Thursday, February 25, 2010

A national ed policy trick?

STEM Education to New AdministrationSTEM Education to New AdministrationSTEM Education to New AdministrationSTEM Education to New Administration“We face a critical shortfall of skilled scientists and engineers who can develop new breakthrough technologies.” -- AND -- “The failure to produce mathematicians, scientists and engineers in America is a tremendous threat to America's economic security.”

Comments like this are meant to be scary, scary, scary!

OR -- Is it that those types of comments are being launched by the corporatocracy to serve as a distraction, or a manipulation of public sentiment? The facts don't seem to jibe, and the arguments don’t make sense.

To expand your critical thinking, read the article by Beryl Lieff Benderly in the 2/22/2010 issue of Scientific American, Does the U.S. Produce Too Many Scientists?: American science education lags behind that of many other nations, right? So why does it produce so many talented young researchers who cannot find a job in their chosen field of study? Here are some excerpts, the bolding is mine:

For years, Americans have heard blue-ribbon commissions and major industrialists bemoan a shortage of scientists caused by an inadequate education system. A lack of high-tech talent, these critics warn, so threatens the nation’s continued competitiveness that the U.S. must drastically upgrade its K-12 science and math education and import large numbers of technically trained foreigners by promptly raising the current limit on the number of skilled foreigners allowed to enter the country to work in private industry. “We face a critical shortfall of skilled scientists and engineers who can develop new breakthrough technologies,” Microsoft chairman Bill Gates testified to Congress in March 2008.

But many less publicized Americans, including prominent labor economists, disagree. “There is no scientist shortage,” says Harvard University economist Richard Freeman, a leading expert on the academic labor force. The great lack in the American scientific labor market, he and other observers argue, is not top-flight technical talent but attractive career opportunities for the approximately 30,000 scientists and engineers—about 18,000 of them American citizens—who earn PhDs in the U.S. each year.


At the same time, however, the U.S. annually admits large numbers of foreign graduate students and postdocs and finds itself increasingly dependent on an inherently unreliable stream of young foreign scientists, mostly in the country on short-term, non-resident visas, to do much of the routine labor that powers American research. [more of the cheap labor we adore]The American research enterprise—the indispensable engine of national prosperity and the world’s leading innovation establishment—has therefore become vulnerable, observers say, to conditions beyond its borders and its control. At the same time, experts note that recruiting sufficient amounts of the talent needed for vital defense-oriented scientific and engineering work that requires security clearances has become increasingly difficult.


One thing that’s not in short supply are scientifically talented American students, whose academic achievements have been increasing rather than declining in recent years. “Students emerging from the oft-criticized K-12 system appear to be studying science and math subjects more and performing better in them, over time,” said Teitelbaum in Congressional testimony in November 2007. “Nor are [they] lagging far behind comparable students in economically competitive countries, as is oft asserted.” The number of Americans earning PhDs in science and technical fields has risen by 18 percent since 1985, according to the authoritative Scientific and Engineering Indicators 2008, published by the National Science Board.


Arguments for the shortage based on the inadequacy of American education generally begin with the results of standardized tests used in international comparisons. Average scores for K-12 students in the U.S. never top those lists in either science or math (although they do in both reading and civics). On one widely cited assessment, Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), which tested American third and eighth graders between 1995 and 2003 and American 12th graders in 1995 and 1999, U.S. students ranked between fifth and 12th in math and science—results bemoaned by many as dangerously deficient.

But a detailed study of students’ performance on TIMSS as well as on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), another widely reported international comparison test, by B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration and Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., suggests otherwise. “Their point is that the average performance of U.S. students on these comparative international tests is not a meaningful number,” Teitelbaum says. Far from trailing the developed world in science education, as some claim, “on PISA, the U.S. has more high-scoring kids in science than any other country” and nearly as many in the top math category as top-scoring Japan and Korea, Salzman says.

But crucially from a statistical standpoint, U.S. students are by far the most diverse of any industrialized country, ranging from some of the world’s best-prepared to some of the worst among the developed countries. On tests comparing the U.S., Japan and five Western European countries, for example, white Americans on average substantially outscored the Europeans in math and science and came second to the Japanese. American whites came first in reading by a wide margin. American black and Hispanic students, however, trailed significantly behind all other groups on average.

But scientists are not generally recruited from the average students, Salzman notes, but from those with the top scores, of whom America has large numbers. Compared with the products of Asian secondary schools, American students “are free thinkers,” says Vivek Wadhwa of Duke and Harvard Universities. “They didn’t spend the last 12 years of their lives memorizing books…. They’ve spent the last 12 years dealing with real problems and solving them. [In America], you can walk up to your teacher and tell her that she’s wrong or he’s wrong.” In Asia, he continues, “you wouldn’t dare do that.”

Raising America’s average scores on international comparisons is, therefore, not a matter of repairing a broken educational system that performs poorly overall, as many critiques suggest, but rather of improving the performance of the children at the bottom, overwhelmingly from low-income families and racial and ethnic minorities. This discrepancy, of course, is a vital national need and responsibility, but it does not reflect an overall insufficient supply of able science students.


Spot shortages may exist in certain limited fields, especially those that are new or that require citizenship for security clearance. But in general, writes Harvard’s Freeman, “the job market for young scientists and engineers has worsened…relative to… many other high level occupations, which discourages US students…[but] the rewards are sufficient to attract large immigrant flows, particularly from less developed countries,” in a study published by National Bureau of Economic Research.


