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Better Math, Science Grades?

Alarmed at the chronically dismal performance of American youngsters in science and mathematics, educators all over the country have been beefing up basic programs in those areas for several years. Solid national evidence that all this is working came with the latest biennial report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It found that science and math skills of elementary and high school students had risen substantially since the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” which described a dangerous downward spiral in proficiency.

While welcome, the news is hardly cause for great celebration. There were no similar gains in reading and writing skills, and the gap between white and minority students remains stubbornly wide.

California, which ranks at or close to the bottom among the states in almost every statistical indicator of educational investment in science and math curricula, cannot find much to brag about in the report. Slightly more than half of California fourth-graders fell below even basic math proficiency levels, compared to 30% for Massachusetts and 41% for New York.

The study found a sharp decrease in the amount of reading materials such as encyclopedias, books and magazines in homes over the last two decades. Also, a third of 17-year-olds reported they were not required to do any homework at all. Thus this generation is getting an education significantly inferior to their parents'--at a time when the global industrial economy demands ever more sophisticated technological skills.

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Fortunately, the report does show that stricter requirements and more complex courses in science and math do work. This page has called for the bolstering of science teaching and higher minimum requirements, particularly in California if it is to produce a technically skilled work force that will attract industry essential to economic recovery. We call on all parents, teachers and political leaders to join this effort.


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