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We must raise the bar in education and rethink the design of school if we want excellent math and science learning for all students. The Opportunity Equation report provides a roadmap for this vision with recommendations for key stakeholders.
Raise (Don't Lower!) the Bar for Math & Science Education
Mary Ann Rankin
Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the National Science Foundation (NSF) to announce new steps that will make it easier for women to pursue careers in engineering and the sciences. New initiatives will help women advance their careers in STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering, and math -- even while balancing the demands of home life. The new NSF guidelines will, for example, offer support to a researcher who is threatened with the loss of a grant because she needs to care for young children or elderly parents. This NSF policy change hopefully represents a long overdue recognition on the part of NSF that more needs to be done to make it possible for all Americans to realize their full potential in science and mathematics achievement. This country can no longer afford to ignore the needs and potential contributions of large segments of the U.S. population in STEM careers.
The business sector has also recognized the importance of expanding the STEM workforce. Earlier this year, Change the Equation, a coalition of America's most successful chief executives from companies such as ExxonMobil, Xerox, and Time Warner, issued an S.O.S. to policy-makers and educators: America must make science and math education a top priority or risk grave economic consequences. Policy-makers should be mindful that the International Monetary Fund recently forecast that China's economy would surpass that of the U.S. by 2016.
Education policy is a driving factor behind China's growth. Chinese leaders have made education a top priority. When Chinese students were included in comparative testing by the Programme for International Student Assessment, they outscored every other nation in terms of reading, science and math proficiency -- even Singapore, the world's math superstar, and Finland, the previous champion in science. Meanwhile 2010 data released by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows U.S. students rank only 23rd in science achievement and 32nd in math ability compared to those in 65 other nations.