanced section of the science you were taking, the science teacher might not speak to you for a while.

Of course the President stresses STEM--that is what he was taught education should be, and his interest in history, socialogy, and government was probably considered just an individual quirk and a failing on the part of his school.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 17, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

The stated age was taken from the Barnes and Noble website (via publisher?) and was surely noted as such due to the delicate nature of the mechanisms as well as the level of scientific and historical content. Certainly, it's an excellent book for young children (with guidance). Is is quite different from the typical pop-up book. Perhaps seeing it would give you an appreciation for the creativity, etc. I probably paid less than five bucks for the book - off the bargain table at an area bookstore. Of course, the libraries... The point of the post was that art and science can and do blend. Leonardo da Vinci did alright.

Posted by: shadwell1 | February 17, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

We are not all predisposed to be experts in STEM. If we were then someone would be alarmed at the lack of cello players, or swimmers, or some other vocation/profession.

One thing we don't need is a lawyer telling us what our children need, nor a lawyer with the vocal chords of one educator. At some point we need to stop looking at education as the silver bullet. It is not, nor has it ever been.

Encourage the kids to develop skills for a vocation or profession and help them be the best they can be. Professing we can mold ever child into a STEM pattern, or even improve the numbers we have, shows the ignorance hanging over the Oval Office.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 17, 2011 2:34 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

Actually, beyond the most basic levels, art and music do use reading - quite a bit of it, in fact. Each field has its own terminology.

In art, just to buy art supplies one has to have a reading knowledge of different paints, i.e. cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, veridian, cadmium yellow, zinc white....papers...cold-press, hot-press, watercolor, printing...
Then of course learning about art history entails readings and analysis of artists' lives & styles. Scholastic magazine puts out both an elementary and a high school version of their magazine.

In music, even at the most basic levels, students have to be able to identify the hand signals of a teacher/conductor. To learn to participate in a chorus and/or band usually requires sight-reading and interpreting many written directions in Italian, French or Latin. There are musicians that play by ear, but many people do not have that ability.

There are many other instances of reading usage in music and art, but the above are probably the most basic.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 17, 2011 2:53 PM | Report abuse

How old were President Obama's high school teachers? All of them who were in their mid-thirties or under were themselves in high school after Sputnik, when we were told beating the Soviets into space would prove the American Way of Life was much better and thus it was important to study as much science and math as we could squeeze into our class schedules.
Posted by: sideswiththekids
.......................
I was in the 7th grade at the time of Sputnik.

No emphasis was placed in the public schools.

The reality is that the only thing government did was request more funding for research in universities and national student loans for going to colleges.

I really wish individuals would look at the record.

The reality is that in 1957 those in public schools were not going around yelling e=mc squared.

President Eisenhower knew that have you wanted benefits from STEM you increased spending in college and universities.

I can just imagine some staffer telling Ike that American children should all be given free chemistry set.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 2:56 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

Here ya go, Amazon provides greater detail about the book, The Art of Science, and notes the reading age as 9-12, which I find more appropriate than what was noted on the B & N site. Feel better?

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Science-Pop-Up-Adventure/dp/0763607541

Posted by: shadwell1 | February 17, 2011 2:58 PM | Report abuse

One reason for the emphasis on STEM is that performance in those subjects are objectively comparable internationally - they are largely language and culture neutral. Our arguably poor showing compared to other industrial countries provides a certain urgency (or panic factor)at the political level.

Any discussion of the relative importance of different subjects very much needs to consider which age group we are dealing with. It is our belief that for elementary school children, developing strong reading and basic math skills is the overwhelming imperative, as these skills are the foundation for learning in all other subjects, STEM and literature included.

www.k5learning.com
K5 Learning - online reading & math enrichment for kindergarten through grade 5 students.


Posted by: K5Learning | February 17, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

Actually, beyond the most basic levels, art and music do use reading - quite a bit of it, in fact. Each field has its own terminology.
Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large
.......................
In art I am aware of this. In college I took a minor in art history.

I still have my copy of The Art Of Etching by E.S. Lumsden that I used in print making.

