Low math ranking signals education crisis
Published: Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 19:11
Students in the United States rank far below those in other economic powers such as China and Korea in math and science scores. While the United States' main economic competitors held spots near the top of the World Economic Forum's list, the United States came in 48th out of 133 nations in its quality of math and science education.
This ranking appears to reveal a nationwide educational crisis, but reports from individual states in the U.S prove differently. By comparing scores between states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), it seems that improved performance in math actually depends on internal educational improvements within each state, rather than national education reform. If the United States hopes to hold its own against its economic competitors in the future, the government needs to inspire educational improvements within states. Comparison of test scores across states will fuel competition and act as an incentive for educational improvement.
For example, some states, like Massachusetts, scored far above the national average on the NAEP. The estimated scores on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for Massachusetts ranked alongside those of the world's highest performing nations. And on the NAEP, Massachusetts had a score of 252, 20 points above the national score of 232. Meanwhile, other states, such as California and Alabama, came in many points below the national average in eighth grade math scores and lowered the average score.
In July, President Obama announced his plan for Race to the Top, a program that offers competitive grants to states that lead the way in education reform. Although some oppose this idea because of the rivalries it could undoubtedly inspire among states, the program marks a step toward creating a nation that can realistically compete with the growing economic powers of the world.
If the government continues to foster this sense of competitiveness between states, states will be inspired to pump more resources into educational improvement. Although states with deflated budgets might find this to be a daunting task, they should remember the long-term effects that their emphasis on education will have on the economic future of the state; with a better educated populace comes more tax revenue and decreased spending on social services. In the long run, these states will save themselves billions of dollars by acting competitively to improve educational performance.
Other states may argue that the demographics of their region prevent them from competing with other states. California, for instance, has a large population of non-native English speakers. For these students, standardized tests are more difficult and daunting, especially if they have only recently immigrated to the United States. However though this may make educational improvement much more daunting, states should not use their demographics as an excuse for poor performance. Although it may be unrealistic to expect all states to perform as well as Massachusetts, considering that this state has a disproportionately high number of college graduates, each state can still aim for improvement. Fear of being unfavorably compared to others is not reason for being against interstate competition. In fact, such comparison can reveal not just areas of weakness but areas of strength in each state's educational policies. Those lagging behind in certain areas can look to more successful states for guidance. Eventually, this will lead to more innovative educational improvement nation-wide and result in an improved standing in math and science for the United States as a