Unexpectedly Intriguing!
February 26, 2006

Just days following this year's State of the Union address, in which the President proposed increasing the amount of support for providing science and math education in the U.S., something remarkable is happening: the national media is running op-ed pieces questioning the need for improved math and science education in the United States.

Aside from the snarky pleasure we get from reading the Washington Post op-ed columnist Richard Cohen's admission1 that he lacks the essential cognitive ability to discuss any issue where math and algebra might be involved in public policy decision-making, which we note includes such topics as taxation and government spending, the question we have to ask is: "Why is the national media pushing these stories now?"

The reason may be simple and straightforward. The President's proposal would bring up to 30,000 active practicioners of math and science into classrooms across the nation to help teach students these subjects, which would reduce the role of the card-carrying teachers' union members who have the sole responsibility of doing the job now. What are the odds that the members of the "education" lobby are happy with that aspect of the President's proposal? Answer: they're not.

But better yet, the President's proposal has put the "education" lobby's leadership in an awkward position for the following reasons:

  1. They can't deny that the vast majority of their profession is substantially less capable in the practice of math and science than those coming from other academic backgrounds. This fact was determined objectively by comparing the performance of education majors on standardized graduate school admission tests between 1962 and 1982. While no comprehensive study has yet been released to update the findings of that original study, those who have reviewed the study recently indicate that the relative performance of the various academic majors has continued into the present day.

  2. The performance of U.S. students on standardized math and science exams and evaluations shows that compared to other students in the world, the U.S. does well (average or better) up through the eighth grade and falls off considerably afterward. In other words, the problem is not the kids - it's the teaching. In particular, the teaching at the upper grade levels where much more advanced math and science concepts are introduced in secondary school curriculums. Since the teachers' unions have used their political influence to restrict who may teach in a classroom to those with education degrees by law in many states, they and their political agents are solely responsible for this outcome.

  3. They can't come right out and openly oppose improving math and science education by placing these highly qualified individuals to help teach the subjects in the classroom. (Perhaps learning their lesson from a previous union leader's openness about their priorities.)

So it would seem that what we have instead is opposition by proxy, promoted by the teachers' unions' sympathetic accomplices in the media that say: "We really don't need more people who have strong educations in math and science" backed with polling data taken from the wrong people to ask about what math and science skills are needed by employers.

Even more amazing as these stories are in direct conflict with the usual editorial position advocated in the major media outlets that schools deserve more money for education programs.

Meanwhile, there are precious few editorials these days that say "We're not investing enough in improving math and science education in the U.S."

What a truly amazing state of affairs in the world of education today.

1 "I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time -- the only proof I've ever seen of divine intervention -- somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again." - Richard Cohen, Washington Post op-ed columnist.

Update: Not quite related, but still well worth reading on the "education" lobby's efforts to undermine public school programs established for gifted students.


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