Archive for September 24, 2010

The overblown crisis in American education : The New Yorker

Nicholas Lemann has an optimistic and level-headed op-ed in the New Yorker arguing that the American public education system is much better than it ever has been, is much better than the Founding Fathers could have imagined, and is not at all “in crisis.”  Rather, it is “like democracy itself, loose, shaggy, and inefficient, full of redundancies and conflicting goals.”  I want to see him at a meeting of the “Gathering Storm” group!

A hundred years ago, eight and a half per cent of American seventeen-year-olds had a high-school degree, and two per cent of twenty-three-year-olds had a college degree. Now, on any given weekday morning, you will find something like fifty million Americans, about a sixth of the population, sitting under the roof of a public-school building, and twenty million more are students or on the faculty or the staff of an institution of higher learning. Education is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution; the creation of the world’s first system of universal public education—from kindergarten through high school—and of mass higher education is one of the great achievements of American democracy. It embodies a faith in the capabilities of ordinary people that the Founders simply didn’t have.

via The overblown crisis in American education : The New Yorker.

September 24, 2010 at 9:35 am 7 comments

Poor science education impairs U.S. economy: Students follow jobs

The Rising Above the Gathering Storm group has just released their 2010 update. The original report was in 2005, and it was updated before in 2008. The reports authors now claim a direct linkage between the poor quality of US science education and economic quality.

Below are quotes from USA Today‘s coverage.  I haven’t read the report yet, and I’m interested in how they make this linkage.  I find the final paragraph of the USA Today piece most interesting.  Two other reports show that our production of science and engineering students is high, but they can’t find jobs in STEM fields, and they go elsewhere.

At a Google Faculty Summit a couple of years ago, Mehran Sahami showed his analysis of the very tight correlation between the NASDAQ average minus so many months (I think it was six months, but I don’t recall) and current enrollment in CS at Stanford. Students follow the incentives.  The reports of rising Tech unemployment dissuade students, as do the reports that employers are less likely to hire people without the exact skills they’re looking for.

I don’t doubt the report’s findings, but I think that the onus for change lies with the companies.  “Students, go into STEM! And if you’re lucky to learn the exact right languages, frameworks, and tools, and get the internships in exactly the right fields, you might get a job!” Not a compelling story.  When employers show that they will hire the best and brightest in STEM, and help them re-train for specific tasks, then students will see value in being the best and brightest for those companies.

If the USA’s students matched Finland’s, for example, analysis suggests the U.S. economy would grow 9%-16%. “The real point is that we have to have a well-educated workforce to create opportunities for young people,” says Charles Vest, head of the National Academy of Engineering, a report sponsor. “Otherwise, we don’t have a chance.”

“The current economic crisis makes the link between education and employment very clear,” says Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland.

In 2007, however, an analysis led by B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University found that worries about U.S. science education were overblown. It saw three times more science and engineering college graduates than job openings each year. Other reports have found top science and engineering students migrating to better-paying jobs in finance, law and medicine since the 1990s.

via Report: Poor science education impairs U.S. economy – USATODAY.com.

September 24, 2010 at 8:11 am 6 comments


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