STEM

Reader aka “Democracy”: This is NOT the “Golden Age of Education Reporting”

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A reader who identifies as Democracy challenges John Merrow’s claim that this is the Golden Age of education journalism. He challenges the Education Writers Association’s “public editor,” who wrote about a STEM crisis caused by the low test scores of American students. I would add another point. A nation can be globally competitive and can lead the world without having every person proficient in STEM subjects. I don’t know whether the percentage of scientists, engineers, technicians, and technologists should be 20%, 30% or 40%, but it certainly need not be a majority. Athletes, musicians, philosophers, historians, and artists are probably not expert in STEM subjects. Nor are truck drivers, legislators, governors, and officials of the U.S. Department of Education. Professor Hal Salzman of Rutgers, an expert on labor markets and public policy, has already debunked the idea that there is a shortage of STEM graduates. In fact, he has written, there is a shortage of jobs in the STEM fields, not a shortage of skilled people. Also, Sharon Higgins, an Oakland blogger, wrote a post arguing that there is no STEM crisis, citing credible sources. Journalists should be aware at the very least that not everyone agrees with the reformers’ claim that the sky is falling. There are indeed two sides.

 

 

Democracy writes:

 

 

John Merrow says that “Education reporting has never been better…”

 

 

He’s wrong.

 

 

To take but one example, here’s a piece by Emily Richmond, “the public editor of the Education Writers Association.”

 

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/05/data-girls-stem/483255/#article-comments

 

 

This was my comment about that article:

 
_____________________________________________

 

According to Emily Richmond of the Education Writers Association, “just 43 percent of U.S. eighth graders tested met or exceeded the benchmark for proficiency” on the newest NAEP test, the Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment. This is important, Richmond asserts, because “it’s one of the few means of comparing student achievement among states.”

 

 

Then Richmond poses this question, answer, and explanation:

 

 

“Why does this matter? These are skills that experts say Americans must have if they are to compete in a global marketplace. U.S. students typically have middling performance on international assessments gauging math and science ability.”

 

 

The implications are far-ranging. Emily Richmond, a national education reporter, is telling, or at the very least, strongly suggesting to readers that Americans students just can’t cut it – they aren’t “proficient” – and American economic competitiveness in the “global marketplace” is threatened.

 

 

This claim is the very same as that made for the necessity of the Common Core State Standards, which were funded by Bill Gates. Interestingly, the Education Writers Association is also funded by Bill Gates, along with conservative groups like the Kern, Dell and Walton Foundations.

 

 

But the claim is demonstrably false. America is already competitive in the global marketplace (it’s #3 in the World Economic Forum’s latest competitiveness rankings), and when it loses its competitive edge it’s not because of student test scores but because of stupid economic policies and decisions.

 

 

But Emily Richmond says nary a word about this.

 

 

Nor does she make any mention at all that there’s a glut of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs in the U.S.

 

 

A 2004 RAND study “found no consistent and convincing evidence that the federal government faces current or impending shortages of STEM workers…there is little evidence of such shortages in the past decade or on the horizon.”

 

A 2007 study by Lowell and Salzman found no STEM shortage (see: http://www.urban.org/publications/411562.html ). Indeed, Lowell and Salzman found that “the supply of S&E-qualified graduates is large and ranks among the best internationally. Further, the number of undergraduates completing S&E studies has grown, and the number of S&E graduates remains high by historical standards.” The “education system produces qualified graduates far in excess of demand.”

 

 

Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote this stunning statement recently in the Columbia Journalism Review (see: http://www.cjr.org/reports/what_scientist_shortage.php?page=all ):
“Leading experts on the STEM workforce, have said for years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors.”

 

 

So why the STEM emphasis?

 

Benderly continues:

 

 

“Simply put, a desire for cheap, skilled labor, within the business world and academia, has fueled assertions—based on flimsy and distorted evidence—that American students lack the interest and ability to pursue careers in science and engineering, and has spurred policies that have flooded the market with foreign STEM workers. This has created a grim reality for the scientific and technical labor force: glutted job markets; few career jobs; low pay, long hours, and dismal job prospects for postdoctoral researchers in university labs; near indentured servitude for holders of temporary work visas.”

 

 

As Michael Teitelbaum writes in The Atlantic, “The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/03/the-myth-of-the-science-and-engineering-shortage/284359/)

 

 

Teitelbaum adds this: “A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher…All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

 

 

But Emily Richmond says nothing at all about any of this.

 

 

Richmond suggests that we should we should worried that “just 43 percent“ of 8th graders met NAEP proficiency levels, as if 8th graders hold the key – somehow – to American economic competitiveness. That supposition alone is pretty baseless. But what about those NAEP proficiency benchmarks?

 

 

Here’s how Gerald Bracey described the NAEP proficiency levels in Nov. 2009 in Ed Leadership:

 

 

“the NAEP reports the percentage of students reaching various achievement levels—Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The achievement levels have been roundly criticized by the U.S. Government Accounting Office (1993), the National Academy of Sciences (Pellegrino, Jones, & Mitchell, 1999); and the National Academy of Education (Shepard, 1993). These critiques point out that the methods for constructing the levels are flawed, that the levels demand unreasonably high performance, and that they yield results that are not corroborated by other measures.”

 

 

Bracey added this:

 

 

“In spite of the criticisms, the U.S. Department of Education permitted the flawed levels to be used until something better was developed. Unfortunately, no one has ever worked on developing anything better—perhaps because the apparently low student performance indicated by the small percentage of test-takers reaching Proficient has proven too politically useful to school critics.”

 

 

And then this:

 

 

“education reformers and politicians have lamented that only about one-third of 8th graders read at the Proficient level. On the surface, this does seem awful. Yet, if students in other nations took the NAEP, only about one-third of them would also score Proficient—even in the nations scoring highest on international reading comparisons (Rothstein, Jacobsen, & Wilder, 2006).”

 
The National Academy of Sciences called the NAEP proficiency standards “fundamentally flawed.” NAEP’s original technical evaluation team reported that “these standards and the results obtained from them should under no circumstances be used as a baseline or benchmark.”

 

 

NAEP’s governing board fired the team.

 

 

The General Accounting Office study of NAEP assumptions and procedures and proficiency levels found them to be “invalid for the purpose of drawing inferences about content mastery.”

 

 

Yet, Emily Richmond tells readers that “These are skills that…Americans must have if they are to compete in a global marketplace. “

 

 

Richmond makes no effort whatsoever to educate the public – her readers – on how badly flawed NAEP is. Does she just not know?

 

 

One thing NAEP seems to measure fairly well is income inequality. Or, to put it a bit more precisely, research has found that between half and two-thirds of the variance in student academic performance on NAEP is explained by a cumulative family risk factor, which includes family income, the educational attainment of parents, family and neighborhood housing conditions, and the ability to speak and read English. Richmond says only that there are “gaps…between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers.”

 

 

It’s reasonable to expect that a person leading an Education Writers Association would do a better – more accurate – job of presenting testing information to the general public.

 

 

One can hope….

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