Guest Post: How the United States Can Fix Math and Science
Education seems to be in America the only commodity of which the customer tries to get as little he can for his money.-Max Forman
There are many challenges facing the United States today in the areas of Math and Science education attainment. Here is a short list of what I believe to be the most pressing issues that we need to solve and how we can possibly fix them. It will take a lot of work but it can be done in a short amount of time, maybe even in enough time to fix some of our most recent education policy mistakes in the past decade.
First, a change in attitude towards math and science subjects must occur. There is already positive evidence of this change. More and more females are entering male-dominated college engineering, math, and physics majors. Science and math awareness have been at the forefront of many school systems due to demands from corporations to fill highly-skilled career roles. The demand continues to grow. The US economy will need 20 million individuals in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine) careers by 2025. However, we are still struggling with attaining and maintaining highly qualified teachers to fill the educational roles to make this happen. Many elementary school teachers have plenty of education classes but not enough skill in their core subjects. English majors may end up teaching Science at the elementary level without enough background in Science and investigation. Teachers at the elementary level are also passing on their own anxieties about subjects they are unfamiliar with to students. While the attitude change has been positive, teachers are not receiving enough quality support to overcome these issues.
Education and school systems are social systems, not private companies or corporations, we need to stop running them like they are. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy is a total failure. It is a nice concept to make sure every child passes rigorous standardized testing, but every state has a different test and there is no true way to “police” the system to make sure standards are being upheld. The pressure is so great, whole school systems have cheated on these tests just to make sure they retained federal funding. In the Roanoke area, one principal was fired from a high school because a portion of the student population’s scores were never released so as to have better reporting numbers. Instead of chasing down numbers, we should be chasing every child’s mind and allowing the child to reap the benefits of a quality education.
Another part of NCLB that has failed is the teacher incentive program. Teachers in the US are rewarded or punished based on their student’s scores. Instead of propelling teachers into greatness, it has torn them down. It has destroyed the morale of teachers all over the country, turning lifelong careers into high turnover jobs. Administrators are pushing veterans out of the system to save money and hire new teachers. Ten percent of teachers entering education will leave the profession within the first year. Why? Because the teaching field has become more thankless and allows administrators to promote teachers, who are not necessarily getting the child to learn to think, but who can get the students to regurgitate factual material. How does this save school systems money and create a stable work environment for teachers?
NCLB has not only chased poor teachers out of the system but the best teachers that are available for your child. Without our best teachers in the classroom, there is no one to mentor incoming new teachers and lower the turnover rate. Teachers need that strong support system. A solution would be to hire retired teachers, or those who have left for greener pastures, as consultants and coaches. In the Native American culture, the older and wiser population ensures that the traditions and values are carried on to the younger generations. These teacher coaches would have the time and energy to do research, properly implement the curriculum, and act as a mentor to new teachers.
My next solution would be to allow the teachers to use the knowledge that they gained in college and use the tools that they were given. Part of the training received in college is how to reach every type of learner and every learner level. If the students are sitting in neat little rows working on worksheets or listening to the teacher drone on and on, we have already lost 80% of the student population. Only 20% of the student population is comprised of classic Read/Write Learners. Students in careers that receive a lot of hands-on attention, medical health professionals come to mind, are more apt to be kinesthetic learners. There are the students who spend their whole lives around music and onstage. These students learn best in groups and talking through problems. So if we provide each learning style with a way to receive the lesson, would they not be successful on standardized tests? Better yet, would they not be successful in using their strengths to become productive, creative, problem-solvers that are needed in America today?
Are there too many teaching strategies and tools available to us? Maybe, but not every teacher is comfortable using certain styles. It takes time to implement and become an expert in these strategies. Therefore, I propose that new teachers are hired as teacher aides for a minimum of one year to work with the best teachers in the system. Basically, this is an extension of the 16 week practicum that is used today during the final spring semester before college graduation. Teachers need more time to develop a solid teaching style that they are comfortable with to eliminate the anxiety they might feel when they first enter the classroom. Plus, it helps build a network for the teacher that they can use for support or further training.
My final solution is one that supports the elimination of standardized testing as we know it. Yes, you do need a form of assessment to gain the next level. However, I do not believe that there should be a time limit to achieve this. In conceptual subjects, such as math, students require differing amounts of time with the material. This will help reduce anxiety and give teachers the ability and time to foster growth in spite of obstacles such as math anxiety and Dyscalculia.
There is a form of assessment in the United States that supports low achieving students on development plans. These students are dependent upon an individual portfolio that highlights their strengths and weaknesses. Wouldn’t it make the teacher’s job easier if they had access to background information on their students so it would be easier to tailor teaching to reach them? There is no reason, with all the technology available in education, that students should not have individual portfolios as the main form of assessment and a guide for future decisions concerning career field possibilities. For now, teachers will have to rely on a set of numbers from tests that don’t quite tell the whole story about the student.
I think, as a country, we are truly afraid of change. Just recently, Facebook, a social network, completely changed its format that sent the majority of users in an uproar. Instead of taking time to learn the new system, they automatically are trying to find ways around it. Intelligence is not a measure of how to beat the system, it is a measure of how quickly you, as a human, can adapt to new changes. If your neighborhood meets up with a disaster, would you rebuild it using the same design? Or would you take the time to adapt your abode to something that will not get destroyed easily if the even happens again? I think it is high time America grows and adapts instead of clinging to outdated ideals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Wright is a lifelong learner. She is presently the business manager for a startup company called Learning Connections based in Salem, Virginia. She is finishing her two year community college program in Math and Physics and looking forward to moving on to Roanoke College. Her interests, besides education, include playing musical instruments (saxophone, piano, flute, clarinet), dabbling in quilting and art, meteorology, oceanography, and Tai Chi. Visit her website at http://learningconnectionsinroanoke.blogspot.com