Really reading is the key to all learning.

I am for art and music in primary schools since children need to do more than just read.

I though wish that music was changed in primary school and every student was taught the piano. With the availability of inexpensive electronic keyboards this is feasible. Also more classical music in the primary schools. Forget the band idea for primary school. Later on children can branch out to instruments of their choice.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

One reason for the emphasis on STEM

Posted by: K5Learning
.........................
The real reason is the President has a cheap out with the pretense that K-12 education has anything to do with STEM.

If you want more STEM you create more loans for students that are forgiven if they complete education in an area of STEM.

Also you stop all the American STEM jobs that have been offshored. American students entering colleges do not enter fields when there are no entry level jobs in the field. Need an entry level after college computer scientist, mathematician, or electrical engineer? Okay you can get them offshore at hourly pay that is lower than minimum wage.

Civil engineering is the only STEM field with increases in enrollments. There is no way now where the entry level jobs can be offshored.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Three STEM graduates for every STEM job! That's probably even worse than poli sci!

I read the report, and came away unsure about the conclusions. For instance, if a college student majors in biology and becomes a physician, are they a SE (science and engineering) graduate in a non-SE job? How about a structural engineer who becomes a project manager?

It would be good, I think, if this country started making things again. It would be handy to have people who could dream and devise and fabricate and improve things--like a really good PV water pump.

But note that most STEM programs are run in secondary schools. I have looked at some, and what they do with teaching collaboration and analytic thinking just cannot be diminished by carping about the withering of literature or history or the arts. Graduates of STEM high will have taken those classes, too.

Posted by: gardyloo | February 17, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Instead of the President with his voodoo education telling Americans how important STEM is, maybe he should explain why any American would want to go into a field without entry level jobs for Americans.

The House Committee on Science and Technology June 12, 2007

As Dr. Alan Blinder, one of today’s witnesses testified, these examples seem to be only the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Blinder has estimated that more than one in four American jobs are vulnerable to offshoring. More striking is his finding that most American technical jobs in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are amongst the most vulnerable to offshoring.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I'm wondering at the purpose of the post by frankb1, where he cites a speech by Republican governor Chris Christie at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a corporate shill that poses as a "think" tank.

Christie, ever the bully, blames the education "problem" in America on teachers unions. Now, Christie may be forceful, but that doesn't make him honest.

The truth is that for most students, American public schools do a pretty good job, and the data prove it (see, for example, this summary of the Sandia Report: http://www.edutopia.org/landmark-education-report-nation-risk).

Generally, we know where the problems are, and we know how to fix them. We also know, pretty darned definitively, that more standardized testing and more charter schools and merit pay tied to test scores are not going to fix the problems that do exist. And they're likely to make the problems worse.

So first off, Christie lies about the "problem" and the nature of the problem.

Christie is also wrong about laying the blame for problems in education with teachers unions. He equates tenure with lifetime employment, but that's untrue. For public school teachers, tenure means teachers have access to due process rights if they are fired. While the nature of those due process procedures may differ state by state, they do not obscure the fact that bad teachers can be, and should be, fired.


What's most egregiously incorrect is Christie's contention that education problems are directly caused by "the teacher's unions across America." Naturally, Christie cares little for facts, and he cannot explain why strong union states like Maryland and Massachusetts, and New Jersey, consistently rank high in achievement rankings (see, for example Education Week).

Nor can he, nor does he want to, explain why non-union states like Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia and South Carolina consistently rank at or near the bottom of achievement rankings. They also have higher concentrations of poverty, and some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation.

And perhaps that's the real reason for Christie's lies. And that's what they are...lies. He wants an "enemy," a scapegoat to help take the fall for his budget cuts, and he's making teachers (a) the whipping boy, and (b) trying to force them to pay for his political promises, and for the massive fraud perpetrated by those who caused the economic crisis, and who were aided and abetted every step of the way by supply-side advocates like the American Enterprise Institute.

