Category Archives: College preparation

New research suggests ‘education gap’ in American society now more a function of economic class than of race

The New York Times reports:

Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects…

N0w, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist.

USA Today: Colleges and universities obsess more about school rankings than do students

USA Today reports:

When U.S. News & World Report debuted its list of “America’s Best Colleges” nearly 30 years ago, the magazine hoped its college rankings would be a game-changer for students and families. But arguably, they’ve had a much bigger effect on colleges themselves…

Yes, students and families still buy the guide and its less famous competitors by the hundreds of thousands, and still care about a college’s reputation. But it isn’t students who obsess over every incremental shift on the rankings scoreboard, and who regularly embarrass themselves in the process. It’s colleges…

…While U.S. News cross-checks some data with other sources, it relies largely on colleges themselves to provide it. Modest forms of fudging through data selection are undeniably common, especially in law school rankings. The most high-profile case of outright cheating involved Iona University in New York, which acknowledged last fall submitting years of false data that boosted its ranking from around 50th in its category to 30th.

But most rankings critics say by far the most pernicious failure of colleges isn’t blatant cheating, but what they do more openly — allowing the rankings formula to drive their goals and policies.

STEM education in the media spotlight

In the wake of his State of the Union address this past week, President Obama is touring the country and speaking, among other topics, about the relationship between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and the American economy.

For instance, yesterday, Obama toured a new Intel manufacturing plant in Arizona that has struggled to find qualified workers in the U.S. and thus has had to outsource some parts of the manufacturing process overseas, as PC Magazine reports. The president addressed the issues of STEM education and the American workforce’s readiness to participate in the high technology economy in his State of the Union speech (see Scientific American’s roundup of expert reactions to Obama’s STEM-related remarks).

Perhaps due to the attention brought to this topic by the president’s speech, a number of STEM education-related news items have surfaced in recent days:

  • A new survey conducted by M.I.T. uncovers reasons why American secondary students decline to pursue STEM studies (and, hence, STEM-related careers). Reasons include the perception that STEM fields are “too challenging.”
  • The National Center for Science Education has announced it will “fight efforts to slip incorrect climate science information into school lessons. ‘We are seeing more efforts in legislatures and schools to push climate misinformation on teachers and students,’ says NCSE head Eugenie Scott.” [Source: USA Today]
  • In a new podcast, the New York Times reports “an increasing number of parents are turning to outside organizations to supplement science education in the schools.”

Despite often poor job prospects, college students seek out ‘easy’ majors

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Time will tell if the poor job market persuaded more students to push into disciplines such as engineering and science. Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with engineering degrees only increased 19%, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education. The number with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%. Since students typically set their majors during their sophomore year, the first class that chose their major in the midst of the recession graduated this year.

Research has shown that graduating with these majors provides a good foundation not just for so-called STEM jobs, or those in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, but a whole range of industries where earnings expectations are high. Business, finance and consulting firms, as well as most health-care professions, are keen to hire those who bring quantitative skills and can help them stay competitive.

Thousands of students transfer to private schools as Indiana implements nation’s most extensive voucher program

The Associated Press (via St. Louis Today) reports:

Weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were only recently on the brink of closing for lack of pupils.

It’s a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools. Opponents say the practice violates the separation of church and state.

New report: State assessments generally less challenging than national standards

The Wall Street  Journal reports:

States have increased the difficulty of their elementary-school math and reading tests, but the standards are still far below what students are expected to know on national achievement exams, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

The data help explain the disconnect between the relatively high pass rates on many state exams and the low scores on the national tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)…

Virtually every state uses math and reading exams that are far easier to pass than the national test.

The report, from the U. S. Department of Education’s National Center on Education Statistics, is available here (PDF).

New study finds recent immigrants’ children outperform native-born children in top science competitions

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

a new analysis shows the majority of America’s top high school science competitors are the children of new immigrants.

The report, released Monday by the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy, found that about two-thirds of the finalists at the Intel Science Talent Search — the Nobel Prize of high school science — were born to parents who hailed from either China or India.

Only 12 of 40 finalists at this year’s competition — a national contest based on solutions to scientific problems — had parents who were born in America.

The National Foundation for American Policy study is available online here (PDF).