What About The Teachers?

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As someone currently investing in an undergraduate science program, I thought this article on why so many college kids drop out of science programs to be both really interesting and really familiar:


Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors... 

After studying nearly a decade of transcripts at one college, Kevin Rask, a professor at Wake Forest University, concluded last year that the grades in the introductory math and science classes were among the lowest on campus. The chemistry department gave the lowest grades over all, averaging 2.78 out of 4, followed by mathematics at 2.90. Education, language and English courses had the highest averages, ranging from 3.33 to 3.36.

I think it has to be incredibly hard to run into this sort of buzz-saw at age 18. Kenyatta started at Columbia when she was in her 30s, after being an English major in her late teens and early 20s. I have only a vague sense of how their sciences compare, in terms of difficulty, with other schools. (My sense is that they are fairly rigorous.)  But more important than any kind of native ability has been her understanding that failure happens. You are not going to kill every quiz, every midterm, every final, or even every class. But if you're the kind of kid who takes a science major at a competitive school, chances are that you didn't experience much failure in high school. I think it would be very easy to believe, under those circumstances, that the problem is you.

With that said, it's rather amazing to me that there's so little focus on getting better teachers, at least in this article. One thing I've noticed watching Kenyatta fight through Chemistry, Calculus, Stats and Physics is that the teacher is key. It's interesting given that, these days, almost any discussion of public education begins with teachers.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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