Sunday, October 19, 2008

Failure to Compute from WA CEO magazine

July 16, 2008

Failure to Compute

Washington falls short in math and science education as the WEA defeats teacher pay reform

By: Aaron Corvin

If the future belongs to our children, then Washington's future has a problem with math and science.


Anonymous said...

Of course, a magazine for CEOs blames the serfs and peeeeee-ons for a dysfunctional guareented to fail system run by incompetent management!


of course they drag out the failed AP grant from last year, and how much analysis is there of the fake reward the supposedly better teacher program set up by


Exxon, yeah - there's a company that is used to competing and rewarding the best ... ha ha ha. there's a company whose business model does NOT rely on rigged, crooked markets which have been rigged through corruption, thereby institutionalizing ...



let's get more ideas from managements which have helped shape our foriegn oil dependence, our crap investments in alternatives, our rotting infrastructures of health and education ------

the same kinds of spreadsheet & powerpoint jockeys who created the housing mess!


thanks washington CEO for a window into the 'thinking' of dinosaurs - rich, powerful, influential



Sudhakar said...

No matter who is worthy of our love or hate, one problem still remains unsolved. Our kids keep losing. And losing big. I firmly believe that the ticket out of poor living standards, that arise from the dismal high school and college graduation rates, is better math and science education. Every president, governor, legislator and public figure has been repeating this for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I don't see that being practiced uniformly in our public schools.

Can we have some workable proposals from the readership on how we can get our kids to be #1 in the world in Math and Science? This country has, by many accounts, lost the economic leadership already. How much worse does it have to get before we have real solutions? Everyone keeps talking about 21st century jobs like they are experts on the subject, but nobody seems to want to do the right thing when it comes to educating our kids in these skills.

Every day that passes by, I see more and more evidence that public money spent on education does not produce corresponding results. I was at a high school/middle school math competition this weekend, where all of THREE middle school students showed up. Two were home schooled in math, one was the child of a high school math teacher. If this competition was held in Helsinki or Singapore or Seoul, we would have had to rent the colosseum to accommodate the turnout. Can we say "Cultural Change"? I don't even want to get started on Science, since we seem to be stuck at the 25% level on WASL pass rates.

I was sitting in a district meeting recently, when the keynote speaker said the 21st century will be the knowledge century, and declared "The geeks have won". When asked for feedback, I asked - if the system is stacked with non geeks, how do we produce the geeks we need? I don't think I got an answer. The problem, I think, is that the proclamation was even made in the first place. We alienate our best and the brightest minds by creating a "zoo" for them, giving them special, undesirable titles like "geeks" or "nerds". When the geeks finally win, naturally, they tend to return the favor. I don't think anyone wants another war of classes. This time, between the knowledge "have"s and the knowledge "have not"s. Again, can we say "cultural change"?

Anonymous said...


My solution is to increase instructional time for math and science using proven materials. Also we need to enrich the material by having those who actually use the math in their daily lives demonstrate the use to students. Students need to work side by side with those using the math. To expensive? Think Sputnik!


Sudhakar said...

Dear t^2

I wish it was that easy.

We have a Science, Math and Technology magnet in our district, I am involved through the parent group that helps raise funds for the magnet. My issue is that we are waiting too long to get kids excited about STEM fields. It is analogous to creating a crack group of engineers to build a sports car, and mandate that they start form a dumpster for their parts.

To wit: a study quoted by the nationally acclaimed report "Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth" claims that if kids lose interest in math by grade 3, they may never get it back in their lifetime. Whoa! That is like condemning an adorable, innocent, lollypop sucking third grader to a lifetime of hard labor for no fault of his or her own! Who is the judge? Who is the jury? What is their crime? Well, these are all rhetorical questions.

My point - Sputnik, in my knowledge of what happened, just created different tracks for those with measured aptitude in math and the sciences. I think we cannot afford to be that selective any more. One needs a plan where ALL kids get started early! As early as pre-K. We need kindergarten, first, second and third grade teachers who get everyone excited about math and science, in addition to reading and writing. We need more middle school teachers, who are highly qualified in their field of teaching, whether it be math, bio or physical sciences. Students who show aptitude AND put in the effort should be allowed to excel, and encouraged to achieve more in these fields. We need more challenging co-curricular activities like computer programming, robotics, chess, sudoku, to keep the young minds busy after school and on weekends. We need second language instruction in elementary schools. All this needs to happen yesterday and within budget. Then, and only then, will Math and Science magnet schools like the one I described will truly start turning out world class students.

