Experts Debunk Media Myth That Americans Lag in Science and Math

Americans have fallen behind in science in math and can't compete globally, right? Well, not according to Vivek Wadhwa's October 26 BusinessWeek article, which the media have conveniently ignored.

For years, the media warned about US students' deficient science and math skills, but a report from the Urban Institute disputed those claims (all bold mine):

...math, science, and reading test scores at the primary and secondary level have increased over the past two decades, and U.S. students are now close to the top of international rankings. Perhaps just as surprising, the report finds that our education system actually produces more science and engineering graduates than the market demands.

Written by the Urban Institutes's Hal Salzman and Georgetown University professor Lindsay Lowell, the report contradicted the academics and politicians who warn America lags behind: 

Their report shows U.S. student performance has steadily improved over time in math, science, and reading. It also found enrollment in math and science courses is actually up...Scores in national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the SAT, and the ACT have also shown increases in math scores over the past two decades.

Assuming the increase in credits is due to more students taking classes rather than schools simply raising the credits' value, this report is a stunning reversal of media and academia gospel. It shattered the typical media claims about the state of American education:

 ...over the past decade the U.S. has ranked a consistent second place in science. It also was far ahead of other nations in reading and literacy and other academic areas. In fact, the report found that the U.S. is one of only a few nations that has consistently shown improvement over time.

Why the disparity between this report and the standard dire warnings that America is “falling behind” countries like China and India? The authors cited misinterpreted data and “serious methodological flaws” in other studies (Wadhwa detailed more here).

As for the lack of engineering and science graduates: 

...the new report showed that from 1985 to 2000 about 435,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents a year graduated with bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. Over the same period, there were about 150,000 jobs added annually to the science and engineering workforce.

More grads than jobs? That doesn't get reported.

Wadhwa then referenced his previous myth-busting articles that addressed the “engineering gap” and outsourcing stating that CEOs are not offshoring jobs because of a lack of talent.

The study and Wadhwa's previous articles revealed that not only is America not lagging behind China and India but "(the US is) far ahead of the other nations in reading, literacy and other academic areas."

After dispelling these education myths, Wadhwa warned that a hasty fix to a problem that doesn't exist can result in a genuine crisis.


Lynn contributes to NewsBusters. Contact her at tvisgoodforyou2-at-yahoo-dot-com

China Higher Education BusinessWeek Vivek Wadhwa Urban Institute