Dangerous Complacency

In an editorial written by Joel I. Klein and published on TIME.com (July 16th), the former chancellor of New York City’s Department of Education sounds an alarm regarding the complacency toward America’s progress in math and science.

“When the house is on fire, you can’t sound the alarm enough,” he writes in response to a USA Today op-ed, “Quit Fretting: U.S. is Fine in Science Education,” which ran in June.

Klein makes the case that although the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) cited 65% of U.S. students having a “basic grasp of science,” he warns that this is no reason to celebrate the moderate rise in scores (up from 63% in 2009).

He continues, “It’s hard to overstate how dangerous complacency is… Only the top quarter of America’s K-12 students are performing on par with the average students in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea,” countries that Klein points out are not spending nearly as much money on schools as the U.S.

While he acknowledges that progress is being made, he contends that the pace of the progress continues to lag behind 65 other nations. America, he states, has to “get serious” about making educational improvements a priority for our students and for our country’s future economic strength and prosperity.

In Alabama, NAEP scores for math in 4th and 8th grades fall even with or just below the U.S. national average, and have made some gains since 2009. Programs through ALSDE and A+ College Ready put stronger focus on STEM improvement in the K-12 system. The State Department of Education’s Plan 2020 raises the bar on math by aligning goals and assessments with its adopted College and Career Ready Initiative standards. The new math standards, rolling out this fall, incorporate more critical-thinking activities and practical applications for higher student engagement.

Klein is not the first to sound a warning regarding America’s challenge in math and science. Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education also responded to the NAEP scores with concern.

“It’s clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation’s children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” said Duncan.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also issued similar warnings when presenting a report by a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations, which she co-chaired with Klein. In the report, the task force concludes, “Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk.”

Klein offers a national agenda “built around three T’s — teachers, time (on task), and technology.”

Click here for the full op-ed by Klein, in which he describes possible solutions including putting more value and investment on highly-qualified teachers, expanding time spent with hands-on learning, and harnessing innovations in technology to engage students more fully.

Click here to download Alabama’s Math Course of Study.