Christie asked the question of where is there "no consequence for failure?" I suppose he meant no INDIVIDUAL consequence for failure...the answer to that is, Wall Street and big banks. Taxpayers paid for their failures, and for their bonuses, and for their tax cuts. We're still paying for the mess they caused.

Yet for Christ Christie, it's all the teachers' fault.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 17, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack, what school did you go to and when? I was writing from my own experience--I was the student recommended for science seminars and asked to drop a social studies class to enter an advanced section of the biology class. (I refused--I still remember the teacher sneering, "Well, if you'd rather study HISTORY, I guess I can't change your mind.")

My brother, 7 years older and mostly through high school before Sputnik was launched, took college prep courses AND business courses. I especially remember him taking a business law course and planning to be a lawyer. He also joined Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, whose members were allowed to leave the school early to work; he worked for a photographer and learned enough to finance some of his college as a stringer on the local paper. This--and the thought of financing law school after college--led him to change his college major to journalism.

By the time I arrived at the same high school, college prep and vocational kids did not share classes except for history, civics, and phys ed. If we complained about too much homework, we were told if we didn't want to work hard and get ready for college we should go join the vocational kids in woodworking. The business courses were secretarial classes, and a classmate who wanted to take some to help earn her way through college was told, "But you're in college prep--you'll never need to work at a menial job like that." (This attitude was on the part of the administration and faculty; we students mixed freely.)

Didn't bsallamack ever read Homer Hickam's book on the changes Sputnik brought to his high school and his interest in space?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 17, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

Here ya go, Amazon provides greater detail about the book, The Art of Science, and notes the reading age as 9-12, which I find more appropriate than what was noted on the B & N site. Feel better?

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Science-Pop-Up-Adventure/dp/0763607541

Posted by: shadwell1
.......................
No I do not. They want $25 for this book.
Even today I could probably get 3 or 4 children books for that price.

Besides I am the type of dad that would buy only books at B&N that took some time to read. If my daughter found the cute short book at B&N I would wait until she read it. Quality, quanity, and price. No hard cover books or short amount of text. You can take your child to either the library or B&N to read those books.

Tip never give your young child a book that you have not read. I remember the horror of continuously reading a book someone gave my daughter. It is the pits to read over and over a book you hate.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Encourage the kids to develop skills for a vocation or profession and help them be the best they can be. Professing we can mold ever child into a STEM pattern, or even improve the numbers we have, shows the ignorance hanging over the Oval Office.

Posted by: jbeeler
..................
The Oval Office. Home of voodoo education in America.

Based upon the voodoo education of the President I guess the explanation of all those who went into investment bankers before the crash was public schools at the time had classes in playing monopoly.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

Or, $5.32 used (minimal wear) incl. shipping, but won't include the battery (used on one page of the book).

Posted by: shadwell1 | February 17, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack, what school did you go to and when? I was writing from my own experience--I was the student recommended for science seminars and asked to drop a social studies class to enter an advanced section of the biology class.
........................
I was a student in the 7th grade in a special progress class where you skipped the 8th grade. This was in a New York City public school.

You may have individual public schools with more of an interest in science but contrary to popular misconception there was no national legislation for more science in K to 12.

All of the national legislation was for funding in the colleges and universities.

And if you review history Ike was pleased as punch at Sputnik. Now there was no longer concern over the question of flying over national borders. Ideal for satellites taking photos.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

DrDemocracy - thank you!!
Keep posting here. You have really good stuff.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | February 17, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

By the time I arrived at the same high school, college prep and vocational kids did not share classes except for history, civics, and phys ed. If we complained about too much homework, we were told if we didn't want to work hard and get ready for college we should go join the vocational kids in woodworking.
.......................
In New York City there were three types of high school diplomas.

Academic, Vocational, and General.

General was based upon attending school.

All the malcontent teacher bashers should review the history of public education in this country. In the supposedly golden period there were larger numbers of students that failed than the numbers that fail now.

The problem is not teachers.

