What do you think?

| 47 Comments

I asked awhile back for some of your thoughts on improving science education, particularly in the U.S. In yesterday’s NY Times, there was a story about discussing one measure that might help in this area:

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed “a rigorous secondary school program of study” and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields.

Sounds good initially. The problem:

It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums.

The rest of the article grapples with those issues, so I’ll leave that to you to read (registration may be required).

After examining the pros and cons, what do you think of the idea? *Should* the national government set some standards for a “rigorous program of study” for the kids to meet to receive these grants? Is there a better way to dole them out? Should they be offered at all? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

47 Comments

Should they be offered? Absolutely. The US needs more well trained scientists and mathematicians.

Should the US DOE be responsible for determining what a rigorous program of study is? That one is tougher. Certainly they should have some input, but what about asking the people who actually work in the field what they would include? That would my first step. I mean I don’t ask my caterer what to do about this lump on my neck - so why should politicians be the final arbiter of what curriculum should be?

Yes to the grants, No to politicians deciding what rigourous is, unless the definition is clearly stated and requirements are objective, NOT subjective.

What do you think?

I think KwickXML sux. Don’t you?

I think KwickXML sux. Don’t you?

:) Saw my first draft? I always forget to preview…

I would rather the State’s model curriculum to the teaching of science, especially to sub-requirements of this grant program, be endorsed/approved for participation by an internally elected committee from the National Academy of Sciences. And, each major sub-part require endorsement of a sub-committee of scientists in that field. For example, physicists would endorse physics, biologists endorse biologists, chemists endorse chemistry, etc.…

And the awards should be at least quadruple the amounts proposed. Plus, if the graduates go into publicly funded research for a period of at least 3 years, all educational bridge-type loans would be forgiven (taxfree).

I figure, you may get one or two people who put their nutty religious views above the mainstream. But, by and large, you’re going to have most of them put science first. Plus to help prevent certain fundie-made problems, each individual district could be allowed to comply with a “model” code, if their State School Board “pulls an Ohio.”

School boards could then act as they chose. And suffer the political consequences for their wanton irresponsibility as they’d be “harming” the students by making ineligible for these grants. However, schools could basically tell them to “sod-off” we’re protecting our children and perform to the higher standards. (Much like the college/technical tracks at my old HS.)

I have serious doubts about the later part as I’m pretty darn sure a some of it will runs afoul of some of our Constitutional provisions. But it’s nice to dream…

It has some improvements, like the ability to nest quotes. It has some jaw-droppingly amateur failings, like irreversible destruction of your comments if you make certain formatting errors.

I think, at the very least, the taxpayers have a right to know what the standards are, and thus to know what sort of educational efforts we’re funding.

I didn’t read the article BUT…

Standards should be set by professionals in each field in consultation with education experts.

Standards should not be subject to popular vote either directly (via referendum) or indirectly (via our legislature).

Grant money’s nice BUT it always comes with strings attached. Eventually the Federal government will use it to strong arm state/local governments to obey some sort of Federal mandate. Perhaps it would be best to not open this Pandora’s box!

I think the definition of rigorous would be better decided by the colleges. What do they expect of an incoming student? I’m unsure what the options are as far as groups of colleges, but the College Board comes to mind as a possible option.

The current administration’s record on science, education, and science education is abysmal. Are they trying to change it? Doubtful. Are they trying to change the perception of it? Always. Will they try to use this proposal to further the goals of thier staunch supporters that are anti-science and anti-education? Absolutely!

Just imagine the “Santorum Amendment” being used as a template for something that actually applies to education standards…

I think rigourous national standards are a good idea, as long as they’re not set by politicians. In the UK the Tory government decided to set up a national curriculum, and let the educators sort it out. This lead to big fight in history between backers of two approaches to history, but eventually they talked it through and reached a compromise. That went to the education secretary (Ken Clarke), who kicked it straight back demanding that the more traditional approach should have a larger emphasis. It’s enough to make you shrug.

Anyway, at the risk of stating the obvious, this is not the way to do it. You must be up front about what you’re doing, and have an inclusive debate. We’ll take the criticisms of the Bush administration as read, shall we?

Oh, having colleges set standards is a bad idea: they’ll want to set their own entrance exams. This means that students would have to sit an entrance exam for every college they try to enter, poor dears.

Bob

I think first we should impeach the Bush administration, including his Sec of Ed Margaret Spellings. Then we can talk sensibly about the value of measures that involve judgment by the Sec. As long as we’re talking about decisions by a thoroughly corrupt government, we can count on the results being thoroughly corrupt. Anything the Bush administration is pushing is immediately suspect since we can be sure that Karl Rove sees it as facilitating his Sauronic worldview.

I agree that standards should be set at the federal level. This needs to be done with care: look at recent “faith based” regulatory/policy initiatives of the current administration to see why. The Mathematical Association of America would be a good place to start for setting mathematics standards. Though they focus primarily on undergraduate mathematics education, there is a great deal of expertise and concern among its members for K-12 mathematics education. (Disclaimer: I am not a member of the MAA, but of SIAM - Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.)

While mathematics is probably not subject to the kind of politics being played out over biology and climatology, it is fragile in other ways so I would really like to see a strong group with broad mathematical and pedagogical expertise setting national standards.

Lot’s of presidents have tried something similar to what Bush is attempting, but commonly it breaks down when it comes to getting approval from congress for the funding.

That said, I completely agree with Bob in that the priorities should be set by representatives from Universities across the country, and then “enforced” by the DOE.

[OT]

Anything the Bush administration is pushing is immediately suspect since we can be sure that Karl Rove sees it as facilitating his Sauronic worldview.

I’m starting to see more and more people realizing that Karl Rove is the current primary architect of the Neocon movement.

A true “geek gone bad”, anybody who doesn’t know ‘ol Karl should do a google search and check out his history.

scariest guy in politics in my lifetime, to be sure.

You will NEVER see him actually run for office, because then his policies could be too directly linked to him; he works far better looking over the shoulders of his “puppets”, correcting their “mistakes”. [/OT]

I have a better idea.

Have NASA do it.

Really.

NASA should have more of an education focus. Let’s get more bang for every buck that NASA spends by using that money to educate kids in science.

Send ONE LESS shuttle mission, and use that money to have a NASA trained science teacher for every 10 schools in America.

The NASA teacher rotated to different schools every day of the week. The are guests in the science classes with all the best study materials from the NASA teacher program. Have them focus on the missions currently running at NASA. Have them focus on life-science, astronomy, the scientific method… etc.

NASA will use this to justify their continued existence, and America gets the best possible bang for every buck spent in space, as it’s used to seed future exellence with the youth of tomorrow.

Given the enormous range in the quality of public education in the US, it’s very tempting to think national standards for “rigorous” education offer a neat solution. But the devil lies in defining “rigorous.” The Bush administration and its backers would define science that downplays evolution, minimizes the significance of global warming, ignores the big bang, and distorts other disciplines equally. You can be assured that they would also try hard to inject Christian fundamentalist concepts into the curriculum in a variety of guises. Standards of some kind are desirable, but I shudder at the thought of putting them all in the hands of one group, especially one with a political agenda. Society is much better off, especially given our current political climate, with multiple standards—sort of like maintaining some diversity in the gene pool. If they are centrally controlled, and those controllers go off the rails, as the Bushies would surely do, we’d have a disaster on our hands. Strength lies in redundancy, where no one group has dominating control. Sure we’ll get some places like Kansas and Ohio and Dover, and students will be hurt, but multiply-sourced standards will be self-correcting. When graduates of schools with deficient standards can’t gain entrance to rigorous colleges, can’t get good jobs, or find that employers requiring genuine competence move elsewhere, those schools will change despite what anti-education elites might like.

Here are my suggestions for improving science education –

I think that for the benefit of students who move from state to state, there should be national educational standards (for science as well as all subjects) for K-12 schools rather than state standards, to ensure that (1) those students will not miss or duplicate anything , (2) so they will always have the necessary pre-requisites for each grade level, and (3) so that they will all be equally prepared for college.

I also think that evolution theory and scientific criticisms of evolution theory should both be taught straightforwardly in public schools to help ensure that people understand the controversy. In the Fordham Foundation report on the state science standards, evolution is the only scientific subject with its own rating ( 3 possible points out of a maximum 69 ), and evolution is the only scientific subject listed as one of the “featured areas” on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), so we should not be pretending that there is no controversy.

We also need to reduce the differences between the schools in rich school districts and poor school districts — many of these differences are glaring.

I don’t see much purpose, though, in just cranking out more scientists and engineers — we already have surpluses in both fields.

Please don’t feed the troll.

Grants?

Why can’t we just, uh, pay the taxes that are necessary to fund a decent education for everyone, no matter where they live, and then do it?

So, those low-income freshmen only get the money, if their high school was rich enough to meet the standards for the “rigorous course”? Or is the program meant to finance a “pre-freshman” semester for such students?

And then of course, there’s the money. “Sorry kids, all our money went to expanding Gulf War II into Iran. No money for luxuries like educating you ghetto trash underserved students.

Sorry kids, all our money went to expanding Gulf War II into Iran

education and grunts don’t mix well; just leads to sas and backtalk.

;)

Comment #75151 posted by Keanus on January 23, 2006 05:26 PM

Society is much better off, especially given our current political climate, with multiple standards—sort of like maintaining some diversity in the gene pool.

I disagree. Multiple standards have particular disadvantages for students who move from state to state. In Comment #75165 , I noted, “I think that for the benefit of students who move from state to state, there should be national educational standards (for science as well as all subjects) for K-12 schools rather than state standards, to ensure that (1) those students will not miss or duplicate anything , (2) so they will always have the necessary pre-requisites for each grade level, and (3) so that they will all be equally prepared for college.”

Strength lies in redundancy, where no one group has dominating control. Sure we’ll get some places like Kansas and Ohio and Dover, and students will be hurt, but multiply-sourced standards will be self-correcting. When graduates of schools with deficient standards can’t gain entrance to rigorous colleges, can’t get good jobs, or find that employers requiring genuine competence move elsewhere, those schools will change despite what anti-education elites might like.

I don’t believe these scare stories that states or state residents are going to be boycotted or discriminated against because of state educational standards that include intelligent design or creationism. The only ones having a real problem in this area are graduates of Christian schools, and these graduates are a special case. Right now the University of California is being sued for rejecting Christian-school students on the grounds that the students’ courses were too oriented towards religion, and one of the big issues in the lawsuit is the contents of the textbooks, including science textbooks —- “The university rejected some class credits because Calvary Chapel relies on textbooks from leading Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. A biology book from Bob Jones University presents creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution. The introduction says, ‘The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second.’ “ http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation[…]htm?csp=N009

Also, the Christian-school textbooks have been described as follows — “One of the textbooks used for the course, published by Bob Jones University Press, teaches that the world is no more than 10,000 years old. The other, titled “Biology: God’s Living Creation,” has a 40-page section about evolution, all of it an effort to debunk Darwin’s theory while ignoring or denying a century of scientific discovery. Dinosaurs lived alongside people, it claims, and might have gone extinct in the Noah-era flood.” http://ethics.tamucc.edu/article.pl[…]12/20/224209

However, so far I have seen no evidence that graduates of Christian schools are inadequately prepared to study science at the college level.

Comment #75167 posted by Ron Zeno on January 23, 2006 06:03 PM Please don’t feed the troll.

OK — we won’t feed you.

I teach at a private school, so we won’t be affected directly by any sort of “rigourous” standards. Unless, of course, parents see the public schools as a better value …

My problems with the administration’s proposal are: (1) students at well-to-do schools will benefit unfairly, since poor (meaning $$ available, not as in crummy) schools may not be able to offer rigourous courses, assuming there are teachers available to teach them and (2) who’s to say what is rigourous and what is not? Given our current propensity with NCLB to test the living daylights out of students, I would anticipate the federal definition of rigour would be to layer on another battery of tests, to “quantify” learning.

And how, pray tell, is the administration going to define rigourous biology studies without upsetting all those anti-evolution people? Finally, where’s the money going to come from?

