Obama to Save Science Education (Good Luck with That!)

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President Obama announced that he wants to see companies and organizations across the country step up to improve our nation's math and science scores. Critics of the program say he needs to do more to change curricula and teaching methods, and while they're right, that criticism is also a bit unfair.


First, the administration already announced the Race to the Top program, which is essentially a $4 billion bribe for schools that agree to adopt teaching assessments. As for changing the curriculum, I hope the administration continues to push for a national standard to keep states like Mississippi from purposely setting the bar low on reading, writing and science to qualify for federal money. But the broader point is that reforming education is just really, really hard.

To wit, in Ocobter the New York Times Room for Debate blog brought together five education experts to offer solutions to our consistently embarrassing math scores among 4th and 8th graders. Together, they blamed the pedagogy, the textbooks, the tests, the teachers, and the curriculum. Maybe they're totally right, but I don't like it when critics go at education policy like a fumigator spraying an entire apartment building, because it's not really practical from a national reform level. If we're going to start with one idea, I still agree with what I wrote in October

To me, some things are clear. Countries that outperform the United States in math and science almost universally have longer school days. In fact the length of the school day is one of only a handful of dependable indicators of achievement. So let's extend the school day. Beyond that the issue of math achievement stumps me a bit.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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