I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle: “The Obama administration unveiled plans to create an elite corps of master teachers, a $1 billion effort to boost U.S. students’ achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.” Following are some of my thoughts about this and another related article.

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I believe America really needs better teachers and better educated students. In particular, there is indeed a gap between USA and other countries (e.g. Russia, India, China etc.) with respect to high school students’ achievements in math and science. Better math and science teachers will better prepare students for college. Even non-STEM majors require students to take an introductory course in math or science (physics, chemistry, biology, or computer science.) In particular, I know that a music major requires math courses. Besides, there are too few students choosing a college major in the STEM fields. (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

The article also says that “The program will reward high-performing teachers with salary stipends.” By agreeing to pay good teachers higher salaries, we just recognize how important their work is for the future of the whole society.

However, there seem to already exist more than 80 teacher quality programs. Therefore I question: what has been achieved so far with all these programs? Unfortunately the article has no information on such existing programs.

All I know is that many students become freshmen with a background in math and science that is less than adequate. Why does this happen? I believe they finish high school with low grades in math and science or else their grades do not match their knowledge. College needs students better prepared in the STEM fields.

The tech sector is set to grow faster than all but five industries by 2020. Out of those fields, half of which are related to healthcare, tech pays the best with an average salary of $78,730, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If technology is the future, however, we are doing a woeful job of preparing our kids for it. Computer science is the only one of the STEM fields that has actually seen a decrease in student participation over the last 20 years, from 25% of high school students to only 19%, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. (Read more in the article “Can We Fix Computer Science Education in America?”.)

Again, this problem boils down to high school curriculum. “Take a look at the curriculum of many classes labeled computer science today and you’ll find not much has changed from the days of dial-up modems. Most cover the basics: learning how to type and use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.” In my opinion, this is not appropriate to a high school curriculum; rather, these should be taught in elementary school.

“The only serious computing class available to many students is AP computer science and it’s not very popular. Part of the problem is that the course is primarily focused on Java programming.” Also in my opinion, there are other easier-to-learn programming languages besides Java, for example Python. Actually, the second article mentions a language developed by MIT called Scratch, which introduces students to programming concepts likened to “virtual LEGOs.” Moreover, computer science is more than mere programming languages. High school students should be able to understand algorithms and formal models of computation.

I am a Computer Science person, but I don’t want to be biased. As you see, these are not all only my opinions. America needs both artists, bankers, health care providers, and technicians, engineers and scientists. They should all have something in common: being well prepared in their respective professions. They should all aim “ever upward” — excelsior!

Filed under: College needs

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