“I don’t see much purpose, though, in just cranking out more scientists and engineers —- we already have surpluses in both fields.”

What’s it like for philosophers in the US?

Ok, correct me if I’m wrong, but this has to do with college students, correct? So discussions of public secondary school standards are irrelevent to this, I think.

Why not simply define it as X number of credit-hours in courses of certain majors at any college which is accredited by certain organizations. If a college complains that they are not eligeble, then they would be told to either become accredited, or have their accrediting organization submit an application to be added to the list.

This allows a certain minimum standard, while minimizing total government regulation and red-tape, and in rules which are easy to follow and understand.

Ok, correct me if I’m wrong, but this has to do with college students, correct? So discussions of public secondary school standards are irrelevent to this, I think.

You’re wrong. :) The money for the college freshman (and possibly sophomores–the story is a bit unclear on that point), as it currently is proposed, is based on their high school coursework. They note that the requirements for the grants change based on college year.

“I don’t see much purpose, though, in just cranking out more scientists and engineers —- we already have surpluses in both fields.”

Wrong.

National Science Board Wrote:

The number of jobs in the U.S. economy that require science and engineering training will grow; the number of U.S. citizens prepared for those jobs will, at best, be level; and the availability of people from other countries who have science and engineering training will decline, either because of limits to entry imposed by U.S. national security restrictions or because of intense global competition for people with these skills. The United States has always depended on the inventiveness of its people in order to compete in the world marketplace. Now, preparation of the S&E workforce is a vital arena for national competitiveness.

Full report here

From a purely political standpoint, federal standards for what constitutes a “rigorous” secondary education could be great for defenders of good science education– if there were a single set of national standards, we wouldn’t have to run around fighting for good standards on a state-by-state basis.

Of course, as many posters have noted, we can’t trust politicians to do a good job of setting standards. But the brighter the media spotlight is, the more likely the politicians are to go with good science. That’s a trend I’ve noticed– there’s very little antievolutionism at the national level. Much more occurs at the state level and the most of all at the local level.

If the National Academy were to say, “That’s a great idea! Here’s what we think are a good set of standards”, that would put a lot of pressure on politicians to adopt those standards. Of course some politicians would try to weaken evolution education, but I think they’d be in an awkward position. Ultimately I think the scientific community could exert enough pressure to get good science standards passed.

I am not a real fan of centralized authority when it comes to education, but this could make it a lot easier for us to insist on good science education nationwide.

The US has so many standards that it is little better than no standards at all. Each state has science standards that may or may not be loosely based on the National Academy’s National Science Education Standards or on AAAS’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy. These state standards are vague enough that they require a huge amount of reworking–even rewriting– in order for them to make sense at a district level. Textbook manufacturers write dull, bloated, books designed to mention every possible topic so that they have the possibility of being sold in every one of the 15,000+ school districts in the US.

On the PISA 2003 problem solving study–IMHO the best existing indicator of the state of readiness of 15yr olds for the world of work– the US placed 29th out of the 40 participating countries. Twenty ninth! More that 50% of US 15yr olds have problem solving skills classified as Level 1 or *below*! It is not clear what these folks are going to do in our economy. Some labor economists are saying that, without remediation, these individual do not have the skills needed to enter the middle class. On a percentage basis we have fewer than half the number of Level 3 problem solvers (the best) than do the top performing countries. This is not a recipe for continued world leadership in much of anything.

So many things are need to fix this system. National standards, ones that meet the current world class level, will eventually be a part of the solution if the US aspires to remain a world leader. These may be Federal or simply national. As a reasonable starting place we should consider NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress.) The fact that some state show nearly 90% of their student ranked “proficient” on the state test but only 20-30% on NAEP exposes the shoddy condidtion of most state standards. NAEP is far from perfect but it is a start. All students, teachers, parents, and textbook manufacturers would know what standard (read “test”) to which they would be held accountable. No weasling so that all state end up “above average.” It will happen here one day. Sooner than later I hope.

Why don’t we properly educate our students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels rather than look at college as some sort of band-aid on what amounts to a severed head?

We need less but more effective testing, concrete and sensible uniform standards, and a cultural emphasis on the importance of education.

Oh, and pigs to fly, while I’m at it…

One of the biggest problems with the U.S. education system is that it’s regional not national. Every region has it’s standards and these go from bad to good but mostly bad. Make the thing like it’s in the countries with successful school systems, make the thing centerist, make it controlled at the national level.

Where in the Constitution does the Federal Government get its authority over education?

I’ve been trying to make sense of the New York Times article on this issue for the last 24 hours. Not to be too brazenly conspiratorial about it, but it seemed odd they would write a “news” story on Jan. 22 regarding a bill they never identified about something that happened “last month.” I did a lot of googling and didn’t seem to be getting any closer to finding the actual bill or what stage of the political process it was in. (Could I still call my Congressman and ask him to vote “for” or “against” this provision?)

I’ve posted what I found at:

http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/So[…]school/72574

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, this might be an interesting example of how the press interacts with politics!

And the skill level of our college graduates is nothing to crow about either…

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10928755/

Comment #75381

Posted by anonymous on January 24, 2006 12:55 PM (e)

Where in the Constitution does the Federal Government get its authority over education?

Well, there are many different aspects of education. For instance, the authority the federal government claimed in deciding Brown vs Board of Education, was the 14th Amendment. Perhaps you think this federal authority over education is invalid, and the citizens of Topeka should have been permitted to segregate blacks. If I took that position, I would also comment anonymously.

Comment #75381

Posted by anonymous on January 24, 2006 12:55 PM (e)

Where in the Constitution does the Federal Government get its authority over education?

In some cases they have direct Constitutional authority. In other cases their authority stems from the acceptence of Federal funds.

For almost 50 years now we’ve had increasing federal involvement in and control over grade school and high school education. I think it started with a national defense education act shortly after USSR launched Sputnick. And it seems to me overall education has steadily gone downhill. A better way for the feds to improve education would be to simply regulate less.

And it seems to me overall education has steadily gone downhill. A better way for the feds to improve education would be to simply regulate less.

Yep. And let local school boards (like, say, Dover) take control.

National education standards would make the ID in schools push evaporate overnight.

And again, these might be Federal standards–but they could also just be “national” created by a NGO and enforced through a NAEP-like assessment.

American business leaders are expressing increasing concern over the state of the US education system. Last July, the Business Roundtable, the Council on Competitiveness, the Business Higher Ed Forum, the US Chamber of Commerce, and others (15 groups in all) released Tapping America’s Potential: The Education for Innovation Initiative. These groups are advocating for increasing the number of individuals with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) training by 2015. You can download this report at… http://www.uschamber.com/publicatio[…]0727_tap.htm

The US Chamber of Commerce has also announced a plan to evaluate and rank state school systems and make this data available to businesses to aid them in their decisions regarding where to locate, whom to hire, etc…

http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/0[…]t/index.html

When the conversation gets elevated to this national level (and the examples above are to indicate how that converstion might be National and not necessarily Federal) all mention of ID (and its intellectual successor Abrupt Appearence Theory) will disappear from the conversation. ID can only survive in localized niches provided by local control.

The “Tapping” report above led some in Congress to commission the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report by the National Academy of Science. This report lays out a more comprehensive plan to improve teaching of science in the US.

http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11463.html

Rumors are that the President may (or may not) mention the need to improve math and science performance in US schools and, if it gets mentioned, it will be due to efforts like “Rising”.

An increasing number of people, including conservative Replublicans like Diane Ravitch, are recognizing the futility of the the “50 states, 50 standards, 50 tests” system and beginning to call for national standards. These will come first in math and science and more slowly in other areas. I

http://select.nytimes.com/search/re[…]0994DD404482

Man. I wasn’t going to comment here being as I am sort of entrenched in the politics with my wife being a middle school teacher, but I LOVE the idea of NASA teachers. Actually, also Fish and Wildlife (Me), DOE(energy), NEA (arts), Smithsonian(anthropology) and etc. Give working professionals some education in education and use them for traveling exhibits, like museums do.

