January 12, 2010
Cliff Mass's long post on the weakness of the University
of Washington students in
He gave a simple math test to his Atmospheric Sciences 101 class last quarter, and got results
43% did not know the formula for the area of a circle
86% could not do a simple algebra problem (problem 4b)
75% could not do a simple scientific notation problem (1e)
52% could not deal with a negative exponent (2 to the -2)
43% could not do simple long division problem with no remainder!
47% did not know what a cosine was.
Some will wonder whether these results are typical of students entering University of
Washington, which is more selective than other large public schools in this state. The results
probably are typical; the course is often taken to fill a distribution requirement, but there are
other science courses that can be used for the same thing, but require little or no math.
Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.
(You can take the test yourself, if you like, or just look at a copy with the answers.)
Posted by Jim Miller at January 12, 2010
03:53 PM | Email This
1. But I am sure they all "feel" really good about themselves, think they are all great students, are sure they will soon be on a reality TV show, believe in Global Warming, and think that voting for Obama is "wicked cool."
2. Jeff B is right on! I have never been very impressed that the UW is very selective nor that it produces much in the way of graduates except in some of its professional schools. It should be downsized, get rid of the deadwood professors and weed out the feel-good majors and departments.
The chickens come home to roost. We've under-performed in public education increasingly over the last four decades, essentially operating schools to benefit the (unionized) faculty and the entrenched administrative bureaucracy. The results of this folly are evident on all sides.
Like it or not, we are in an international economic competition, based largely on intellectual capability, and American political imperatives and cultural shortcomings are holding us back. Absent a miracle, our collective fate is already sealed. We'll settle into the second tier, blaming everyone but outselves.
4. Until we face up to the realities of dysfunctional families and absentee parents, poorly trained and incompetent teachers and a political system that enables both we will continue to have such abysmal results.
Why do leftists constantly change the subject under discussion with comments such as, " are you advocating for a strict authoritarian regime to change the results?"
Which ideology in this country actually wants a "strict authoritarian regime"? It wouldn't possibly be the people on the left who are attempting to impose national healthcare without public discussion and then use it to tell us how we all have to live.
Oh yes, the very same leftists that fight private school vouchers and then send their kids to snooty private schools like Sidwell Friends where the Clintons, Gore's and Obamas sent their children. There is a word for leftists: hypocrite.
6. the world needs ditch diggers too.
7. This is surprising, considering that most of the students there have a 3.5 gpa or better. Very few enrolled students have less than that (those spots are primarily probably saved for athletes and other people being accepted for something other than academics). and they won't even look at people with less than 3.25. I know family members who applied a couple years ago with a 3.5 gpa and SAT scores well within the range accepted by UW, and they only got on the waitlist. So the pool of kids that go there is pretty sharp.
A "feel good" major is one that lets you graduate without being able to calculate the area of a circle, do basic algebra, or do simple long division.
Maybe you should work on your reading comprehension, too. If you had actually followed the link in the article to the test results, you would have seen that only half of the students were freshmen. Just because it's a 100-level course doesn't mean that only new students take the course.
And who said anything about needing to be a college graduate to do well on this test? This is all stuff I learned before I reached my senior year of high school.
I went to the UW, I took "weather 101" as it's referred to at the school. And I took it the same reason everyone takes weather 101 -- they hear at a party that it's an easy A.
It wasn't as easy as I thought, but I got an A. And I don't know what a cosine is. I knew it in high school (and I'm sure I knew what it was when I took the SAT). Same for the negative exponent. :) That doesn't mean I'm stupid or these kids are stupid. It just means they haven't brushed up on high school math for a while.
Cliff has a lot to say about the quality of mathematics education in our state (and in Seattle). I find him to generally be right on, as my daughter hates math even though she is actually quite good at it. Thanks for making math approachable, Seattle Public Schools!
Regarding this 'quiz', however, a substantial number of the questions were math topics that you may not actually remember. Certainly every high school graduate doesn't take Trigonometry. And knowing the area of a circle is one of those things that someone would have seen in 9th grade, and never cared about again. And scientific notation/exponents are not concepts I would expect someone to have down unless they had done a lot of science classes in school, since those items are rarely covered in basic math courses.
Maybe the problem is that the college requires liberal arts students to take 'breadth' classes in science, so the classes are populated with a bunch of unmotivated, not-scientifically-oriented students. I wouldn't expect a Music Major to know most of that exam.
You need to read. If you don't see your fundamental errors in your post you're really beyond help. I can recommend a few remedial learning facilities for you to consider.
I think a lot of this gets back to the loss of focus in school on the basics; we're now more interested in pushing social development, technology interaction and the like.
