Tuesday, March 6, 2012

American Students Dropping in Science Ranking

While we've all heard that American schools are trailing the world in math and science on international test scores, it's worth noting that according to the National Academies on math and sciences, the United States is also dropping in overall rankings on science in society and the marketplace. Thus, the US is ranked ranked as low as 48th out of 133 countries in terms of math science instruction. This measures and impacts the number of science degrees we produce, as well as significant markers such as patents. For far too long, Americans have responded to criticism of science skills by pointing to our world-leading companies in the tech sector. However, if we continue to fail producing innovative scientists, we risk losing our "Silicon Valley" status.

On the science ranking, I won't dispute the criticism because the point is our kids simply don't want to go into science. In America the real math and science whizzes go into finance or business because they can make more money, or at least believe that they can. Case in point: I had student nominated as a Presidential Scholar which is one of the most prestigious awards for high school students. He has completed in Destination Imagination and the Science Olympiad all through high school, and he is amazingly successful. And all he wants to do is work on Wall Street and be a hedge fund billionaire.

David Brooks of the Times has been writing about this for years. It's a brain drain, as our best and brightest have for years been heading for finance as opposed to the sciences. And that's partly our fault. We give them autonomy. In Taiwan or Singapore or Korea, the kids who excel in math/science are forced into those college majors. And, of course, they revere the sciences more than we do.

I don't really disagree with anything the article says. And we're working on it in Denver with The Denver School of Science and Technology and Cherry Creek's new STEM charter for science and math. But if kids don't want to study it, they won't. And we have a lot of really bright kids in this country - but they are going to law school before anything else. And that is all about money. There are a lot of exceptionally bright sociology and history and comparative lit majors out there. And the reason the same isn't true in many other countries is that their colleges literally don't let them do that.

No easy answer - but always worth the discussion.


MikeAT said...

There it is in you own writing.  Do you listen to what you write?

We don't grant them autonomy.  These young men and women are free people "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I know I've read that somewhere before.

It is not for you, or a moron writing for a leftist rag in Manhattan or another person  to "force" these kids into these majors.  It is for them to pursue their lives and live with consequences, good or bad. I think it’s called freedom. Leftist have issues with that for some reason.

I agree we need more engineers and doctors and fewer lawyers in this country. How about limit the number of law students we will pay for through the DofE, funnel that additional money to support engineering and pre-med focused majors. Or legal reform like “loser pays” that will make suing people for a living a less appealing career? Then again leftists in the Congress won’t like that.

Again, worth the discussion. But please, for the time being we are a free country, the efforts of B Hussein Obama et all not withstanding. I for one would like to keep it that way.

mazenko said...

What are you talking about? Did I call for some oppressive limit on choice? I pointed out that the difference in international rankings is related to the autonomy that our system grants. The "creator" isn't the focus here. And, I'm not trying to force anyone into a major - I am explaining the reason behind the discrepancies.

Sometimes your dismissive attitude gets ahead of your reading comprehension.

I would argue that the taxpayers and voters have some say in how many sociology or law professors we will support at public universities ... and we can also have a say in how many literature majors we are willing to subsidize with government loans.

You reading my "explanation" as some attack on freedom is quite simply obtuse, Mike. You're revealing a minor disability in inferring author's tone and purpose in text.

Perhaps you'd like to join my freshman English course for a a bit of a refresher.


Financial Planning Course said...

Nice one mazenko! We are going through a similar decline downunder and had a major review of the education system recently. It seems to me that part of the problem is the insatiable appetite for productivity increases (which is true in all industries). In teaching, as in nursing and police/fire the imposition of metrics to track productivity is counter-productive and everyone is just stressed out and underpaid. Ease up a bit on the productivity and let teachers do their work.