Archives for category: STEM

Fareed Zakaria warns that fears about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are greatly overblown.

Zakaria comes close to acknowledging that the “crisis” rhetoric of so-called reformers is a myth,or as Berliner and Biddle called it years ago, “a manufactured crisis.”

The demand fo expand STEM is often accompanied by disdain for liberal education, writes Zakaria:

“If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities. From President Obama on down, public officials have cautioned against pursuing degrees like art history, which are seen as expensive luxuries in today’s world. Republicans want to go several steps further and defund these kinds of majors. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asked Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. “I don’t think so.” America’s last bipartisan cause is this: A liberal education is irrelevant, and technical training is the new path forward. It is the only way, we are told, to ensure that Americans survive in an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition. The stakes could not be higher.”

But, he writes, to de-emphasize the humanities would be a huge mistake:

“This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

Zakaria then makes a point I have made again and again to those who lament international test scores:

“In truth, though, the United States has never done well on international tests, and they are not good predictors of our national success. Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math. And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country has dominated the world of science, technology, research and innovation.”

Sweden and Israel have poor scores on the same tests, yet are high on investment, entrepreneurship, and innovation. There are characteristics that are more important than test scores:

“They are flexible. Their work cultures are non-hierarchical and merit-based. All operate like young countries, with energy and dynamism. All three are open societies, happy to let in the world’s ideas, goods and services. And people in all three nations are confident — a characteristic that can be measured.”

The defining characteristic if a successful society, he concludes, is its ability to hone creativity and critical thinking skills. And for that, both the sciences and liberal arts are necessary.

Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times is one of our most thoughtful commentators on education. He cuts through hype and spin.

Recently he noticed a startling contradiction. a spokesman for QUALCOMM bemoaned the lack of well-prepared workers for STEM jobs. But at the same time, the same high-tech corporation announced that it was cutting its workforce.

He writes:

“Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.

“Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially,” Tornquist said, “our immigration system has failed to keep pace.” The nation’s outdated limits and “convoluted green-card process,” she said, had left firms like hers “hampered in hiring the talent that they need.”

“What Tornquist didn’t mention was that Qualcomm may then have had more engineers than it needed: Only a few weeks after her June 2 talk, the San Diego company announced that it would cut its workforce, of whom two-thirds are engineers, by 15%, or nearly 5,000 people.

“The mismatch between Qualcomm’s plea to import more high-tech workers and its efforts to downsize its existing payroll hints at the phoniness of the high-tech sector’s persistent claim of a “shortage” of U.S. graduates in the “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

He questions whether there is a shortage of STEM graduates, or whether the tech industries are looking to import cheap workers.

The industry claims shortages and highlights national security concerns, but the facts are complex. “”If you can make the case that our security and prosperity is under threat, it’s an easy sell in Congress and the media,” says Michael Teitelbaum, a demographer at Harvard Law School and author of the 2014 book “Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent,” which challenges claims of a STEM shortage in the U.S.

“Despite its “cost-cutting initiative,” a company spokesperson says, Qualcomm “continues to have open positions in specific areas, and still faces a “‘skills deficit’ in all areas of today’s workforce, especially engineering.”

Hiltzik adds:

“The industry’s push for more visas glosses over other issues. As we’ve reported, the majority of H-1B visas go not to marquee high-tech companies such as Google and Microsoft, but to outsourcing firms including the India-based giants Infosys and Tata. They’re not recruiting elite STEM graduates with unique skills, but contract workers to replace American technical employees — who often are required to train their foreign-born replacement as a condition of receiving their severance. This is the scandalous method of cost-cutting used by companies such as Southern California Edison, which outsourced the jobs of some 500 information technology employees, as we reported in February.”

Unbelievable. Microsoft lays off 18,000 workers while pressing Congress to expand the number of visas for engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and other workers. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and casino operator Sheldon Adelson wrote an article calling for Congressional action to increase H-1B visas.
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Senator Jeff Sessions responded with rage, directed mainly at Gates and at the the tech industry as a whole. He said: “”What did we see in the newspaper today?” said Sessions, “News from Microsoft. Was it that they are having to raise wages to try to get enough good, quality engineers to do the work? Are they expanding or are they hiring? No, that is not what the news was, unfortunately. Not at all.”

Sessions said:

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“What is the situation today for American graduates of STEM degrees and technology degrees?” said Session. “Do we have enough? And do we need to have people come to our country to take those jobs? Or, indeed, do we not have a shortage of workers, and do we have difficulty of people finding jobs?”

“Sessions recently sponsored a forum that assembled some of the leading academic critics of the H-1B program. The group assessed the consequences of hiking the H-1B cap from 85,000 to 180,000, as proposed in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill.

“They warned of increasing age discrimination since most of these foreign workers are young, as well as make it harder for U.S. STEM graduates to find work. A cap hike could hurt wages as well. Critics say schools now produce many more STEM graduates than there are jobs for them.

“Microsoft wasn’t the only company to get in Sessions’ crosshairs. He cited a letter by more than 100 large corporations sent to Congress late last year, urging immigration reform. The signees included many companies, such as Hewlett-Packard and Cisco, which have had recent layoffs.

“And just as it is not always true what is good for General Motors is good for America, likewise, what may be good for Mr. Adelson and Mr. Microsoft and Mr. Buffett is not always in accord with what is good for the American people. I know that. They are free to express their opinion, but I am going to push back,” said Sessions.

