Why aren’t Americans into science and math?

March 7, 2007 at 3:08 pm | Posted in Entertaining | Leave a comment

Bill Gates addressed a congressional committee today, bemoaning the lack of qualified American high-tech workers, and begging the congressmen to eliminate  the limitations on foreign worker visas.

Sadly, despite the efforts of Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Electric Company, young Americans simply do not seem to be able to compete with the rest of the world in subjects involving science and math. 

As a graduate of the US public education system, it was difficult for me to wrap my mind around the statistics, but I managed to examine the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Our students were outclassed by a rather significant difference in scores, and beaten outright by a rather large group of countries.  More alarmingly, when you calculate a composite average score of industrialized nations, the US falls below average.

If I had gotten below average grades in high school, I would not have been accepted to college, and would not be qualified to spend my merry days here at Dynamic. I’d probably be serving coffee to geeks in a cybercafe, sassing the cook and wearing a ruffled apron.

The US, in terms of technology, is going to be relegated to serving coffee to the big boys if we don’t find a way to revolutionize our education system. As it is, our most robust technical companies are relying on foreign workers imported to the US, or simply sending the work to be performed overseas.

When I consider my friends who have become teachers, I must say that they don’t tend to be the most mathematically-oriented people. They are, therefore, able to ignore the fact that their starting wages are lower than those of a beginning construction worker, or GM line worker who did not have to go to college and then student teach. The people I know who have become teachers work summer jobs to make ends meet, all the while being required to attend college for further education in order to maintain their certification. They sigh, and roll their eyes, and point out that they got into teaching for the kids, not for the cash. Numbers simply were not a large part of their decisionmaking process.

I believe in order to  have mathematically and scientifically-inclined workers in the classroom, we are going to have to start making teaching a respected well-paying profession. If I’m great at science & math, and get a degree in computer science, I can make an average of $50,000 my first year out of school. I may also start right out with stock incentives, bonuses, and other rewards. I can do similarly well in engineering, finance, or public accountancy. I may receive raises, and can climb a corporate ladder, and have all the things an average American wants. To become a public school teacher, I would have to give up all of those rewards, and my average starting salary would be about $31,000. My odds for an increase each year would depend on contract negotiations, which in turn depend on the whims of State funding. If I ever want to buy a boat or take a vacation around the world, I am going to have to marry someone with money, or have a good mention in someone’s will.

Simply put, a science or math-gifted person gives up a great deal of economic advantage over their entire lifetime if they choose to teach.

Liberal arts students, however, make about the same wage whether they are teachers or not. This leads me to believe that teaching is a valid economic choice for them,  but under the current system, any sensible math or science whiz would be crazy to sign up.

In my opinion teaching should pay as well as other lines of math and science work requiring as much education. Only then will we have some of the best and brightest geeks in the classroom.

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