Do brain cells freeze in 15-year-olds?

Pop quiz. Of 30 wealthy nations, where do our 15-year-olds rank in average science scores?

a) 1st
b) 8th
c) 13th
d)17th

How about in math scores?
a) 1st
b)10th
c)16th
d) 24th

If you guessed “d” both times, you’re right. 

Assuming this pattern carries across to other age groups, and not just 15-year-olds, what do you think the federal government should do to prepare K-12 students for the science and technology driven 21st Century? Currently, most education issues are handled by state and local policy makers. The Feds take a hands-off approach. Clearly, this approach isn’t working.

So, what do you think the President and Congress should do to fix the current state of affairs? I’d like to hear your thoughts.  

I’d also like to hear how my Congressional candidates would reply to that and six other questions a team of science organizations just announced. And they’ve made it really easy for me, and you, to do so.

In the words of the ScienceDebate 2008 team (which now includes me as their director of public engagement):

The November election will be a critical moment for U.S. science. It’s important that voters know where their candidates stand on issues such as climate change; the environment; innovation, education, research and the economy; and soaring energy prices.

Candidates are much more likely to answer if you ask, too! It’s simple; just find your candidates using the zip code search and email them from their profile pages. Let them know that you think science and technology policy is central to our country’

s future. Link here to get started.

We’d like to flood their in boxes with hundreds of emails from concerned citizens. Politicians pay attention to their voters, and together we can show that there is a constituency for science. We can make science and technology a prominent part of the 2008 elections.

  • s.c.k.

    what ever happened to music, the arts and gardening/horticulture? They are all directly related and interconnected to both math and science- not to mention another fun and accessible point of entry for students of all ages. While our government is busy slashing these programs, our youth (aka future) suffer indoor boredom, while sitting unnaturally still and passively ‘learning’ abstract concepts that seem to have no relevance to their lives. And it shows in both their test scores and Ritalin prescriptions.

    So my suggestion is this: there is so much to be learned through the arts. Why not focus on music, art and gardening as seedling programs for our youth? Anyone who sticks with them long enough will gain so much with regards to math and science, not to mention an expanded appreciation of beauty and a variety of ways of enjoying life. After all- is there any other cause for living?

  • s.c.k.

    what ever happened to music, the arts and gardening/horticulture? They are all directly related and interconnected to both math and science- not to mention another fun and accessible point of entry for students of all ages. While our government is busy slashing these programs, our youth (aka future) suffer indoor boredom, while sitting unnaturally still and passively ‘learning’ abstract concepts that seem to have no relevance to their lives. And it shows in both their test scores and Ritalin prescriptions.

    So my suggestion is this: there is so much to be learned through the arts. Why not focus on music, art and gardening as seedling programs for our youth? Anyone who sticks with them long enough will gain so much with regards to math and science, not to mention an expanded appreciation of beauty and a variety of ways of enjoying life. After all- is there any other cause for living?

  • Marvin Minsky

    There is a truly HORRIBLE report about school math, produced by a Bush-administration supported organization:
    See “The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel” at

    http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf

    So far as I can see, this report is a complete disaster. Its main recommendation is that schools should put more emphasis on teaching about fractions!

  • Marvin Minsky

    There is a truly HORRIBLE report about school math, produced by a Bush-administration supported organization:
    See “The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel” at

    http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf

    So far as I can see, this report is a complete disaster. Its main recommendation is that schools should put more emphasis on teaching about fractions!

  • >>most education issues are handled by state and local policy makers. The Feds take a hands-off approach. Clearly, this approach isn’t working.<<

    Actually, with increased federal funding (we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland), curriculum “strings,” and No Child Left Behind, I had the impression that Uncle Sam took a little too much interest in local educational practices. The local approach is actually best, because local constituencies can experiment more. If we have One System To Rule Them All, and that one system sucks, then all of our kids are in trouble.

    Of course it’s not just a matter of who’s running the show, but–as you noted–what’s being taught. NCLB and comparable state-level intiatives focus so much on testing that the kids don’t get enough practice in problem-solving. This is the biggest complaint I hear when talking to educators.

    I’m a big fan of using space exploration as a means of getting kids interested. I was a Shuttle-era kid. Before that, it was Skylab, Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury. The Ares Projects are trying to develop more space-related materials to help teachers capture students’ imaginations when they’re younger. See http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/ares/ares_education.html
    I’m sure other NASA centers have similar initiatives.

    While R&D expenditures are starting to increase for NSF, the NASA budget remains stagnant, at .58 percent of the whole. If this site gets a conversation started on what sort of future we want and what sort of education is needed to get us there, more power to you!

    /b

  • >>most education issues are handled by state and local policy makers. The Feds take a hands-off approach. Clearly, this approach isn’t working.<<

    Actually, with increased federal funding (we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland), curriculum “strings,” and No Child Left Behind, I had the impression that Uncle Sam took a little too much interest in local educational practices. The local approach is actually best, because local constituencies can experiment more. If we have One System To Rule Them All, and that one system sucks, then all of our kids are in trouble.

    Of course it’s not just a matter of who’s running the show, but–as you noted–what’s being taught. NCLB and comparable state-level intiatives focus so much on testing that the kids don’t get enough practice in problem-solving. This is the biggest complaint I hear when talking to educators.

    I’m a big fan of using space exploration as a means of getting kids interested. I was a Shuttle-era kid. Before that, it was Skylab, Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury. The Ares Projects are trying to develop more space-related materials to help teachers capture students’ imaginations when they’re younger. See http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/ares/ares_education.html
    I’m sure other NASA centers have similar initiatives.

    While R&D expenditures are starting to increase for NSF, the NASA budget remains stagnant, at .58 percent of the whole. If this site gets a conversation started on what sort of future we want and what sort of education is needed to get us there, more power to you!

    /b

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