Sounds like Dorn and the school districts have their work cut out for them, if they care to follow through.

Anonymous said...


My point on Sputnik is that if the United States sets a priority amazing things can happen. Math education can be improved with desire. Magnet schools are not needed for business people and volunteers to demonstrate to students their knowledge and application of math concepts and skills in daily work. Math is a simple discipline, but not an easy one.


Sudhakar said...

Dear T^2

Agreed on the point that when we set our mind on something, we can make it happen. The next logical question is - what will make us set our mind on something?

I am of the opinion that having an external enemy helped energize the nation in the Sputnik case, along with the discipline brought about by putting the whole program under the "defense" umbrella. If I recall correctly, it was called the Defense Education Act of 1958? This is something our culture is eminently capable of understanding. The same thing happened after 9/11, when the people buckled under the perceived (real or not is yet to be determined) threat of an external enemy, and willingly gave up some of the prized individual rights. A crumbling European continent could not drag us into WWII, but Pearl Harbor got us there instantly. Who is the enemy when it comes to the education crisis? It is the collective "us"! Who buys the cheap Chinese goods instead of a more expensive American brand? The American public. Who ships jobs offshore instead of employing locals? The American corporation. Who abdicates the responsibility to teach basics and chase the fad du jour? The American public education system. Who keeps funding dubious research while throwing money with no returns? The American federal, state and local governments. The mess is so tangled, it will be difficult as dickens for the public to de-convolute. Everyone seems to have their favorite sacrificial lamb, as long as it is in someone else's territory. That is why I think it has taken so long for us to come to terms with the real issues, at least amongst a few of us. I am convinced that the rest of the public won't even budge, unless an external force can kick us into action. Then we can really see Sputnik 2 unravel.

Anonymous said...

I see two difficulties with all this - first, most of science and technology is instrumentation and measurement and there are only two classes in high school which teach these things: chemistry and physics.

Physical science was an attempt to introduce measurement at a lower age level. All of these programs are at risk of losing students because of low math skills. I recently ran into another TERC program funded by NASA - astrobiology. Its not so much that I disagree with it, but it lacks rigor - its focus is content, not instrumentation - for instance, building a carbon dioxide detector is pretty straightforward, the difficult aspect is isolating the sources of CO2. There are so many things, living (and non-living) that can contaminate an experiment.

My students from a few years ago ran into this problem. But the knowledge that they gained from their experimenting proved interesting (at least to us)

The 70's and 80's produced some powerful physics programs for high school students and we've lost that focus - I think in part because the corporations which funded those projects have changed.

At my high school (200 graduates) in a Washington farming community during the seventies, we had at least six national merit scholars for the four years I attended - one guided the Venus lander to Mars (his twin brother is also at JPL), a nuclear engineer at UW, 2 microsoft executives, a NASA physicist, and 2 grads from the Naval Academy. I graduated from OCS - I did things my own way I suppose.

My chemistry teacher had been a WWII radioman on a PBY in Alaska. The physics teacher was a commercial fisherman in the summer. The biology teacher ran peaviners in the summer. The Naval Academy had five places reserved for our school.

As for myself, I took chemistry and drafting and eventually only majored in physics until after high school. I never even took biology, until after college. My first class was a 300 level class in microbiology. I took 400-level math and physics classes before I took multivariate, because I didn't have a counselor.

However, in high school I was able to find Pluto with a telescope and built homemade rockets with my friends.

To this day, I am practically a machinist - I use lathes and I can build furniture. I'm learning lapidary. I've raised bees.

As kids we used to wrap cable around telephone poles (Tesla coils) and built a white noise generator that we used to knock out some girl's tv next door to us.

We liked to salvage radio tubes and repair radios. It seems like I had more time on my hands than my own kids now.

If you went back to that same school today, you would find nothing of the past, that this was even a school that made science or math a priority. It is sickening. I will never go back to it. The creationists and puritans won; let them poison paradise.

The second thing, has to do with our students inability to diagnose, troubleshoot, and repair technology (things that we value) High school and society doesn't do a good job of teaching kids these things. To some degree, we seem to teach mathematics in almost the same fashion as though any method for solving a problem were okay because everyone has an equally valid point of view. And that's not really how the world works at all. For one thing, I don't know any engineer or even a technician that divides with partial quotients. I don't hear an engineer ask - "Does anyone have a calculator I could borrow?" or "How many fourths are in nine?"

And I'm mystified because while I hear students asking for calculators; they wouldn't know how to use a calculator to solve the second question. So how do they do it?