According to a report by the American Electronics Association, high-tech companies blame second-rate math and science education in the U.S. for the offshoring of high-tech jobs. From Wired:

The American school system, which AeA researchers charge is failing to provide strong science and math education to students, is largely to blame for lost jobs, according to the AeA's report, "Offshore Outsourcing in an Increasingly Competitive and Rapidly Changing World."

"Companies aren't outsourcing only in order to obtain cheap labor; they are also looking for skilled technology workers that they increasingly can't find in the U.S.," said Matthew Kazmierczak, senior manager of research at AeA, and one of the authors of the report.

On Assorted Stuff, Tim writes:

While this report sounds like another industry lobbying group trying to scare Congress into giving their companies lots of money, they do make one good point. We don't do a good job of math and science instruction in this country. Part of the blame for that goes to society in general which gives lots of lip service to learning those subjects but then has an adult population which is largely (and often proudly) ignorant of even the most basic math and science concepts. How many people actually understand the odds behind the lottery or what the theory of evolution actually says?

I'll probably get blasted for this, but I also blame the tsunami of standardized tests we spend a large part of the year preparing for. The math on these exams hardly gets up to the "high tech" level that the AEA report is referring to and most exams barely touch science at all since it's not one of the indicators that NCLB requires. When the test becomes the target of instruction, learning settles for the lowest common denominator of the test.

Reform K12 responds:

The argument seems to be this: first standardized tests are criticized because schools must spend "most of the year" on test prep, which leads us to believe that they're really, really hard. Then the tests are criticized because apparently the math and science on the test is not high tech (which we read as "easy").

I'm not convinced by the AeA's argument: If Indian programmers and engineers demanded U.S. wages, they'd be out of work. They're highly educated and relatively cheap.

I also think testing has nothing to do with the problems of math and science education in the U.S. Many students flunk those very easy tests because they don't know the basics. They're not prevented from learning higher math because too much time is spent on test prep. The problem is they don't know the basics.

I sat in on a charter school faculty meeting a few days ago that focused on test prep. The English, math, science and history teachers are making sure they teach the relevant state standards before students take the state test; they're also discussing how to measure whether students know what they've been taught. This is not a waste of time, it seems to me.

Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

On the New York Times op-ed page, teacher Marlene Heath eloquently defends Chicago's policy of holding back students who can't read. Heath, now a reading specialist at an all-poverty school on the South Side, was skeptical when Mayor Richard Daley ended social promotion in 1995. Now she says it's been a boon to students and teachers.

Only 26 percent of our elementary students were able to meet national norms on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in reading in 1995. That number is now 41 percent. At Beethoven (School) alone, reading comprehension jumped to 46 percent last year from 22 percent in 1997.

About 48 percent of Chicago public school students tested in the lowest quarter nationally before social promotion ended. Now that number is half of what it was. The high school drop-out rate, which was nearly 17 percent in 1995, is now at 13 percent, while the graduation rate has steadily climbed.

But the students who have come through my classrooms over the last 14 years offer the most convincing evidence that retention is one of the best things we can do for a child who needs that extra year to develop literacy skills. I began teaching sixth graders in 1992, and shortly after social promotion ended, I began to see students who were much better prepared. This new caliber of students allowed me to do what I should have been able to do all along — teach sixth-grade-level work to all my students. That hadn't been possible with the two or three nonreaders who had passed each year through my class before.

Students who can't read fluently become deeply frustrated. Not only do they drop out, they can ruin the learning environment for other students.

Suspending Everyone

At F.D. Moon Academy in Oklahoma City, there are 147 sixth graders. Wednesday, 136 were suspended for slamming tables in the cafeteria, talking back to teachers and disrupting classrooms.

(Elaine) Ford, in her first year as the school's principal, said teachers can't improve test scores until disciplinary issues are resolved. She estimated teachers spend 85 percent of their time reprimanding students.

Students will have to do community service.

Mail Bag: 

Matthew W. Gail writes: 

I wanted to take the "Troops to Teachers" route after I retired from the Marine Corps in 2002 but really did not feel like taking a job in a war-zone. Been there, done that. The only way that our schools are going to get reformed is:

1. MANDATORY uniforms, no excuses.

2. Work camps/schools for those who cannot follow the behavior code of society.

3. DISCIPLINE strictly enforced.

4. You fail, you stay BACK until you get it right!

5. HARD courses, no more fluff and puff garbage.

I remember as a child, keeping my nose to the grindstone for two reasons: one, Dad!, and two, fear of being kept back a year and catching the associated grief for it. And looking back, it gave me a drive that has served me well in the Corps and now, in my second career, as a security specialist. The common theme among most of us in the workforce today is that the young pups coming out of school just don't measure up and us old-timers run circles around them. It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. I may push my children a little too hard but both are on the honor roll at school and do not get in to trouble.