I LOVE the idea of NASA teachers. Actually, also Fish and Wildlife (Me), DOE(energy), NEA (arts), Smithsonian(anthropology) and etc. Give working professionals some education in education and use them for traveling exhibits, like museums do.

Alas, no one wants to PAY for it. (shrug)

American business leaders are expressing increasing concern over the state of the US education system.

Then let’s see them put their money where their mouth is.

National standards might be too much of a football, but a national assessment is another matter.  Suppose every student was regularly evaluated on a standard scale, and the final measurement was part of the diploma?  Schools and districts rated by their progress?  Transfer students slotted into classes based on their achievement levels reported by their previous schools?

It would be so useful and save so much effort.

Dear Rev Dr.

I think that business is (finally) getting involved in a way that will provide something that is far more valuable than the $$ they could afford to contribute (and some do) through their philanthropic arms. It is not reasonable to expect business to fund our school systems. To the extent this happens today, it tends to make the rich districts richer and, guess what, the poor districts don’t have major businesses located there anyway.

But I don’t want to argue this side issue. You said yourself that we should pay the taxes needed to support our schools. I couldn’t agree more.

Here is my point. AAAS did a series of focus groups with parents in 2001. My interpretation of these results is that most parents don’t think that science is very important for their child. They think that their kid likes science OK–it even looks like more fun than they remember their own science classes being–it is just not very important. What do they think IS important? Well primarily reading and math (though I would argue that many of the parents do not really know what math is and were in fact talking about reading and arithmatic.) Why? Because they believe that these will get kids prepared for the world of work and to be able to support themselves.

Now here is where business can play a role. What skills are these businesses asking for in their future employees? The ability to read and do simple math–for sure. But also the ability to work on teams. The ability to convey moderately complex ideas orally and in writing. The ability to solve semistructured problems that require creation of a hypothesis and thinking of ways to test it. Many of these skills can be learned in a well designed science class (though none of them need to be exclusively taught in science class.)

This is the important message. Modern businesses value scientific reasoning skills and are willing to pay for them. This is the skill set that is required to work on the assembly line of the best modern auto plants. This is the skill set that many “office occupations” now require. Scientific reasoning skills will help kids who never in their lives put on a white coat, enter a lab, or think of themselves as “scientists”.

These skills are also, unfortunately, much more common now that Russia, India, and China have decided to play in the capitalist world. As Tom Friedman says in “The World is Flat”– we have to move up the educational value chain! The alternative is to compete with these new capitalists on price alone– and none of us wants to do that!

Modern businesses value scientific reasoning skills and are willing to pay for them.

But that is precisely the problem – businesses are NOT willing to pay for education that isn’t “necessary” to provide them with the workers they want. That’s why most people in the US feel that a corporate CEO “deserves” a better education than does the guy who mops his floor at night. I’m willing to bet that the same corporate CEO who complains that his technical staff doesn’t have sufficient “scientific reasoning skills” and offers to pay more for them, will NOT offer to pay more to give those same “scientific reasoning skills” to poor urban black kids who will never see the inside of his corporate office. Why bother to educate people who will be “nothing but” cheeseburger flippers anyway? Why “waste the money” on them?

I, on the other hand, look at it this way — the CEO and his floor mopper both have the legal right to vote. And neither one’s vote counts any more than the other one’s does. So, if democracy is to mean anything at all, BOTH of them had damn well better have education enough (including “scientific reasoning skills) to be able to decide issues and vote intelligently, no matter WHAT “job skills” they have or need.

As long as we continue to view “education” as simply a method to provide business with low-wage unskilled service employees, we will never have an education system in the US worthy of the name.

anonymous Wrote:

Where in the Constitution does the Federal Government get its authority over education?

The Commerce Clause, of course. Article I, Section 8: The Congress shall have power to … regulate commerce among the several States… Which the Supremes have made clear means any possible thing that could, in any way, affect something that some one might, one day, want to traffic in across state lines. It’s the source authority for the EPA, HHS, and even the Department of Education (with, perhaps, a smidgen of national defense thrown in).

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on January 23, 2006 12:56 PM.

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