Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The math lobby makes Obama bang the drum for more math

I am on my way home from Portland, Oregon where I spoke a meeting of teachers interested in technology. I went to Palo Alto before I went to Portland which meant that when President Obama visited Palo Alto and Portland last week I was there too. This mattered because I was blocked on both ends of my trip by the President's entourage. Those things happen -- no big deal.

But what is a big deal is that the President was going on that trip to speak with people about education. And so was I!

Curiously, we were speaking with different folks. Obama was speaking with Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and the President of Intel. Now, these guys know a lot about business and entrepreneurship and innovation. Education? Not so much. They did go to school. After that, there is no reason to assume they any more about education that anybody else.

Of course, Mr. Obama could use some help with respect to education. He announced yet again the critical need for more math and science, by which he means higher test scores. Why he cares about this I don't know. I guess he thinks maybe we can beat the Chinese in something if we just all study harder in high school and win the math competition. I wonder why he doesn't promote a business competition. I could get my arms around that. Teach kids business -- it might help.

But no, math and science again. He makes it sound like we just don't have enough mathematicians and scientists. There were 10000 applicants to MIT's freshman class last year and they took 1000. So, if anything, we have plenty of kids interested in science but not enough MITs. But the truth is, all the applicants get into some other school that will teach them what they want to know.

And then what will happen? They will become part of the great mass of unemployed, or underemployed, mathematicians and scientists. Really, we have plenty already Mr Obama. Look at the statistics on the number of applicants for each professorial position in these fields.

I don't know what this math and science obsession is really about, but I do have a guess. The testing industry is banging the drum and sending money to push for more testing and as usual, the lobbyists are winning.

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