Instead of voodoo education, money instead of being spent on worthless standardized tests and computer programs should be spent to improve education in every primary school.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Why would anyone want to go into a field that is very difficult educationally, and doesn't pay well and provides few jobs? Better to go into marketing or finance, simple subjects and lots of $$$. Only problem is those fields don't "produce" anything of value. Rather than encouraging young people to go into low-paying, scarce professions, perhaps we could explore why our economy rewards unproductive, or counter-productive jobs, while penalizing those that actually produce something.

Posted by: mcstowy | February 17, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Christie asked the question of where is there "no consequence for failure?"
Posted by: DrDemocracy
..................................
You left off politicians from your list of those without consequence for failure.

The politicians are all out of office by the time their policies are shown to be worthless. This is especially true in public education and why politicians want to make their name in public education.

This is why now there is so much bipartisanship when it comes to voodoo education.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

DrDemocracy: "I'm wondering at the purpose of the post by frankb1, where he cites a speech by Republican governor Chris Christie at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a corporate shill that poses as a "think" tank."

Well the speech was newsworthy.

Another "purpose of the post" was to introduce a contrary point of view to this blog. Something our intrepid "Washington Post National Education Reporter" refuses to do; even she must get tired of the same assessments and conclusions, written by the same small cast of characters. To me this blog often seems isolated and close-minded, especially since it is written by the national education reporter for a major newspaper. But I read it because it is my local paper of record.

Whatever you might think of him, Governor Christie is playing a huge role in education public policy and will continue to do so over the next several years. He is popular in his own state (even among democrats), and has vowed to implement teacher pension, tenure, and other public school reforms in the coming year. Conventional wisdom is that he will succeed.

He was recently named the Republican Governors Association’s new Vice Chairman of Policy, and is considered a national leader on educational issues by the other 28 republican governors.

He may be a republican, but what he is saying is not that different from what a lot of democrats are saying (such as Obama, Duncan, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Villaraigosa).

Nationally, many people across the political spectrum consider him a "truth teller".

Read what the WP's Dana Milbanks writes today: "Setting aside his own presidential ambitions for now makes Christie's warning to Washington all the more potent - and the jaundiced pols of this town would do well to listen as the fat governor gives them the skinny."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/16/AR2011021605970.html

And calling Gov. Christie a liar is not serving the interests of teachers or their unions. Look at what's happened in NJ:
"only one-third of the state's voters have a favorable opinion of the New Jersey Education Association. And 44 percent have an unfavorable view of the organization."

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/06/reputation_of_nj_teachers_unio.html

This blog is all about projecting an alternative reality, where a minority within a minority (of far left dogmatists) hold hands and chant "make it all go away". But change is coming, and Gov. Christie is leading the charge.

Posted by: frankb1 | February 17, 2011 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: frankb1
Nobody reads long posts that are totally off subject.

Keep it up and soon no one will even bother to even scan your remarks. They will just see the name frankb1 and just scroll past with their mouse.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 17, 2011 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Valerie,
I posted what is going on in Madison, Wisconsin in your Madison section.

Very interesting what is happening here in Wisconsin. A lot of support being shown to teachers, except of course by the governor.

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 17, 2011 7:55 PM | Report abuse

bsallmack wrote:
As an art teacher, I think all subjects important.
Posted by: ilcn
.........................
The reality of STEM and any other subject is what Valerie Strauss pointed out in "When should kids be able to read?":
President Obama has made a priority out of pushing STEM education, or science, technology, engineering and math. If kids can’t read, it isn’t terribly likely they will find their way into one of those fields.

By the way Art and Music are the few subjects that do not depend on reading.
__________________

I don't think anyone denies that reading is important...it is the most basic and necessary skill one can learn. However, in order to think and problem-solve, my point was, multiple skills are needed.

But, not all kids are ready to learn to read at the same time. We had some friends who lived in Canada several years ago. At their daughter's school they didn't learn to read until the 3rd grade. The daughter did very well on her SAT's, went to a highly respected college, and subsequently graduated from Wharton Businesss School.

I also know plenty of people who have a great vocabulary, they can read and comprehend at a pace that makes me dizzy, but they have no common sense, they are not creative thinkers, and their ability to solve problems is sorely lacking.

