There seems to be a growing consensus that it is time to invest more attention and resources to encourage more students to study science and math. In addition to reversing the declining numbers of majors in these areas, there is interest in recruiting science and math teachers for k-12 schools.
We have been living with shortages of math and science teachers for decades, and the problem is particularly acute in urban schools serving disadvantaged populations. Despite stated goals of making progress in science and math, particularly in international comparisons, there has been little effort to address the lack of fully qualified teachers in these areas. Much of the current concern is prompted by comparisons to other countries, notably China where training in science and engineering appears healthy and growing.
Although international comparisons are always useful for moving U.S. policy makers, we might attend to some of the nuances of the differences among countries. Instructive in this regard are the observations of Singapores education minister as reported by Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria asked the minister why Singapore schoolchildren lead the world in science and math test scores but fail to deliver world class performance as adults. The minister explained that American children test worse but do better later in life because Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test welllike creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America." Lets hope that American policy makers learn this lesson as well.