*****please note

Strange things happen in Los Angeles. Maybe all that nonstop good weather rattles people.

High school science teacher Greg Schiller was suspended after an administrator concluded that science projects made by two of his students were dangerous.

Schiller has now been allowed to return to his classroom.

“Both projects overseen by teacher Greg Schiller were capable of launching small objects. A staff member at the downtown Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts had raised concerns about one of them. Both are common in science fairs.

“I am very excited to be back with my students and help them prepare for the Advanced Placement tests, which are a week away,” Schiller said Thursday. “We have a lot of work ahead of ourselves.”

Schiller teaches AP Biology and AP Psychology. He also coaches the fencing team, which had to miss a major competition due to his suspension.

Has anyone considered checking the credentials of the administrator who removed him?

Oh my heavens!

I can’t believe it.

Creationism survives.

Science teachers, get involved.

Indiana teachers and parents and citizens: aren’t you glad Glenda Ritz will be state commissioner of education next year?

From a newspaper in Indiana:

A lengthy column today in the Lafayette Journal-Courier, by David Bangert, is headed “The evolution of Gov. Pence starts here; another creation science bill looms: An old fight over science will get a new look in 2013.”

A sample:

Indiana will have another discussion in the 2013 General Assembly session about how evolution is taught in the state’s science classrooms.

Same issue, new approach

“We’re going to try something a little different this time,” state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said this week.
Kruse was behind last session’s Senate Bill 89. In its original form, the bill offered to give local school boards the option to “require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science.”

Though not all prone to focus on the merits of sticking with the scientific method in science classrooms, senators were moved to water down the bill largely because of the presumed price tag. Creation science — even offered as a school board choice rather than a state mandate — adds up to a losing church-and-state proposition in the high courts. Rulings have been clear, not to mention expensive: Teaching creation science and intelligent design in public schools amounts to pushing religion, not science. And that crosses the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

A compromised SB89 that made it through the state Senate allowed schools to add courses that looked at the origin of life, provided they included theories from multiple religions. Considering that school districts already could do that with their non-science elective courses, the Indiana House took a pass.

This year, Kruse said, he’ll carry a bill designed by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based public policy think tank. According to its website, the Discovery Institute “seeks to counter the materialistic interpretation of science by demonstrating that life and the universe are the products of intelligent design and by challenging the materialistic conception of a self-existent, self-organizing universe and the Darwinian view that life developed through a blind and purposeless process.”

More from the story:

Louisiana has had a similar law since 2008. Tennessee followed suit in 2012. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declined to sign it, saying it would bring confusion instead of clarity, according to the Tennesseean news­paper in Nashville. Civil libertarians, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association and members of the National Academy of Sciences warned about what came to be called the “monkey bill,” named for the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial that went after a Tennessee teacher who dared to teach evolution against state laws at the time.

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, told Nature magazine that the law was simply a “permission slip for teachers to bring creationism, climate-change denial and other non-science into science classrooms.”

The law took effect in April without the governor’s signature.

How many times have we heard the President, the Secretary of Education, and leaders of corporate America tell us that we must produce more scientists? That there are thousands of jobs unfilled because we don’t have qualified college graduates to fill them? That our future depends on pumping billions into STEM education?

I always believe them. Science, engineering, technology and mathematics are fields critical for the future.

But why then, according to an article in the Washington Post, are well-educated scientists unable to find jobs?

Three years ago, USA Today reported  high unemployment among scientists and engineers.

Some experts in science say there is no shortage of scientists, but there is a shortage of good jobs for scientists.

Some say that the pool of qualified graduates in science and engineering is “several times larger” than the pool of jobs available for them. And here is a shocker: The quality of STEM education has NOT declined:

Despite this nearly universal support for upgrading science and math education, our review of the data leads us to conclude that, while the educational pipeline would benefit from improvements, it is not as dysfunctional as believed. Today’s American high school students actually test as well or better than students two decades ago. Further, today’s students take more science and math classes, and a large number of students with strong science and math backgrounds graduate from U.S. high schools and start college in S&E fields of study. 

Why don’t our leaders tell us the truth? Why don’t they tell us that many of our highly trained young people will not find good jobs in research labs or universities or anywhere else?

I have said before on this blog that the economy is changing in ways that no one understands, least of all me.

Over the past century, whenever reformers told the schools to prepare students for this career or that vocation, the policymakers and school leaders were woefully inadequate at predicting which jobs would be available ten years later. When the automobile was first invented, there were still plenty of students taking courses to prepare them to be blacksmiths. The same story could be repeated over the years. We are not good at prognosticating.

My own predilection is to believe that all young people should get a full and rounded general education, which will teach them to think and evaluate new information. I prefer an education that includes the usual range of disciplines, not because of tradition but because each of them is valuable for our lives. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we all need to learn the skills of reading, writing, and mathematics. We don’t know what jobs will be available in ten or twenty years, but we all need to study history, so that we possess knowledge of our society and others; we need an understanding of science so we know how the world works; we need to be involved in the arts, because it is an expression of the human spirit and enables us to think deeply about ourselves and our world. I could make the same claims for other disciplines. The claim must be based on enduring needs, not the needs of the job market, because the only certainty is that the  job market will be different in the future.

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