Thursday, January 07, 2010

STEM funding in Race to the Top

Why STEM Fever?
Sent to Education Week, Jan 7, 2009

Why the push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education) ("Obama Unveils Projects to Bolster STEM Teaching, January 7)?

One rationale is the claim that the US needs to improve STEM education to compete with other countries.  In reality, the US is already very competitive, ranking second in the world (out of 133 countries) in "global competitiveness," outranked only by tiny Switzerland (World Competitiveness Report, World Economic Forum), and we have been number one for many years.  Also the US ranks 5th out of 133 in "availability of scientists & engineers," second in "quality of scientific research institutions" and first in "university-industry research collaboration."

A second rationale is the claim that there is a shortage of experts in science and technology. But a number of recent studies conclude that there is a surplus.  According to Gerald Bracey, "… the impending shortage of scientists and engineers is one of the longest running hoaxes in the country."

Some STEM education supporters acknowledge our leadership in science and technology, but note that American children do not do well on international tests in math and science. But studies have shown that American children in low-poverty schools outscore nearly all other countries on these tests.

U.S. children only fall below the international average when 75 percent or more of the students in a school live in poverty. Studies confirm that hunger, poor diet, a toxic environment, and a lack of reading material seriously affect academic performance. We have so many children who live in poverty that it profoundly affects the average test score: The US has the highest level of childhood poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's, 2%).  The problem is poverty, not a lack of high-powered science and math instruction.

Have STEM education supporters considered these facts?

Stephen Krashen

Some sources:
Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.
Bracey, G. 2009. Education Hell: Rhetoric Vs. Reality. Alexandra, VA: Educational Research Service.
Martin, M. 2004.  A strange ignorance: The role of lead poisoning in “failing schools.”
Teitelbaum, M. 2007. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, November 6, 2007
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.
Toppo, G. and Vergano, D. 2009.  Scientist shortage? Maybe not. USA Today, August 9, 2009
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