It is not useful to read history and not to analyze and learn from the mistakes of the past. It serves no useful purpose to read great literature if we are incapable of visualizing the words. Science needs risk takers. There is a direct correlation between math and music. SAT scores increase the more art and music a student has had.

To me, all subjects are interrelated and dependent on the others. That interdependency maximizes their potential and will maximize the potential of our children.

Posted by: ilcn | February 17, 2011 8:13 PM | Report abuse

We do need to spend more time on STEM education, simply because those are the areas where we need great numbers of graduates.

A school that fails to teach children Algebra is going to have an even harder time teaching them the subjective realities to which Alfie Kohn aims. What we've seen in education is that there is this claim that the whole person is being educated, a claim which is difficult to measure. When schools reach the levels of teaching kids to behave in the classroom long enough to learn the basics, then they can move on to more complex topics.

Let's not take the dream result of education and put it first. We do need a vocational school system, one that grows our productivity and leisure to the point where we can enjoy more of life.

Posted by: staticvars | February 17, 2011 9:53 PM | Report abuse

DrDemocracy,

I also agree with 1bnthrdntht. Your posts have often made me reflect on a position I have held.

Posted by: DHume1 | February 17, 2011 10:50 PM | Report abuse

STEM? How many public schools have classes in engineering? Or is that just to get a vowel into the acronym?

Posted by: bhorn1 | February 18, 2011 12:44 AM | Report abuse

@ DHume1 and 1bnthrdntht: thanks for the kind words...it doesn't look like I'm causing much reflection in frankb1 though. Apparently he has seen the "truth" and Chris Christie is it.
(and I'm wondering if frankb1 works on the Hill or for the RNC or one of its affiliates).

Frankb1 has strayed from all of the relevant facts in the discussion about Christie. Instead he says that Christie is viewed as a "leader" by other Republicans. Yeah, and so are John Boehner and Eric Cantor. Some are enamored with Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. I fail to see how this gives Christie any veritas or gravitas.

Maybe Frankb1 hasn't been reading the comments here or elsewhere. The conventional approach to education "reform" is the business-model, top-down, more-"accountability"-with-more-testing model. It emphasizes more charter schools "competition," and merit pay for teachers tied to test scores.
It was written into No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

What critics of that model keep pointing out, myself included, is that it's the wrong approach. It has no research foundation. It undermines motivation for both teachers and students and it generally makes public schooling worse and not better. And, it distracts from those policies and practices that might actually improve public education and restore its original civic mission.
Oh yeah...and it points the finger at schools and teachers, in essence, for causing the social and economic conditions that produce low achievement.

It is illogic at its best to somehow suggest that Christie must be "right" because both Republicans and some Democrats (including the president and his flack, Arne Duncan) embrace the corporate model for "reform," a model that's already been demonstrated a failure.

The only "change" Christie has adopted is to be more vocal and more public in demonizing teachers and unions.

But as I said franb1, Christie cannot and will not explain why strong union states like Maryland and Massachusetts and New Jersey top achievement measures, and nonunion states like Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia (and others) are at the bottom. Nor can or will you.

This is not about education. Conservatives and corporations wish to undo public education. That's always been their goal. It's a goal Chris Christie shares.

[Side note: There is NO STEM shortage. As cited by Strauss, the Lowell/Salzman study is a good, compelling read.

See also:
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-07-08-science-engineer-jobs_N.htm

Or see: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_briefs/2005/RB1505.pdf ]

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 18, 2011 7:52 AM | Report abuse

The importance of math teaching is for students to understand rational thinking. In high school, math is taught by rote. Students need to know the logic. See the new book, "Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living". Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles. The concept of principles is basic to teaching. Unfortunately, many teachers do not know this. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better".

Posted by: aranoff1 | February 18, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

The importance of math teaching is for students to understand rational thinking. In high school, math is taught by rote. Students need to know the logic. See the new book, "Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living". Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles. The concept of principles is basic to teaching. Unfortunately, many teachers do not know this. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better".

