Dr. Kamau Bobb Talks Research and Challenges in STEM Education

June 24, 2016 at 8:03 am 4 comments

I’ve talked about Kamau Bobb’s work in this blog previously, when he wrote a depressing but deeply-insightful op-ed about the state of mathematics education in Atlanta public schools. He’s recently been interviewed in a three part series in Black Enterprise about his role as an NSF program officer.  The below quote is from Part II — I recommend the whole series.

The most significant challenge facing STEM education and the workforce is the capacity of the U.S. educational system to produce interested and qualified participants in the STEM enterprise. Here is where the racial and socio-economic challenges facing the nation are most glaring.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics National Report Card, there are some damning realities that significantly challenge STEM education and the STEM workforce. In 2015, only 33% of all eighth grade students in the U.S. were proficient or better in mathematics. Only 13% of black eighth graders and 19% of Hispanic eighth graders were proficient or better in mathematics, which is in contrast to 43% of white students and 61% of Asian students. For students who live in poverty and qualify for the National School Lunch Program, only 18% were proficient in eighth grade mathematics.

According to the College Board, only 16% of black students are college or career ready by the time they take the SAT in eleventh grade. For Hispanic students, 23% are ready. For Asian and white students, 61% and 53%, respectively, are ready for higher education or to take on meaningful work. This landscape is a problem.

Source: Dr. Kamau Bobb Talks Research and Challenges in STEM

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  June 24, 2016 at 10:15 am

    What does this mean? Let’s take his reports as “what is” and try to understand two or three main causes.

    He says that “public education has failed to raise” — I think we can safely assume that “public education” is not near where it should be.

    But that doesn’t explain (the usual) disparities with Asian children. What are the differences there? (We’ve seen some of these posited in more detail elsewhere. What is the current consensus? Especially relative to Georgia?)

    Another slant on this is to wonder about the state of children, high school and college graduates in general these days. The NAEP shows really bleak statistics on “reading proficiency” even for graduates of 4 year colleges (~31%! and their definition of “proficiency” does not measure up to the notions of former times).

    What if the collapse is more general than by race? I recently participated in a multi-day AMA involving computer people which generated hundreds of comments. What was most interesting and most dispiriting was that what appeared to be the vast majority exhibited the same naive “the world is as it seems relative to my culture” as a traditional society, rather than the kinds of multi-view more-global-less-local perspectives that we expect as the result of real education.

    Too small a sample, I know, but what if “real education” has finally just dropped through the cracks in our culture?

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  June 27, 2016 at 9:12 am

      Wouldn’t you suspect that the difference is cultural? Different groups of people have different cultures, and some cultures value success in formal education more than others. Betsy DiSalvo wrote about this in her face-saving paper. Some people always get educated, even if the system is collapsed, or being built up.

      The more I learn about primary and secondary school education in India, the more surprised I am by the number of undergraduate and graduate students in Indian universities. IIT-Bombay had over 20 PhD students studying technology in computing and engineering education, which is a larger program than any I know about in the world. Mandatory education was only passed in 2010, and even now, only goes up to 14 years old. Most primary schools don’t have running water, and not all of them have qualified teachers. The scale of Indian education is so large, that even if only a small percentage gets a really great education at primary and secondary level, that’s still a lot of people to fill graduate programs.

      I read through most of your AMA — it was a huge discussion. The comments about culture, and in connecting with Reddit/Slashdot culture, reminded me of a quote from Herbert Simon’s “Sciences of the Artificial”:

      Those of us who have lived close to the development of the modern computer through gestation and infancy have been drawn from a wide variety of professional fields, music being one of them. We have noticed the growing communication among intellectual disciplines that takes place around the computer. We have welcomed it, because it has brought us into contact with new worlds of knowledge—has helped us combat our own multiple-cultures isolation. This breakdown of old disciplinary boundaries has been much commented upon, and its connection with computers and the information sciences often noted.

