Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sudhakar and Dave discuss
.................2 Million Minutes

A conversation about Jay Mathews’ debate
with Bob Comption of Two Million Minutes

I sought permission to create and then forward this compilation of messages discussing a recent debate between Bob Compton, Two Million Minutes executive producer, and Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews.

The two correspondents are active in Where’s the Math? in Washington state and have continuously offered special insight in the math and/or general education issues. Sudhakar Kudva is a retired Intel scientist/engineer/senior manager. He has a PhD in Engineering and an MBA. David Orbits is a retired hardware/software engineer, who specialized in writing specifications.

The last message from Sudhakar, a native of India, is loaded with data that compare the human “capacity” of China, India, and the United States. If you just look at the numbers, we have a major problem staring us in the face.


1) From: Bob Compton
Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 4:17 AM
Subject: CNBC - Compton Debates Washington Post Reporter

Two Million Minutes Executive Producer, Bob Compton, was invited back for a second time to Erin Burnett's show Street Signs, this time to debate veteran Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews. Jay has been the most vocal critic of Two Million Minutes starting with his February 11, 2008, article “One Dad's Campaign to Save America” and continuing in a 2,500 word essay in the recent Wilson Quarterly entitled “Bad Rap on the Schools.”

Keep in mind I have deep respect for Jay's knowledge of American education, but as Jay confesses, on the show, his understanding of Indian and Chinese education comes only from vague references to conversations with unnamed "correspondents" who allegedly keep him informed on the rapid educational changes occurring in the two most populous countries in the world. Jay has never been to India and was last in China in 1989, nearly 20 years ago.

When Jay wrote the excellent book Supertest: How the International Baccalaureate Can Strengthen Our Schools, he did extensive, in-depth primary research, going so far as to take the grueling IB exam himself. I admire that level of immersion in a subject before writing about it.

But when it comes to reporting on education in India and China, for Jay to rely solely on third party "correspondents" as his source of information, is simply not up to his historically high standards.

From: On Behalf Of Sudhakar Kudva
Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 5:31 PM
Subject: [wheresthemath] Fw: CNBC - Compton Debates Washington Post Reporter

Interesting CNBC interview. I agree with Bob's recommendation to Jay Mathews to "get out more".

2) From: David Orbits
To: 'Sudhakar Kudva' ;
Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 1:59 PM
Subject: RE: [wheresthemath] Fw: CNBC - Compton Debates Washington Post Reporter

The position that Jay Mathews took was pretty astonishing. It basically amounted to a claim that our system of government / freedoms will trump the superior education that relatively few are getting in India and China because our systems promote and reward innovation / invention.

This is bunk. Similar claims about lack of innovation/creativity were made about the Japanese back in the 60s and 70s. In the 60s "made in Japan" was often synonymous with shoddy products. Nobody says that today about products from Sony, Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, Sharp, Lexus, Toyota, etc. Not to mention products made in Korea and Taiwan.

I never understood why some people claimed back in the 60's and 70's that we didn't have to be worried about competition from Japan because western folks had the edge on creativity. Tell that to the US auto companies today. Back then they were willing to cede the low end of the car market to Japan because they couldn't make a profit on econo-boxes. Well, Toyota could and the rest is history. Some may recall the early 80's when the Auto industry was demanding relief from auto imports from Japan. "The quotas were imposed in response to pleas by the U.S. auto industry that it needed time to grow strong enough to compete with the imports on the free market." (see )

The biggest reason to be worried about the people of India and China is they are unblocked by their governments and they are hungry. I have no numbers but I strongly suspect that they have more students eager to advance and win in the harder technical subjects than we do. More importantly I suspect their rate of increase in technical graduates is higher too. Meanwhile lots of US freshmen are spending time taking remedial math.

We in the west have no special advantage, granted us by evolution, on learning math or learning science or creativity or leadership or desire. In my opinion our biggest shortcoming is simply lack of desire.

3) From: "Sudhakar Kudva"
To: ; "David Orbits"
Subject: Re: [wheresthemath] Fw: CNBC - Compton Debates Washington Post Reporter
Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 5:47 PM

I noted some inconsistencies in Jay's arguments as well, and sent them to the host Erin Burnett. Jay mentions that they need a strong middle class in India to buy American goods. But the last time I checked, Indians were buying anything BUT American. The most popular car is a Suzuki. The most popular phone is Nokia. The most popular truck is made by Tata, locally. The most popular TV is a Sony. The most popular fridge is a Lucky Goldstar (Korean). The most popular movies are made in Bollywood in Bombay. The most popular game is Cricket, a British sport. Conversely, almost nothing is manufactured or engineered in America any more. Clothes and electronics are made in China, Korea or Taiwan. Expensive luxury goods are made in Japan or Europe. So, I kept wondering, what exactly is Jay expecting the well-off middle class Indians to buy from America? The second inconsistency I saw is that he mentioned that it was people like Bob who were the driving force of the US economy. And there was Bob, effectively telling Jay in his face, that his creativity is nothing without experienced computer programmers from India and China. I thought this guy Jay lived on Mars, because he seemed to by completely out of touch with reality.

4) From: "Sudhakar Kudva"
To: "nikihayes"
Subject: Re: Jay Mathews bunk
Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 6:48 PM

I don't think many people have looked into the numbers behind this problem. Bob Compton started to bring them up, but he got shut down by Erin.

I firmly believe that we have crossed the turning point in history when a majority of innovations (creative or otherwise) came from the US. And the momentum is favoring the emerging economies. Bob mentioned that India has about 212 million people in their K-12 system, and China has about 194 million people. One anomaly you will notice right away is that China has a larger adult population and total population (around 1.3 billion) while India's total population is about 1.1 billion. The us has about 53 million people in the K-12 system. According to the movie 2 million minutes, about one third of India's students are educated in private schools, and can be expected to pass high school with a rigorous curriculum. And about one third of China's students are in the gifted programs, and they can be expected to pass high school, and go on to higher studies. If we add up only these two numbers from India and China, it amounts to about 134 million high school graduates who have received excellent education over a 13 year period. If we even assume that 83% of the US students receive world class education and pass high school (a highly optimistic figure, in my opinion), the number of high school grads over a 13 year period comes to about 44 million. Now compare 130 million to 40 million. That is a workforce over 3 times the magnitude arrayed in competition with our graduates, from just two countries. Now factor in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Finland, Singapore, Russia, Brazil, Western Europe, Eastern Europe... the numbers climb even higher. This kind of lopsided equation has never happened in modern history. I think all other historical comparisons between the US and USSR, US and Japan, US and the British Empire, etc. pale in comparison with the current situation. In every case, the number of trained people in the US workforce was either roughly the same, or higher. The impact of such an imbalance is only starting to get felt, with global food and commodity shortages. I think this is far from over. As they say, "you ain't seen nothin' yet".

There was a study conducted by the Bill Gates foundation, called the Silent Epidemic" (attached), which looked into some of the reasons why high school kids drop out. One of the most consistent responses (about 80%) was that the students felt the work given in their classes was not challenging enough. These are the STUDENTS talking, not the teachers, parents or administrators. So, why then do we have an erosion in rigor over the last few decades? Is it the system, which acts like it is made for adults and not children? Is it the overworked parents who are too tired to follow up on their kids' progress? Is it the culture that values sports over academics? My take is all of the above, and then some.


Anonymous said...

If you look at numbers the systems are comparable, but China and India have a larger pool of students to choose from. Also, there is definitely competition for scarcer resources and substantially, better paying jobs.

I think you should be looking at output. A comparable number of students are leaving schools in Asia better prepared for higher paying jobs. The reason foreign students attend colleges in the US are because the infrastructure is not sufficiently built up in Asia.

Over time, that will change and this is evident in the Middle East where college students now attend 'American' universities like Carnegie and University of Chicago (excepts its in a Middle East context). So Americans can debate this subject all they want, the new industries and technologies for tomorrow's world are being developed in Asia, Africa, and Europe with the help of US corporate dollars. US schools have no choice but to remain competitive and that means delivering the best curriculum to students.

TEP professors protecting their NSF grants go away, go back to teaching cats or plants or whatever hole you dropped out of - you are making things worse...

Intellectual Masala said...

It is most likely that students in professional courses may find the projects not challenging enough or lack the exposure to make it remarkable. Perhaps sites like are a great resource for students to meet their academic challenges and yet find new ways of doing there education in a meaningful way to suit the global markets when they are hunting for jobs.

Anonymous said...

And maybe virtual classrooms like earmark are all hype and a placebo for what actually ails education.

There's a whole new branch of ethics concerning classrooms and the internet and I don't see operators taking the lead anytime soon so far as improving standards in the industry.

It remains an unknown expense and once again, eventually as a society, we will have to look honestly at the quality of education and not just ask ourselves whether we were given choices, none of which ever fulfilled the actual claims made by fraudulent 'researchers'.