When it comes to teaching mathematics and science, America's schools are falling down on the job.
Just how badly they are failing can be seen from a new study the other day that found 13-year-olds from Korea, Ireland, the United Kingdom and several Canadian provinces are outperforming their American counterparts in math and science.Since this is the fourth study in the past year to show shortcomings in math and science education in American schools, the evidence must be considered conclusive.
So is its potential impact on this nation's future.
Americans are becoming less competent in science at a time when the economy is relying more and more on technologically oriented industries. This nation's ability to compete is bound to suffer unless our schools start doing a better job of teaching science.
Likewise, mathematics is essential to a wide variety of essential tasks, ranging from keeping track of the AIDS epidemic and projecting the greenhouse effect on the atmosphere to studying the flow of traffic in an effort to ease traffic congestion.
Part of the problem is that the schools aren't recruiting enough science and mathematics teachers. Some teachers aren't able to get students excited in these subjects because the teachers themselves don't always find math and science interesting.
If the only way to get enough of the best science and math teachers is to start paying them more than other educators, so be it. As it is now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that American businesses are spending $40 billion a year on remedial training for new employees just to get them up to minimum levels of competency. That is a staggering amount of money, and much of it would be better spent on the schools.
More money, however, isn't the entire answer. Most school systems around the country put more emphasis on theory and fact than on practical applications. Many teachers, as the Boston Globe noted recently, "seem more interested in testing memorization than in giving students the basis for understanding math and science for everyday use."
The remedies, then, should be as clear. And the need for improvement is urgent. If the schools keep flunking when it comes to teaching math and science, eventually the rest of America will pay for this failure.