What do you think?

I asked awhile back for some of your thoughts on improving science education, particularly in the U.S. In yesterday’s NY Times, there was a story about discussing one measure that might help in this area:

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed “a rigorous secondary school program of study” and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields.

Sounds good initially. The problem:

It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums.

The rest of the article grapples with those issues, so I’ll leave that to you to read (registration may be required).

After examining the pros and cons, what do you think of the idea? *Should* the national government set some standards for a “rigorous program of study” for the kids to meet to receive these grants? Is there a better way to dole them out? Should they be offered at all? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

(Cross-posted to Panda’s Thumb)

Comments

  1. #1 Scott W. Somerville
    January 23, 2006

    Either lightning strikes twice or you post a lot, Dr. Smith! I’m hard at work at my day job of following legislation that might affect homeschoolers, and lo! I find your post on this item. Small world, isn’t it?

    I haven’t made up my own mind on this one, so I’ll be interested in seeing what your readers think.

  2. #2 Gerardo Camilo
    January 23, 2006

    Call me old fashion, but when I went to school (early 80s), my physics teacher was a physicist ( he also taught advanced algebra and calulus), my chemistry and biology teacher was a biologist, and the algebra/geometry and trigonometry teacher, indeed, was a math person. Furhtermore, everyone had to take all the way calc I, and all the sciences, no exceptions.
    From my high school class, >90% went on to college. There were several MDs, MBAs, engineers, lawyers, etc. More interesting, six of us got PhD in science and are practicing scientists. All attending competitive programs. My younger brother’s (an engineer) class had comparable numbers.
    I now live in St. Louis, and for you to teach science here, you are not required to know much about it.

  3. #3 Will McKenna
    January 23, 2006

    There was a somewhat similar program when I was in college, initiated by the first President Bush. The National Science Scholars program (if I recall correctly), was administered by the Dept. of Education, paid me 3K/year for tuition & fees so long as I was making progress toward a degree in the Natural Sciences (Comptuer Science in my case). It absolutely helped me decide to go ahead and get a degree in a scientific field. Unfortunately for me the program was cancelled by the Republican Congress in 1996. I still finished the degree, but I reconsidered for a while.

    Personally I think we should be doing as much more to increase the science/math literacy of Americans. This program might be a good start.

  4. #4 Mike the Mad Biologist
    January 23, 2006

    In principle, this is an excellent idea, but, like all things, the devil is in the details. The criteria appear to exclude many students through no fault of their own (e.g., 20 states don’t appear to even qualify). I’m also worried that students from ‘poorer’ schools (actually, non-wealthy ones) won’t have the necessary curricular options to qualify.

    Having said that, a national incentive to push kids to take four years of rigorous science is worth a shot; we definitely need more national ‘standardization of standards’ (not pedagogy, standards). VA’s plan, which is tied to an all-around rigorous courseload, might be the way to go (how is one allowed to graduate without four years of science and math, anyway?)

  5. #5 Volvox
    January 23, 2006

    In my experience with kids going through various educational systems, the futher away from the actual classroom, the more ineffective the decisions.

    Even skilled educators with good intentions would find it difficult to create a valid, working definition of “rigorous” that would work well and fairly for all students and schools.

    Also, the grants aren’t very much money when applied to the cost of a college education. My preference would be to make sure most students could have low cost loans as needed for their education.

    Volvox

  6. #6 Scott W. Somerville
    January 24, 2006

    Dr. Smith, I’ve been digging into why the New York Times wrote a “news” article about something that happened three weekds earlier in an unnamed bill. It may be the merest coincidence that there is an orchestrated campaign to get three Republicans to vote against a “Deficit Reduction Act” that cuts over twelve billion dollars in student aid, or, on the other hand, it may not.

    Here’s what I know: I was bombarded by conservative activists who were furious to read a story about Republicans spending three billion dollars to give the federal government more power over education. Once they learned that the bill cut fifteen billion dollars of middle class entitlements and gave back three billion in aid to low income students, their opinion changed dramatically. The New York Times could have provided those details–or at least, the name of the bill–in their original article, but they didn’t.

    I’m a lawyer, and I get paid to be skeptical. That affects my reading of scientific studies (as we have discussed by email), and it affects how I read the news. In this case, I’d say there may have been an agenda at work.

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