The United States lags behind most other developed countries when it comes to science education.

That, at least, is one conclusion of a major report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It measures student literacy in science, math, and reading (focusing this year on science) among 15-year-olds, and is an often-cited reference for policymakers sounding the alarm bells about the state of education in the United States and its implications for the ability of Americans to secure jobs in a global economy.

Finland emerged at the top of 57 countries in science, according to the 2006 survey results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The US ranked 29th, behind countries like Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Liechtenstein, and ahead of just nine other OECD countries…

“The lesson from PISA is that it’s not enough to test; you have to have the support and strategy to take advantage of what you learn from those tests,” says Mr. Wise. “Every community is not wired to the world, and every child needs to have an education that looks good not compared to the county next door, but internationally.”

Yup. So, no sneering and self-satisfaction from you Canadians – just because your kids came in 3rd.

  1. Li says:

    The problem with American science is threefold, as I see it as a frustrated scientist myself;

    • Funding for science, particularly applied science (that bad word that, in scientific circles, means both ‘useful’ and ‘un-fundable’) has utterly collapsed, unless you can somehow attach ‘terrorism’ to the grant request. Of course, if you want to build weapons or drugs that treat but don’t cure there is plenty of funding, but most people prefer not to sell their souls for the privilege of engaging in scientific endeavor. Why would a kid want to get into a very hard discipline when the chances for gainful employment are only retracting?

    • There is no vision in this country at all. No leadership on energy, none on space, none on genuinely improving crops (rather than slapping terminator genes in everything for pure profit motive), none on environmental engineering. None. Part of the appeal of science is using the method towards helping mankind, but there is none of that.

    • Grad education in the US is a mine field; if you don’t get exactly the right advisor, you’ll probably end up dropping out before you get your masters or doctorate as they string you along for years either doing their work for them, or doing nothing that will ever lead to being published. Other countries require turnover in their grad programs, so the PI’s can’t just use their grads as an expendable slave labor force. Not here.

    Why would any student want to go into science? I left a high paying consultancy job many years ago to pursue science and help the world. In this environment, I’ve come to think of myself as being terribly foolish for thinking that was even possible, and wondering how I can possibly make up for the past decade that I’ve wasted.

  2. Li says:

    My advice for students, though it hurts to give it: If you want to make money, go to accounting school. If you want to help people, join a charity. If you want to discover new things, read a book. Science as it is practiced in the US is largely a waste of time and money, a soul sucking trap seemingly designed to capture smart, idealistic people and crush them into cynical grant hounds.

  3. >>I haven’t been to Europe, but if I had to
    >>hazard an uninformed guess, I might suggest
    >>that Europe has higher standards because
    >>Europe can afford higher standards.

    Yeah, you’ll have that, when you don’t piss away trillions of dollars on a dead-end war and tax cuts for the super-rich.

  4. ECA says:

    Most companies hire 1 person to be responsible, and ALOT of techs TRYING to get experience. The Techs get paid SQUAT. And the 1 responsible Gets the most money, and plays GOLF.

  5. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #37 – And the 1 responsible Gets the most money, and plays GOLF.


    That’s pretty much as true as you can get 🙂

  6. Ascii King says:

    Up here in brilliant Canada, the CBC radio host reported that the US was excluded from the literacy testing because the people administering the test misread the instructions. hee hee!

    “One thing this post doesn’t mention is that in many of the countries listed ahead of the US, K-12 education is not a right. Therefor, many of the kids who would be bringing the curve down are in fact, not even in the system like they are in the US.”

    Post #17, KevinL your argument falls down when you consider that Canada ranked third, yet education is mandatory here and we have our share of dummies bringing down the score. Most of those dummies work in my office.

  7. Angel H. Wong says:

    My advice to kids studying engineering is that they should learn German as a second language, it seems that they have a shortage of highly skilled workers and the German goverment is trying to implement a Blue card which is similar to the American Green Card.

    Plus they pay in Euros.

  8. Thomas says:

    Good points. I agree with most of what you said.

    RE: Quality.
    The issue here is how we measure quality. Do we measure “average” by results or do we measure it by a set standard? If the former, then if the “average” student cannot find North America on a map, other students that fail this test are also considered “average”. However, if the later, then all students that are unable to find North America on a map are considered below average. The trick is determining the standard. Said another way, the trick is raising the definition of “meets expectations.”.

    RE: Evaluation

    I cannot argue that the child’s home environment greatly effects their performance at school. That factor (number of parents, average income, occupation etc) also needs accounting in the formulation of “expectations” when evaluating teachers. A converse example to your wife’s would be a class of students in which all of them were from upper middle class nuclear physicists. We would *expect* that they would perform well on standardized tests. At the end of the day, some means by which we can measure expectations across all schools is necessary.

    RE: Teachers

    Again, I agree that teachers generally do not get a fair shake. There are systemic issues that need to be corrected. In a discussion I had with a friend of mine he suggested simply that principals be given the authority to hire and fire whom they please and the school board be restricted but authorized to hire and fire any principal they please (whenever they please). That would go a long way towards improving the quality of the education. But alas, there is a great deal of politics in the way.

    RE: Europe

    Whether European countries are able to meet their high standards is a different discussion from whether they *set* high standards. Using the same academic standards as Europeans, I’d bet that most American HS students would look silly.

  9. BubbaRay says:

    OhForTheLoveOf said, on December 6th, 2007 at 11:29 am

    #37 – And the 1 responsible Gets the most money, and plays GOLF.


    That’s pretty much as true as you can get 🙂

    Yep, but “bullseye” was more apropos than you think, some actually hang out in dens of iniquity and play darts. Nothing like a double bull out.

  10. Mister Catshit says:

    A quick comment on those who like to blame the teachers and unions.

    Canada ranked #3. Yet their teachers are strongly unionized and have input into the curriculum and universal testing. I understand most European schools are similar. They have respect and standing in their communities.

    #41, Thomas,

    I am very hesitant to give carte blanche to principals to hire and fire. The same with administrators responsibilities to principals. That leads to an “instant results” mentality where each must perform to those standardized tests. Now. Sometimes you need a long term plan and the guts to stick to the plan in order to have lasting results. Changing the game plan with each new teacher / principal will seldom give long term results.

    If these teachers have survived all that schooling to reach their profession, give them some credit that they know their jobs.

  11. But American students have all conditions for science development.


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