John Ewing wrote a brilliant article called “Mathematical Intimidation.” If you haven’t read it, please do. It demolishes VAM. He calls on mathematicians to speak out. And at Brown, we read here, he spoke out:

“John Ewing, Executive Director of the American Mathematical Society and President of Math for America, was the speaker at a Brown commencement forum today. He spoke to a packed audience on the question, “Is There an Education Crisis?” Since it’s unlikely that the media was there for this one, here’s a synopsis for those following the public education debate:

“Ewing briefly described the various reports going back to 1958 that proclaimed the so-called crisis, and listed the forces that benefit from keeping it “in the forefront of the news”: politicians; the education/industrial complex; and that aspect of the American character that likes a crisis because a crisis “demands action and demands it now.”

“He focused on three areas in which the crisis has been manufactured. First, the falling scores on the Program for International Assessment (PISA) scores really haven’t fallen; scores have been roughly the same over the years in both reading and math. Second, the reporting of the National Assessment of Educational Proficiency (NAEP) has been misleading; scores have been reported as showing “only” one-third of students as proficient or above proficient, but actually one-third of students received a grade in the A range, which is really pretty good. As for the “dropout crisis,” Ewing pointed out that while the graduation rate looks low at 76%, it’s hard to get right and also a poor measure compared with the completion rate (percent of 18-24 year-olds getting a degree) at 90%, or the dropout rate, which at 8% is about half of what it was in 1970.

“Ewing acknowledged that some things in public education are very wrong – namely endemic poverty, awful textbooks published by an industry that’s only interested in profits, and lax teacher education programs – but condemned the crisis mongering. It leads to public alarm, an obsession with testing and accountability, a failure to focus on the real problems, and, worst of all, the destruction of the public education infrastructure, its teachers. He warned that good, experienced teachers are leaving, and young people no longer see teaching as a worthy career choice. We need to recognize that successful reform is a slow process, to turn down the volume on the alarm, and to make our teacher education programs both appealing to our best college graduates and difficult to gain admission to.”