Lars Hagen says:

I find it interesting that most articles about teacher recruiting and retention focus primarily on salary. As an early-retired engineer, I have been teaching at the middle and high school levels.  My observation is that the key element in teacher retention problems and low morale is the hostile and abusive environment created by a subset of the students.

Teachers are very frustrated because administrators do not and will not engage in student behavior management or modification, or support or back-up teachers who are in conflict with disruptive students and their dysfunctional parents.

I know of no profession that requires their members to tolerate and live with abuse as does teaching.

Tony Zito of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., writes: 

One naturally rebels at the idea that all teachers receive nearly the same pay, with ability not taken into account (leaving aside the question of how quality of teaching might be assessed). On the other hand, I know from personal experience one important result of unionization where I teach: we went from lagging 20 to 40 percent behind master's degree professionals with comparable experience to nearly caught up within a decade. (I teach at a state-and county-funded community college, so there are both similarities to, and differences with, public school politics.)

Nowhere do I see the political will among voters to radically change the setup. I have never been to a school board meeting where anyone stood up and demanded above-average pay for teachers, on the grounds that we might attract above-average teachers. We are stuck in an absurd system where public employees unionize in order to drag the money out of constituents, who are then inclined to complain all the more about what they've bought. But I do know this: when I serve on a faculty search committee today, I see tons more resumes from qualified, experienced teachers who know how to write a letter than I used to!

Nancy McInnes of Gainesville, Fla., writes: 

I find it unfortunate that someone who has followed education does not know what truly makes a great teacher. As for elementary and middle school level (and even the high school level), just about anyone with a college degree knows the subject matter (math, science, history, etc.). If s/he doesn't, he can learn it quickly.

What makes a GREAT teacher is someone who can reach her students, who truly loves kids, who can make a boring subject interesting and who can relate the material to her students in a personal way.

I was an excellent teacher who was not in the top 10 percent of her graduating Maine high school class, or her college class for that matter. I chose to party foolishly instead. I did, however, love children, love writing, love reading, and I knew how to "entertain" (which is especially useful when one has five classes of 25-plus students daily). I was also someone who knew how to be firm, consistent and fair in the classroom; in other words, I earned the respect of my students and provided each with a safe and rewarding environment in which to learn daily.

I have worked with many educators at the secondary level who had Ph.D.s and yet I can't think of even one who had a good rapport with his students. In fact, all talked "above" the heads of the kids and had a level of arrogance that the kids (and other teachers) hated.

When I think of the very best teachers in the schools in which I taught, all were female, all were of average intelligence, all dressed down much of the time. And all simply loved kids, loved teaching and loved the subject matter. Not graduating at the top of their classes didn't make a bit of difference.

Walk into any school nationwide and it's the kids who will tell you who's the best teacher in the school. I will bet you it will never be the educator with the top college grades.

Tony Fajkus says:

So your article makes it obvious what the problem is, and it is not more pay. We have a failing public school system that no amount of money will prop up. Until the system itself is changed and the influence of groups like the NEA is eliminated, it will only get worse. I vote we give people their tax money back and let them go where they want and find what works. Private schools and capitalism (financing what works and not propping up what doesn’t) will solve this problem, if we would just let it.

Vernon Henning of Hobbs, N.M., writes: 

Between your articles and my vicarious experiences through my wife, a dedicated elementary teacher, I have come to see public education as an enormous cankered beast. Or to use another image, our schools are too often a rusted hulk covered with layers of new paint. Bureaucrats and politicians have corrupted the core values of education for money, power, and votes. Teachers trying to teach children are also faced with students who are narcissistic, rude, immature and unwilling to work.

Equal outcomes for all is an impossible goal. Self-esteem without achievement or merit is a narcotic. Let us demand that parents rear their children to become people of ordinary good character ready to put all their effort into being genuine human beings. Let us demand a curriculum that teaches what is worthwhile. And spare us the bureaucratic poltroons who corrupt it all.

Jane Carruth of Tupelo, Miss., says: 

Discipline, involved parents and respect for ourselves and others will need to be top priorities for education to move forward. We do have teachers who are not qualified, but I believe for the most part they are there because they care; it certainly is not the glory, money, prestige or respect.  Too often we like to blame teachers for bad grades and behavior and I'm sure it does happen, but children have to earn the grade, not expect it, and behavior has to start at home. It is not easy to face our own shortcomings; it is much easier to blame teachers and peers.

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at She’s writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

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