Technological Innovation is Our Best and Final Hope for Saving High Quality Math and Science Education

By 12/08/2009

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More than half (52%) of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are immigrants, wrote Paul Kedrosky and Brad Feld in a Wall Street Journal editorial last Wednesday. Kedrosky and Feld cite this fact to argue that visas for talented foreigners are desperately needed to sustain the growth sectors in the American economy.

Their point is well taken, but the fix is only short term, as the foreign entrepreneurs of the future will decide that they can make just as much money in their home countries.

The United States needs to begin growing its own creative talent by educating the best of our young people in  science, math, and cognitive science skills from an early age. Nothing is more tragic than the virtual abdication by the American high school of its responsibility for the mathematical and scientific education of the next generation, leaving  U. S. 15-year-olds below the industrial world average on math and science tests.

Given the inability of schools to attract quality math and science teachers, we will have to look to Silicon Valley, Seattle, Cambridge, and other technological hot spots for an answer.  Fortunately, the big guns are already beginning to search for ammunition that will enable them to transform high school education by offering young people top-notch mathematical and scientific education online.  When that comes to fruition—and it could happen more quickly than anyone expects–the best and the brightest students won’t need to worry about the dull, poorly educated science teacher in their high school classrooms; they will be able to access high quality instruction directly from the world’s most talented educators.

We doubt that school districts will be able to blockade the migration of talented students to online education.  Powerful forces on the other side—sophisticated parents, universities, and voices from the world of industry—will have the wherewithal to respond.

Comment on this article
  • Jason says:

    Do you have any examples of “ammunition” being explored by the “big guns”? I see no indication of significant Silicon Valley entrepreneural activity in the education area. Any major investment in classroom technology is being done by the textbook publishers, and these firms are hardy likely to be sources of groundbreaking innovation.

    Current providers of online instruction for K-12 include EPGY and ALEKS. These services are pretty poor from both a technology and operational point of view. There is no “migration of talented students to online education”.

    What needs to happen to change this?

  • Barry Garelick says:

    Mr. Peterson speaks of high school students, but ignores the deficit occuring in K-8. If students do not master the basics, then they aren’t going to pursue much in high school, online or otherwise. Silicon Valley has not escaped the onslaught of bad math programs in lower grades. Palo Alto’s school district recently adopted Everyday Mathematics, a program which has been met with resistance in many communities across the U.S. Palo Alto was no exception, but the school board won out, and EM was adopted. Of course, in Silicon Valley, parents have the wherewithal to provide the education their kids aren’t getting in school. But in less affluent areas, that isn’t the case. Mr. Peterson seems focused on Silicon Valley, however, so I guess everything is just rosy.

  • SteveH says:

    “Nothing is more tragic than the virtual abdication by the American high school of its responsibility for the mathematical and scientific education of the next generation,…”

    The problem does not start in high schools (which offer AP classes), but K-8. The solution is not better teaching via the internet, but providing kids in the lower grades with a proper math curriculum. We need schools to focus on getting a majority of kids into algebra in 8th grade rather than just trying to improve really, really bad state test scores by a few percentage points.

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