Rep. Vern Ehlers on Science and Math Education
Ehlers recently spoke on the House floor about the importance of good science and math instruction. The full text of his November 8 remarks is quoted below:
Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to discuss the issue of education and mathematics and science in our Nation. I have deep concerns about the current status of math and science education in this Nation.
First of all, I believe currently it is inadequate. I say this for several reasons. Mr. Speaker, as I was stating, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, which was conducted a few years ago, indicated that we were near the bottom of those nations and developed countries teaching mathematics and science in their high schools, near the bottom.
Some say, well, it is not so bad, we were not that far below the others. I say it is terrible. With the resources that this country has and with the high quality of students this Nation has, it is inexcusable for us to be near the bottom, or at the bottom. We should be not only at the top, but far and away the best Nation in this world in terms of our educational effort. Mr. Speaker, the second reason I say we are not doing well in mathematics and science education is simply by looking at the tests administered by the States. When we look at these tests and look at the test scores, we find that in reading a typical average for a State might be in the seventies, and for some of the other subjects in that area, and for science we are down in the 30 percent, even for some of the better States, and as low as 10 percent in some of the others. These are not passing grades and they never have been in our school system. We must improve.
A third indication that we are not doing the job well is that we do not have enough engineers and scientists to do the job in this country. How do I know? Because we issue H(1)(b) visas every year to allow scientists and engineers from other countries to emigrate into this country to help us out. Annually, it is in the neighborhood of 100,000 each, and usually that quota is used up well before the end of the year. We are importing scientists and engineers, asking them to emigrate to this country for this purpose. Clearly, we are not producing enough of our own.
The final indication that we are not doing the job with math and science education in our K through 12 system is that when we visit our grad schools, graduate education in mathematics, science, and engineering, we find that, in general, over half of the students are from other countries. Our students are not able to compete for grad school entrance with students of other nations.
I think we have to improve our math and science education. Why? For the reasons I gave above, but also because, first of all, we have to make sure we have enough scientists and engineers in this country so that we can keep our economic growth strong and meet the needs of our citizens.
There are other reasons as well. It is not just producing good scientists and engineers, but a second main reason is what I call workplace readiness. We have reached the point in our society and in many developed nations that you literally cannot find a good job unless you have a good grounding in math and science.
It is going to get worse. I have made predictions on this floor that in 20 years, it will be impossible to find a good job without a good foundation in math and science. I have to revise that, because last week I attended a talk at the Capitol here by John Chambers, CEO of CISCO Systems, an Internet company. It is clear to me that I have to revise my estimate downward and say in 10 years people will not be able to get a really good job without a good grounding in mathematics, science, engineer, and technology. So workplace readiness is another good reason.
The third reason is to simply produce better consumers and citizens of this Nation, people who understand math and science, so they can evaluate claims in the marketplace about health products or health supplements, or that they can vote better about projects that involve science and the environment, and that they can elect leaders who have shown that they understand these issues and will vote intelligently on issues involving math, science, technology, engineering, the environment, and so forth.
How are we going to improve math and science education? I think three major points: better teachers, or better trained teachers, I should say; better curricula; and improved methods of teaching science.
I will take just a minute to discuss each of those. I will address those later in more detail in another talk. We have to make sure we recruit good teachers, because we are not recruiting enough today, we have to make sure they are trained properly, and we have to keep them. We have to make sure they do not get discouraged. We have to help them get the job done in the classroom.
We have to improve our science curricula. Right now it is a hodgepodge. Recently the American Association for the Advancement of Science studied middle school curricula. Every middle school science curriculum in the United States was judged to be inadequate, every single one. The only one that was regarded as acceptable, and mildly acceptable, was one put out by Michigan State University, and that is only a partial curriculum.
The final point is methodology. We have to improve our way, our methods of teaching science. As I said, I will address these issues in a later talk.
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics