Chapter 5 Decline of USA
Contents – © ISBN: 0-909001-61-8
Chapter 1: Setting the Scene
Chapter 2: Where to Start?
Chapter 3: OECD PISA Reports
Chapter 4: UNICEF Report
Chapter 5: Decline of USA
Chapter 6: The UK Experience
Chapter 7: My UK Experience
Chapter 8: People at the coalface
Chapter 9: Stressed out Children
Chapter 10: Finland
Chapter 11: The Interview
Chapter 12: Pointers for the Future
Chapter 13: Music – The Crucial Ingredient
Chapter 14: Conclusion
Any examination of the history of previous civilisations indicates that each and every rose to power, reached its peak and then declined. It is not difficult to find the reasons for such decline. Arnold Toynbee, the famous British historian, whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations is perhaps the most thorough analysis in this area, examined history from a global perspective. He concluded that, “Civilizations decline, not so much because of invasions or other external forces, but because of an internal hardening of ideas.”
Although the USA is still the world’s major power, an examination of what is occurring indicates it is in decline; and this decline by historical standards, is rapid. The reasons for its decline are numerous and complicated and it is not proposed to elaborate upon these numerous factors here except for the following.
This is to examine international trends with particular emphasis on the USA regarding factors that determine global share where science, technology, engineering and mathematics expertise are concerned; and the crucial input that education plays in determining such expertise.
In that perspective, the USA which once led the way as far as under and post-graduate degrees, is now lagging far behind other countries, particularly China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. For example, recently, the National Science Foundation published data demonstrating that the USA is producing far fewer engineers than are other parts of the world, particularly Asia.
Note that in Figure 1 that among 24-year-olds in the year 2001 who had a B.S. or B.A. degree, only five percent in the USA were engineers, compared to 39 percent in China and 19 percent or more in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
If you look at the actual number of engineers, Figure 1 shows that China is producing three times more than the United States. Figure 2 shows that the U.S. again comes out very low – even compared to European countries in terms of the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the fields of engineering and science.
Figure 1: BS/BA Degrees Among 24-year-olds in 2001
Fig 2: Engineering & Science Degrees as a % of all Bachelor Degrees
Singapore 68%, China 58%, S. Korea 36%, Taiwan 34%, Germany 31%, UK 28%, Sweden 24%, Belgium 22%, USA 17%.
Another disturbing trend is in the numbers of individuals receiving a Ph.D. in physical science and engineering. In 1987, 4,700 U.S. citizens received these degrees, compared to 5,600 Asians. In 2001, the USA figure had dropped slightly to 4,400 and the number of Asians had risen to 24,900. That is a dramatic shift.
We should also note that the percentage of Asians getting science and engineering Ph.D.s at USA universities is declining. Indeed, 25 percent fewer Asians got such degrees at USA universities in 2001 than in 1996.
This data relating to physical science and engineering Ph.D.s was assembled by Professor R. E. Smalley, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from Rice University. His disturbing conclusion: “By 2010, 90 percent of all Ph.D. physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asian living in Asia.”
Why are these figures important? Traditionally, it usually is technical human talent that determines industrial success. Basic science, technology, engineering and mathematics knowledge is vitally important in the business world. For perspective, over 50 percent of the CEOs of the USA Fortune 100 companies come from a technical background.
In addition, physical science and engineering capabilities at the Ph.D. level typically drive the kind of highly prized innovations that lead to the emergence of new industries. With expertise in these fields declining in the USA while rising in other parts of the world, we risk seeing USA industrial leadership weaken.
One of the main reasons why USA production of science and engineering talent in universities is low in comparison to other countries is that USA K-12 math and science skill levels are quite weak.
Note the data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from the year 2000 provided in Figure 3. The scores of USA students across the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels are abysmal. For example, in science, only two percent of USA 12th graders are rated advanced and only sixteen percent are rated proficient. (NAEP defines “proficient” as “solid academic performance for the grade assessed.”) Thirty-four percent of USA 12th graders are only partially proficient in science, and almost half are below partial proficiency.
Fig 3: USA Students; National Assessment of Ed Progress; Year 2000 Math & Science Proficiency
|4th Grade||4th Grade||8th Grade||8th Grade||12th Grade||12th Grade|
|Below Partial Proficiency||34%||31%||39%||34%||47%||35%|
In Figure 4, we see the results of the International Math and Science Study. It rates the USA versus other countries and provides the percentile USA students achieved. For example, in mathematics, USA 12th graders rated at the 10th percentile.
In other words, 90 percent of the countries did better than the USA, and only 10 percent performed worse. While the USA does well in grade 4, in grade 8, its performance is mediocre and in grade 12, very poor.
Fig 4: Student Achievement in Math & Science; USA Relative Rank (percentile) V. Other Countries
|12th Grade Advanced Math & Physics||6||0|
Why are USA students weak in science and mathematics? Many groups have studied this issue over the last ten years, and they have consistently identified two key problems.
Firstly, a considerable number of USA K-12 students are being taught science and math by unqualified teachers. In September 2000, the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century noted that 56 percent of high school students taking physical science were being taught by “unqualified” teachers – meaning that the teacher didn’t major or minor in the subject in college. In mathematics, this figure was 27 percent.
In January 2003, the Committee for Economic Development reported on the same topic for middle school students and found even more alarming data: 93 percent of science students and 70 percent of mathematics students were taught by “unqualified” teachers.
Obviously, if teachers lack qualifications and expertise in science or mathematics, generally one cannot expect the same standard of teaching when compared with teaching by a teacher possessing appropriate qualifications and expertise.
Furthermore, a crucial element in teaching is to inspire students in whatever subject area and an “unqualified” teacher will have a far harder task in achieving this as is indicated by the following, “the National Research Council reports that only 30 percent of students who enter a science track in grade 9 are still interested in science as a major when they graduate from high school and enter college.”
Another key problem in the USA is weak curricula. In 2003, the American Association for the Advancement of Science rated less than ten percent of middle school mathematics books to be acceptable, and no science books.
The National Commission on Excellence has recommended that public high schools require three years of mathematics and two of science. However, only 45 percent of USA high schools met that standard with respect to mathematics, and only 24 percent with respect to science.
Weak K-12 results in the USA are not a new problem. In 1983 in the USA, a famous report entitled “A Nation at Risk” was published and highlighted similar findings. Recently, the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University considered the failure of that report to bring about reform.
The following is a key paragraph from their report summary: ““A Nation at Risk” underestimated the resistance to change from the organized interest of the K-12 public education system, at the center of which were two big teachers unions as well as school administrators, colleges of education, state bureaucracies, school boards, and many others. These groups see any changes beyond the most marginal as threats to their own jealously guarded power.”
Sadly, the authors of the Report apparently did not examine structures of education in countries that are successful in terms of producing the best performing students according to international league tables.
If they had they would have know that a crucial determinant of such success is that teachers are not only respected but are given far more freedom than in the USA. In addition, countries similar to the USA in as much as politicians dictate the overall structure of what occurs in the classroom, also produce students who achieve far less than in countries where teachers are respected and given freedom to teach.
I say all this to place the following from the Koret Task Force for I believe that President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program has been a total disaster for USA education and that a totally different direction was needed. Again, Toynbee’s “hardening of ideas” springs to mind as the USA and UK (with New Zealand apparently following) have all centralised and politicised their education sectors with the same disastrous results.
So instead of putting the main blame where it should lie, namely on politicians and federal and state administrators who have centralised and politicised the education system, the authors prefer to blame the teachers unions, local administrators and teachers.
Please take note New Zealand, that the policies initiated by Anne Tolley and John Key will produce similar scenarios to those existing in the USA and UK! It is not rocket science to see the consequences of the direction that Tolley and Key is taking New Zealand.
Tragically for USA children, all the Koret Task Force said in this regard was as follows, “In light of this, we need the K-12 teaching community (the union leaders, the administrators and the teachers themselves) to take responsibility for the poor results they are achieving. We need them to get serious about accountability and teacher qualifications – two core elements of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program.
We need them to implement the recommendation of the National Commission on Excellence, requiring three years of math and two years of science at the high school level. We need them to support new routes for teacher certification in order to increase the number of teachers qualified to teach math and science. We need them to ease their opposition to vouchers and charter schools, which will bring about the kind of competition that generates broad improvement. And we need them to stop promoting unprepared students to the next grade level.”
It continued, “Probably most important, the K-12 teaching community needs to implement good management practices, such as performance appraisal systems that identify superior teachers. It should then reward these top teachers with salary increases of 10 percent or more per year, leading to annual wages of over $100,000. Equally as important, it needs to isolate the bottom 5-7 percent of teachers, put them on probation, and – if no progress is made within a reasonable period – terminate them.”
If that is the solution proposed by some of the USA’s leading education experts, then there is no hope to arrest the pace of the USA’s rapid decline and that is what is now occurring!
Does New Zealand want to travel the same road as the USA (and UK)? It would appear so and with total media support (if you want a clear example of totally prejudiced propaganda read some of the New Zealand Herald’s editorials and articles regarding unqualified support for National Party’s education policies), it is very difficult to have any influence or make any contribution.
Of course, there are reasons why politicians, owners of media outlets, editors and journalists will not examine the comprehensive amount of evidence that exists that will indicate such people’s failings. With power should come responsibility but, sadly, that type of responsibility is rarely seen today amongst people who hold power. Tragically for children the denial that is endemic amongst such people will result in damage to the development and wellbeing of the nation’s children and obviously these factors also affect the learning process.
Another factor is the amount of money as a percentage of total education spending that is allocated to schools. The USA Department of Education points out that only 53% of K-12 education funding is currently spent on instruction. Compare that to New Zealand where 90% is allocated to schools.
53% is, of course, far, far too low a percentage. The USA Department of Education continued, “We need, for the K-12 teaching community, to take responsibility and implement these reforms in an urgent manner. If they do not, all of us in our individual communities need to hold that community to account. Failure to address our immense shortcomings in science and math education is unacceptable and will inevitably lead to the weakening of our nation.”
The USA (and for that matter the UK) is a clear example of Toynbee’s description “of an internal hardening of ideas.”
Certainly, those existing in state education in California and the majority of the rest of the USA are based on inflexible and rigid ideas. What can only be termed the socialization of educational ideas is occurring nationwide.
For the USA to evolve to meet the demands of future centuries there needs to exist considerable amounts of freedom for teachers and schools. Models already exist where such freedom is basic in education structures; Finland, New Zealand (pre-2010) and others.
The public at large realize that there is a crisis. In a recent survey taken by pollster Mark Mellman 40% of likely California voters named elementary and secondary education as the biggest problem facing the state. That is more than the total for the next four issues – crime and drugs, health care, immigration and taxes. Reports such as the one above indicate the severity of the problem.
Considering that teachers in the USA have to accept an enormous amount of political interference I believe the vast majority do a magnificent job. It is an indication of their commitment that despite a lack of freedom that teachers in other countries take for granted, they still show enormous dedication to their students.
They deserve better than continual criticism. I believe many will agree with me that the main decisions in education are made by people who have never taught and that needs to change.
As far as the USA’s industrial leadership is concerned it is clear that remedial steps need to be implemented as a matter of urgency and radical surgery is needed.
What needs to be done? Firstly, empower teachers and parents and remover as much state and national control as possible.
Who knows the children best? Of course, it is the parents who brought the child into the world. Parents gift their child to the state to be educated. Who knows the child best after the parents? It is their teachers and they need to be empowered so that they can fulfil their responsibilities to optimize not only learning but also the child’s wellbeing.
Explicitly, the following gives some indications of the types of practices that need to be implemented. For example:
a) Teachers need to be empowered;
b) Education to become a cooperative venture between parent and teacher;
c) Schools become community based;
d) The elimination of tests particularly for pre-high school students;
e) Remove school districts and layers of bureaucracy;
f) Invest in music and art.
These are the ingredients for achievement and for well balanced and attaining adults. Please appreciate this is not about money. Education spending per capita on school age children is as follows: Finland $4800; New Zealand $2806; UK $3329; USA $6043. Project fifty years in the future and which countries will be in ascendancy and which in decline? The evidence speaks for itself.
Perhaps the main reason why fewer and fewer people are studying science is, firstly, the boring, insipid and uninspiring science and mathematics curricula and, secondly, something needs to be done about the way we test children.
If we inspire children they will grow up with a love of learning. We do exactly the opposite in the USA (and the UK). The curricula is test driven, teachers and schools are disempowered and we consider that by finding out what an elementary childrens’ short term memory capabilities are we can accurately evaluate where children are academically or even their future prospects. There is a place for monitoring a childrens’ progress but it is not the present obsessive current testing.
The bad news for USA continues as an examination of USA students scores indicate that USA is down in global table as their test scores worsen.
Results indicate that the average combined science literacy scale score for USA students to be lower than the OECD average. USA students scored lower on science literacy than their peers in 16 of the other 29 OECD countries and 6 of the 27 non-OECD countries.
On the mathematics literacy scale, USA students scored lower than the OECD average. 31 countries (23 OECD and 8 non-OECD) scored higher on average than USA in mathematics literacy in 2006. Only 4 countries had average lower scores than USA.
Regarding science, 10th grade USA students earned an average score of 489 on a 1,000 point scale, 11 points below the average. USA students were on par with those in 8 countries and outperformed those in 5. While the USA science score on PISA lagged statistically behind more than half the developed nations, it ranked in the same statistical category as 8 other industrialized countries, including Poland, Denmark, France, and Iceland.
USA outperformed such nations as Italy, Greece, and Mexico. In 2003, the last time PISA measured performance in science, USA students tallied an average of 491, 9 points lower than the average of 500 in industrialized countries.
In math, which was tested in less depth on this PISA, USA teenagers fared even worse, producing an average score of 474, 24 points below the international average of 498 among the 30 participating industrialized countries.
As in science, U.S. teenagers’ math performance was roughly the same as in 2003, the last time PISA was administered. The USA was 17 points behind the average score for industrialized nations then, meaning the score gap has since widened slightly.
27 non-industrialized nations also took part in the 2006 PISA. USA scores in both math and science ranked below those of several countries considered non-industrialized, including Estonia and Slovenia.
Finland, which has excelled in worldwide comparisons in recent years, notched the top science score of 563, followed by Canada, Japan, and New Zealand. Finland also landed on top in math. The top-scoring American students’ averages were statistically worse than those for 23 of those nations, and equal to only those of Spain and Portugal. Just four countries – Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Mexico scored lower than USA.
Bad news for the USA was that average performance was poor by world standards. A quarter of 15-year-olds do not even reach basic levels of scientific competence (against an OECD average of a fifth). According to Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s head of education research, Americans are only now realising the scale of the task they face.
Many American elected officials and policy-makers in recent years have repeatedly voiced worries that USA will gradually lose its international economic edge if students’ math and science skills do not improve, given the flourishing school systems and growing economies in a number of other countries. Business and technology leaders have argued that more USA students need to be encouraged to acquire, and be provided with, the necessary academic skills to enter math- and science-related professions.
Senta Raizen, who helped direct a recent revision of the science version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally sponsored testing program, said those concerns would likely echo once again with the latest PISA results. But Ms. Raizen said an equally important concern, particularly given the broad science skills PISA measures, was that USA students lack a strong grasp of the overall nature of science, and by extension, an understanding of its role in society.
Ms. Raizen said, “The scores call into question American students’ support for the enterprise of science – their understanding of the importance of the field …… It’s not just about having more people go into those fields ….. Can kids apply the science knowledge to problems that confront them as citizens?”
Gerald F. Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, in Arlington, VA, said recent test results have carried the same message: Science is not being emphasized strongly enough in USA classrooms, and teachers need more resources and skills to deliver sound lessons to students. “Why are we surprised?” Mr. Wheeler said of the scores. “It’s a sad state to be in.”
It is indeed “a sad state to be in.” What is beyond comprehension is why politicians and administrators refuse to examine the enormous amount of information available which clearly indicates what policies are successful and which are not!
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The Crô-Magnons including story “The Lascaux Caves”,
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