The reality is that kids (and for the liberal trolls here - yes high school students are still kids emotionally and for the most part mentally) don't have the real ability to firmly grasp the crapola being shoveled. It's wasted on them, in terms of "feel good" lectures on tolerance.
And technology? I've seen too many schools where computer use is hyped and pushed, yet anyone with a few years of experience in the IT industry knows things evolve so fast, what you learned 5 years ago is pretty much obsolete.
Teach the basics, teach a STRONG basis in logic and math, and the kids will at least remember how to perform critical thinking. It's not soft, feel-good junk - it's making objective lists of pros and cons, weighting, evaluating, and selecting.
The U.S. public education system went to hell starting in the late 1970s when the Carter Administration created the Department of Education. (Under the direction of that special interest group, the NEA.)
Now that we have "Carter II" in office, we really can't expect anything to get better. More money will be spent while educational standards will be lowered. Teachers will be given higher pay, better benefits, and no accountability.
Anyone that's sitting on the fence on healthcare should do a little research on the effect of the Department of Education. It now has over 5,000 highly paid employees, none of whom spend any time in classrooms, write text books or do anything else productive.
14. That doesn't mean I'm stupid or these kids are stupid. It just means they haven't brushed up on high school math for a while.
It's still pretty stupid to think that lack of basic math skills can be excused in a 21st century university education.
Unless you're saying that we can import an unlimited of little brown people into the US to do the socially-inferior grunt work of dealing in mere quantitative questions, while the socially-superior folks tackle the big questions like how to spend other people's money.
You have definitely hit on a sore subject for me and this state's education system. The district my kids go to still have "Integrated Math" in High School. I wish this program would die. Yes, it may help a few students understand math better, but it lowers the education level a lot more for others and the whole. Go back to teaching subject math (e.g., Algebra, Geometry, Trig, etc.), and move the Math competency test to Junior year, not Sophomore year and include that all need a basic grasp of Algebra and Geometry to graduate. Those two were required when I went to school.
16. I wonder how the foreign students did?
Oh crap...did I just profile???
Jim, thanks for following Dr Mass.
"And, of course, there are a host of other problems--too much video games and Facebook at home--as an example. A lack of a sense of student responsibility by some. An out of control "self esteem" movement among the education community and some parenting experts."
In both my experience as a student/child and that of my family, I've seen good & bad teachers, good & bad schools, good & bad text books.
At the end of the day the differentiator is the parent.
Cliff also writes "If you want a blank version to give your kids and friends,..."
At 13/14/15 years of age I hated teachers like Dr. Mass because my father found all sorts of exams to give the kids, and drilled us, and drilled us, and drilled us.
My mother attended one day of our classes with us per month to monitor the teachers. We hated that! No, it wasn't allowed then either, but it didn't stop her.
In the end parents can & should supplement the bad circumstances with their own effort and supervision. And when one lucks in to a really good situation parents must supervise the situation so that their children get the most out of it.
Taking that exam reminded me that there is no easy political or philosophical solution to being prepared. Like everything else, what you get out of education is what you put in to it.
Ditto to what you said!
Absolutely; parents NEED to be involved. One of the best ways to get the parents involved is to simply fail the child; he doesn't get to go to the next grade. The parents will be in there so fast it'll make your head spin! Now if the principals and school district would hold fast and stand up to those parents, I think we'd see a whole different attitude amongst most parents regarding their child's education.
Unfortunately I fear with the guaranteed position (tenure) that pretty much all the academic management (vice principals and principals) have, they would rather pass those who cannot read, write, or perform basic math than deal with parent angry that they sluffed off their own duty and their children fall behind.
@26 Shanghai Dan on January 13, 2010 05:17 PM,
When you see the results of Dr. Mass' exam in terms of the percentage of fail at > or = 40% to some very basic and simple questions (in the age of the internet where you don't even need to go to the library!!), you can't pin most of that on teachers and educational systems.
When a student shows up not ready and prepared to learn, there is no guarantee he can be turned around by teachers.
Failing with a re-do costs quite a bit of $$$ for > or = 40% of the student population.
Mike wrote: "jimt, are you advocating for a strict authoritarian regime to change the results? obviously, you don't think our republic is adequate enough."
Mike - I advocate the opposite. Using stats from the federal government's website (waysandmeans.house.gov/media/pdf/greenbook2003/AppendixM.pdf) the illegitimacy rate in the US in 1950 was 14.1% and in 2002 it was 33.8%. What changed? Johnson's "great society" programs were implemented.
When I attended public schools the teachers had degrees in the subjects they taught, not degrees in education. I have taught in public schools and have found math teachers that did not know how to multiply fractions. I propose that we have teachers teach subjects that they have demonstrably mastered. If there is a "shortage of math (and science) teachers then increase the pay for truly qualified teachers of those subjects. I doubt the teacher's unions or the Democratic politicians would ever allow this market-based solution.