Recruiting abroad "benefits the country by tapping a large and relatively inexpensive pool of talent at the cost of reduced incentives for native-born individuals to go into science and engineering,” he writes. His Harvard economics colleague, George Borjas, for example, has demonstrated that inflows of foreign students and scientists do, indeed, depress opportunities and incomes for both Americans and foreigners.


And from an Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) abstract on a 2005 paper published in the Phi Delta Kappan, “Is the United States Really Losing the International Horse Race in Academic Achievement?”:

It is widely believed and lamented that U.S. students perform poorly on international comparisons of academic achievement. For example, Edward Silver reports that U.S. seventh- and eighth-grade students performed poorly on the mathematics section of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 1995) and that this indicates "a pervasive and intolerable mediocrity in mathematics teaching." Likewise, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education attributed the reportedly poor performance of U.S. middle- grade students on the TIMSS 1995 mathematics assessment to the ineffectiveness of mathematics education. Such perceptions have led to grave concerns about the future economic competitiveness of the U.S. For example, Rita Colwell, the former director of the National Science Foundation, has stated that if the U.S. is to maintain its position in the world economy, it is critical for the nation's students to achieve at high levels in mathematics and science. The results of international assessments of student achievement are far more nuanced than the headlines lead citizens to believe. Having examined six comparisons of performance--in various subjects and at various levels--by students in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, Mr. Boe and Ms. Shin conclude that the dire pronouncements about America's standing are greatly exaggerated. Their examinations are described in this article.

Why can't these legitimate points get adequate national attention and traction? Why would the extremely smart Bill Gates and others want to spread misinformation?

Perhaps the CEO oligarch-types, now in charge of U.S. public education, might actually want to see a glut of highly educated American scientists produced, so they can eventually pay them even less. This would reduce their dependence on the cheap foreign workers they prefer to currently employ.

And remember, the CEO oligarchs are a big piece behind the starvation and privatization of U.S. public education. The "create-a-crisis" approach is a well-documented neoliberal tactic used to create panic and fear, so drastic changes never thought possible before, can be slipped by the citizens who have been emotionally-destabilized. It happens all the time; just read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

In this instance, global lies about public education inadequacies are being used to build suspicion and mass anti-public education public opinion -- it costs too much money, all the teachers are lazy, the schools are failures and need to be abolished, and everything is the unions' fault. In such a milieu, the structure can be more easily destroyed. To learn more, read the work of Gerald Bracey who passed away in October 2009, some of which is here:


The Perimeter Primate said...

Someone at the Broad Foundation was Googling "Eli Broad Oakland" this afternoon, and then made a visit to my blog. Think they're reading Ravitch's book? The part about Eli Broad and Oakland runs from 213 to 215.

Referring URL: Broad Oakland&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=

February 25, 2010
5:09 PM
IP: (
Los Angeles, CA, United States Windows XP Internet Explorer 7.0

NYC Educator said...

Thanks for posting this. I had no idea.

The Perimeter Primate said...


"The Science Education Myth; Forget the conventional wisdom. U.S. schools are turning out more capable science and engineering grads than the job market can support." Bloomberg Businessweek, 10/26/2007


Political leaders, tech executives, and academics often claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science education. They cite poor test results, declining international rankings, and decreasing enrollment in the hard sciences. They urge us to improve our education system and to graduate more engineers and scientists to keep pace with countries such as India and China.

Yet a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, tells a different story. The report disproves many confident pronouncements about the alleged weaknesses and failures of the U.S. education system. This data will certainly be examined by both sides in the debate over highly skilled workers and immigration (, 10/10/07). The argument by Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), and others is that there are not enough tech workers in the U.S.

The authors of the report, the Urban Institute's Hal Salzman and Georgetown University professor Lindsay Lowell, show that math, science, and reading test scores at the primary and secondary level have increased over the past two decades, and U.S. students are now close to the top of international rankings. Perhaps just as surprising, the report finds that our education system actually produces more science and engineering graduates than the market demands...

Read the rest:

The Perimeter Primate said...

"U.S. Schools Are Still Ahead—Way Ahead." By Vivek Wadhwa in Businessweek, 1/12/2011

America has an inferiority complex about its education system. You hear the sirens every year, when the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) releases its annual test results. Finland, South Korea, and Singapore usually come out on top; we start blaming our K-12 teachers for not teaching enough mathematics and science; we begin worrying about the millions of engineers and scientists China and India graduate...

My research team at Duke looked in depth at the engineering education of China and India. We documented that these countries now graduate four to seven times as many engineers as does the U.S.The quality of these engineers, however, is so poor that most are not fit to work as engineers; their system of rote learning handicaps those who do get jobs, so it takes two to three years for them to achieve the same productivity as fresh American graduates.As a result, significant proportions of China's engineering graduates end up working on factory floors and Indian industry has to spend large sums of money retraining its employees. After four or five years in the workforce, Indians do become innovative and produce, overall, at the same quality as Americans, but they lose a valuable two to three years in their retraining...

But let's get over our inferiority complex. America is second to none. Rather than in mastery of facts learned by rote and great numbers of accomplished martinets, its strength lies in the diversity and innovation that arise in an open, creative society.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Bloomberg Businessweek article can currently be found at