      Simon, Herbert A. (1996-09-26). The Sciences of the Artificial (MIT Press) (p. 137). The MIT Press.

      I believe that the early days of computing were interdisciplinary and multi-cultural. What Simon did not foresee was the development of a unique technology-centric culture. Whenever there are groups of people, they establish sets of value and construct culture.

      • 3. alanone1  |  June 27, 2016 at 10:30 am

        Hi Mark

        I do highly suspect that the difference is cultural.

        I recall reading years ago about a study of blue collar culture in the UK in the 50s that excluded race: it looked at Caucasians only. One of the reasons for the study was to try to discover the surprising lack of “upward mobility” out of this class, given the new opportunities. The study seemed to show that it was the culture itself that was the cause — for a variety of reasons, including punishments, threats of ostracizing, and general “tribal pulls”, etc.

        I’ve seen more recent studies — similarly race-free — comparing Caribbean immigrants to NYC vs the indigenous culture.

        Anecdotally, when I lived in NYC in the 50s (in Queens), the cultural surround was “white”: almost all blue collar Irish Catholic, with perhaps 10% Jewish (2nd gen families from WWII and older gen families from early 20th century), and a tiny smattering of “other” (I was part of “other”). It would be hard to come up with two more different approaches to pretty much everything than the two main cultures — the Jewish culture was very much more like the old NE culture I came from — in the sense of “books and art” and “become educated!” etc — and pretty much all my friends wound up coming from the Jewish culture.

        NYC also had 4 “special” high schools, which could be gotten into via a test that was taken by 10s of 1000s of children twice a year (the high schools had two main lures: they were aimed at particular kinds of pursuits — science, engineering, music and arts, etc. — and they were much -safer- and more likely to be worthwhile than most of the local high schools in the city).

        The test — the same for all the special schools — took several days, and was quite something. I found the demographics at the one I attended — Brooklyn Technical High School — to be very different from the area of Queens where I lived (and I think (I’m pretty sure) from NYC as a whole).

        Regarding the recent AMA on HN — it was ultimately dispiriting — even depressing — in the widespread exhibition of “the world is the way it seems to me”, which is a hallmark of a traditional culture, and opposite what education is supposed to inculcate: “the world is not as it seems” and “the world needs to be viewed through a variety of perspectives”, etc.

        I think the current general computer culture resembles much more a traditional culture than it used to — it would be great to see studies that could possibly chart that. In the Bay Area of the 70s and 80s, I think there was a huge difference that started happening when the 8 bit micros started appearing in the late 70s, and a culture of “identity and participation” sprang up, but without the kind of context (a “university context?”) that characterized (say) the ARPA-IPTO culture. The new culture was a kind of “pop-culture” and was “fierce” in many ways. (There is quite a bit more to be said here that is out of the context of this comment.)

        All of this — I think — gets to questions of “identity” and “participation” — that we have genetically and are amplified by traditional cultures — but I think are taken much farther — in not good directions — by the amplifying effects of pop culture via modern mass media.

        Much of the dynamics coincide much more with anthropologists’ studies of traditional cultures, including the really interesting studies by Silvia Scribner and Mike Cole on “traditional cultures with newly acquired writing systems”. These studies indicated that writing itself in such cultures stayed in oral modes of thought, and it was only the addition of more formal schooling that produced the enormous differences of “world-view-outlook” that have been found in many regions of the world where the same culture has two different forms of learning (often brought by colonialism e..g in Senegal, Ghana, etc.).

        In most of the studies I’ve seen in the US on larger issues of education, the differences in outlook and performance do not correlate most strongly with economics, but much more in what the parents “require” the children to do, and what the parents are willing to do to advance the station of their children. This was certainly my sense growing up in Queens.

  • […] why shouldn’t we use them?  Here in Atlanta, students are not learning mathematics well (see blog post referencing an article by Kamau Bobb). We have good results on teaching students algebra with cognitive […]


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