Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The American work force has some of weakest mathematical and problem-solving skills in the developed world

I've taught logic and critical thinking in the philosophy department at Monroe County Community College for 13 years. I love teaching these classes, and helping students grow in their critical thinking abilities. I'm grateful MCCC has a logic class.

Most of my students come in with low critical thinking skills. I have wondered how they could be so ill-prepared. I think this is not due to any innate inability to think logically, but to our educational system in general. The comparative data now coming out supports this.

See today's nytimes editorial "Why Other Countries Teach Better; Why Students Do Better Overseas." Here are some bullets.

  • "The American work force has some of weakest mathematical and problem-solving skills in the developed world. In a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a global policy organization, adults in the United States scored far below average and better than only two of 12 other developed comparison countries, Italy and Spain. Worse still, the United States is losing ground in worker training to countries in Europe and Asia whose schools are not just superior to ours but getting steadily better."
  • "Finland has for years been in the highest global ranks in literacy and mathematical skills... all high school students must take one of the most rigorous required curriculums in the world, including physics, chemistry, biology, philosophy, music and at least two foreign languages." I went to the link, and was amazed at the comprehensiveness of Finnish educational standards. Just the requirement to learn philosophical thinking was wonderful.
  • "The most important effort has been in the training of teachers, where the country leads most of the world, including the United States, thanks to a national decision made in 1979. The country decided to move preparation out of teachers’ colleges and into the universities, where it became more rigorous. By professionalizing the teacher corps and raising its value in society, the Finns have made teaching the country’s most popular occupation for the young." May we pause here, stand, and applaud? Are not our teachers undervalued and underpaid? (Thanks partly to our media-driven culture that pays its media heroes...  for being media heroes.)
  • "Canada also has a more rigorous and selective teacher preparation system than the United States, but the most striking difference between the countries is how they pay for their schools. American school districts rely far too heavily on property taxes, which means districts in wealthy areas bring in more money than those in poor ones. State tax money to make up the gap usually falls far short of the need in districts where poverty and other challenges are greatest."
Educationally, America has been far-surpassed and is even being more-overtaken.