Posted by: aranoff1 | February 18, 2011 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Democracy wrote:

Christie cannot and will not explain why strong union states like Maryland and Massachusetts and New Jersey top achievement measures, and nonunion states like Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia (and others) are at the bottom. Nor can or will you.
_____________________


According to the 2009 BLS statistics, of the ten states in with the highest union representation by percentage of workforce, five had 2009 8th grade NAEP rates above the national average, and five had rates below the national average. Not especially compelling.

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.t05.htm

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/

Posted by: gardyloo | February 18, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I fail to see what the "data" put forth by gardyloo is supposed to prove or disprove. What is the point?

First, the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart cited by gardyloo is not specific to teachers and union membership. So it doesn't offer up much information.

Second, the achievement cited by gardyloo is the "2009 8th grade NAEP rates." Now, is that the total NAEP score? Or is it merely one of the NAEP components (math, science, writing, reading)? And what about 4th grade scores? And what about gain scores?

If gardyloo has a point, perhaps s/he should make it.

Otherwise, it's sort of like offering up this tidbit: "...in 2000, 8 percent of all 17 year-olds, five times the number deemed to
be at the advanced level by NAEP, scored over 600 on the SAT math test."

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 18, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

DrDemocracy:

Data offered as possible refutation.

You made a clear causal relationship between strong union states and high public school test scores.

I think the real connection is that big-government states are more likely to a.) spend money on K-12 education and b.) have strong public-sector unions. They are two results of the same cause--lots of money in government. And lots of suburbs.

I've nothing against big state governments. I've nothing against public-sector unions. I just don't think that strong teacher unions is the prime correlating factor better outcomes on nationwide tests.


Posted by: gardyloo | February 18, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Ho-hum.

The same tired old educratic ideologues attack and deprioritize science, math, and tech education. A few even abuse math (via statistics) to make their predictable points.

Talk about the 21st Century "Sputnik moment" that never was.

Posted by: FedUpInMoCo | February 18, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps gardyloo misread what I posted.

What I offered was a strong critique of Chris Christie's claim that teachers unions are the primary cause for education problems in the United States. That claim is demonstrably false.

In my first post I said "Christie, ever the bully, blames the education "problem" in America on teachers unions." He does. His speech at AEI made that clear.

I pointed out that Christie has lied about what tenure is and what it provides teachers.

Then I wrote this:

"Naturally, Christie cares little for facts, and he cannot explain why strong union states like Maryland and Massachusetts, and New Jersey, consistently rank high in achievement rankings (see, for example Education Week)."

"Nor can he, nor does he want to, explain why non-union states like Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia and South Carolina consistently rank at or near the bottom of achievement rankings. They also have higher concentrations of poverty, and some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation."

I don't think it's accurate to say that I "make a clear causal relationship between strong union states and high public school test scores." That's an assumption on your part, gardyloo.

What I clearly stated is that IF unions are indeed, the problem, as Christie says (and they are not), then how can he explain high achievement levels in Massachusetts and Maryland, both strong union states, and in his own state, New Jersey, another strong union state. Moreover, IF Christie's premise is true (and it is not) then we should expect better better achievement in non-union states. But Mississippi and Alabama and other southern states where unions are weak or nearly on-existent don't support Christie's contention.

And, I specifically noted that those southern, weak union states
"have higher concentrations of poverty."

However even IF i made this "causal relationship" as gardyloo alleges (and I don't think that's a fair statement), the "data" that is offered as a "possible refutation" doesn't work. It simply doesn't offer anything. It's as though gardyloo had a conclusion, and then went searching for some "data" to try and support it.

By the way, a "correlating factor" may or may not be "causal."
It's important in education discussions (or medical discussions) to understand that correlation does not mean causation.

I'm also not sure what FedUpinMoCo means when s/he says that "ideologues attack and deprioritize" science and math and tech courses. In most places students have to take more math and science than ever.

However, there is no STEM shortage, quite the opposite. There's nothing wrong with pointing that out, is there?

Quick aside, FedupinMoCo: the so-called "Sputnik" moment was a charade. We were already well ahead of the Russians in the space-race game.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 18, 2011 3:45 PM | Report abuse

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