Lastly, give parents the freedom to choose whatever school is most appropriate for their children (yes, I'm advocating vouchers). I value the kid's education, not "schools" or the teachers.
My argument is that, based on the empirical evidence, we need less government "direction" and more freedom and personal responsibility.
Actually, I think in this case you CAN blame the educational system. They refuse to stand up to parents who demand their kids get passed, even if they do not deserve it. Grade inflation is real - and you end up with students who have passed through high school not knowing basic things like long division.
It is just the teachers and the educational system? No - they use the lazy, uncaring parents as well. But a little backbone to those parents - fail little Johnny if he can't do the work - and they system would right itself.
Jimt @ 22:
Right on. Or better yet, eliminate the need to have an educational degree to teach; there are hundreds - thousands - of engineers out of work. I am sure there are plenty who can teach math, physics, or other "tough" subjects.
@ 23 Shanghai Dan on January 13, 2010 09:27 PM,
Failing students and sending them back to re-run the year again won't solve anything, and it will certainly cost more as you are paying to do something twice.
Yes, you can (continue to) blame the educational system. That's done so much so far.
Or, you could take responsibility for your children and their proper education.
@24 That's a totally dumb way to think about this.
True: It may cost taxpayers another $8K to put the kid through a grade a second time.
But: It will cost taxpayers another $10K to $20K a year every year if we let the kid slide through school or drop out and become an unproductive welfare case or greatly underemployed citizen depending partially on public assistance. (It might cost 40 to 50K a year if that undereducated person ends up in prison.)
There's no arguing that undereducated people are less productive, more likely to be poor and/or get into trouble with the law.
Further, this "lets pass on the problem to the next teacher" attitude is a problem that compounds itself. It can and does often quickly esculate from the problem of a single failed student to an problem for all the kids in a classroom.
Any teacher will tell you that the student in 7th grade that is unruly and disruptive in the classroom is - at least 8 times out 10 - the same student that graduated from the 6th grade based on the "pass on the problem" policies.
These undereducated kids get disruptive and unruly because they are impossible to engage and involve in the learning process.
They don't understand the material the teacher is attempting to teach them because they don't have the foundation of prior learning necessary to grasp the new materials.
So they tune out, get bored and end up expressing their boredom and frustration through disruptive actions. It happens everyday.
Net result is that the kid who was pushed up a grade isn't learning anything and neither are the other kids in class who are being interrupted. Everyone ends up suffering.
This whole attitude is just a single example of how the liberal mentality destroys society for everyone.
"We should let kids who don't deserve to graduate do so so that we don't hurt their self-esteem"
"We need to take money from the productive to give it to the non-productive who are underemployed because they aren't educated"
- or even -
"Lets let the criminals out of prison because they are the true victims since they are poor and uneducated."
It's all connected here Boy Scout. You ignore the small problems in a childs education and they get bigger and harder to solve. Eventually, they become a problem for all of society.
@25 johnny on January 15, 2010 10:15 AM,
How about parents take responsibility for ensuring their children learn the material?
We can work exceptions, but Dr Mass' post shows this is not a small problem. Nearly half of the students are not ready.
Cycling students repeatedly through the same year shall not solve the problem.
Parents taking responsibility would.
I agree with Dr. Mass. Both parents and the school system need to shoulder the blame for ill-preparing students in math and science.
The way that math is being taught compounds the problem.
The ciriculuum is way worse and more cryptic than it was 20-25 years ago and for what reason ? Who knows ? The administrators have become dumbed down ? The parents may try to ensure that their kids understand it, but if the parents don't, there is a problem.
Sometimes parents don't care, which makes it a lose-lose for the students, with teachers that are not well-versed to teach math and science in the first place.
That is total copout. It's blaming the problem on parents when the failure is the school.
When I was a kid, my mom was a teacher in a school full of orphans in Bolivia. (My parents were missionaries.) These were kids who had no parents and were living in a kind of destitution Americans can't even fathom. A lot of times they were traumatized, physically abused, and definitely suffered from malnutrion when they entered school
Guess what? Within 18 months of beginning schooling they were almost always fluent in not one but two languages, could read and write in at least one of them, and learned to take care of themselves - not just dressing bathing, etc. but also building fires and cooking. And we're talking 7 and 8 year olds here.
This happened not because my mom was some sort of super teacher. The same thing was going on in villages all over the area and - through the other missions - all over the world, and it goes on every day.
Want to talk about kids who are "unprepared?" No parents. No food. No shoes.That's unprepared.
Todays teachers play the "parents need to be involved" game when it suits their purposes of trying to deflect blame from doing a crappy job. Just about any non-union teacher in a private school can and does teach children 10x better than in a public school, and for a lot less money per student.