- The United States ranks 21st of 30 OECD countries in scientific literacy, and the U.S. score of 489 fell below the OECD average of 500.
- The United States ranks 25th of 30 OECD countries in mathematics literacy, and the average score of 474 fell well below the OECD average of 498.
- The United States has an average number of students who perform at the highest proficiency levels, but a much larger proportion who perform at the lowest levels. The United States is the only member country to have relatively high proportions of both top and bottom performers.
- Although American white students’ average science score of 523 ranked above the OECD average, Hispanic American (439), American Indian and Native Alaskan (436), and African American (409) students all fell far below. These groups scored similarly to the national averages of Turkey and Mexico, the two lowest-performing OECD member countries.
- The difference between the science scores of two students of different socioeconomic backgrounds is higher in the United States than in almost any other country.
The White House announcement today noted that the Educate to Innovate campaign will involve a series a 'high-powered partnerships'...[that] will apply new and creative methods of generating and maintaining student interest and enthusiasm in science and math, reinvigorating the pipeline of ingenuity and innovation essential to America’s success that has long been at the core of American economic leadership. It continues:
President Obama has identified three overarching priorities for STEM education: increasing STEM literacy so all students can think critically in science, math, engineering and technology; improving the quality of math and science teaching so American students are no longer outperformed by those in other nations; and expanding STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.
This not the first foray into improving the education of American children, especially in STEM subjects. The recent Wall Street Journal CEO Council cited 'an educated workforce' as its top priority. Says John Chambers, one of the Co-Chairs of An Educated Workforce: Each of us during our tenure as CEOs has sat in an "education-is-your-top-priority" type of discussion every year. And each year, you walk out a little bit frustrated. You say the timing's not right, we're not really serious about it, etc. But as we went through the discussion today, it was a unanimous vote that it needs to be the top national priority—way above the economy, health care, energy or the environment.
So what will some celebrities (Astronaut Sally Ride for example), 100,000 volunteers, interactive games and hands-on learning, and an annual White House Science Fair get us? As was said by a marketer in another STEM planning meeting I participated in: You can do what you want, but if you go down this road the effort is DOOMED!
Then, as now, what seems to be a crucial piece of the puzzle of missing: the students.You can fix the curriculum, make the teachers smarter, create smaller classrooms, get the parents engaged, BUT if the students don’t see the benefit in it for themselves, it will make no difference whatsoever. If a marketer were doing this, we’d focus on the kids as the audience – not the parents, teachers, administrators or school board.
It certainly isn't clear from the announcement and rhetoric exactly what the strategies will be for the Educate to Innovate campaign. But it sadly sounds as if it will be more about posturing and hypothesizing about what's wrong with kids, school, teachers, parents, businesses, communities and ways to 'fix them' than actually getting down to designing solutions that will work for the students from their point of view. Another situation where perhaps a new way of thinking about things would bring some insight and feasible, viable solutions. Some market-based ideas we came up with at the meeting for those thinking STEM education.