Research Essay, Research Paper
According to the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), students from the United States have fallen behind the rest of the world in science and mathematics education. Does the United States need to drastically update its education system in order to overcome this problem and catch up with the rest of the world; or is the real source of the problem inherent flaws in the study which affect the United States more negatively than the rest of the world. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study was conducted from 1994 through 1996 to compare the education systems of selected countries around the world. American fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders were tested against their counterparts around the world in basic math and science exams. In addition to the testing, the various teaching methods, homework time, study time, class size, and many other factors were studied. The first group studied was primary school students. Children in this study ranged from third grade to fourth grade, depending on the individual country s education system. A score of 500 was calculated to be the average and each country s score was calculated based on this average. In mathematics, Singapore led the way with a 625. Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong followed closely behind. The United States came in eleventh out of 26 counties with an above average score of 545 (TIMSS Primary 1-2). In the field of science, Korea and Japan were once again first and second with scores of 597 and 574 respectively. Coming in third was the United States with a score of 565 (TIMSS Primary 3-4). The second group studied were students in their middle school years. Students in this group were in either seventh or eighth grade. Forty-one countries were tested and once again, scores were based on an average of 500. In mathematics, Singapore came in first with a score of 643, with Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong close behind. The United States received a score of 500, coming in 28th (TIMSS Middle 1-2). The science study was somewhat consistent. Singapore was once again first with a score of 607. The Czech Republic, Japan, and Korea were second through fourth. The U.S. received a 534, earning the 18th position (TIMSS Middle 3-4). The last group studied were students in their last year of secondary school. In overall mathematics and science literacy, 21 countries were tested. The top four countries were the Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway with scores of 559, 555, 541, and 536 respectively. The United States received a 465, placing it only above Lithuania, Cyprus, and South Africa (TIMSS Secondary 1-2). A new subject tested was Advanced Mathematics, with sixteen countries participating in this test. France led the way with a 557, but was closely followed by Russia, Switzerland, and Denmark. The U.S. scored a 442, only beating Austria (TIMSS Secondary 3). Also Physics tests were given to the same sixteen countries. Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Denmark topped the list, while the United States received the lowest score (TIMSS Secondary 4). In addition to all of the written tests taken by the three groups of students, a Performance Assessment test was also given. This test was hands on, challenging the students with real problems. A few examples of the mathematical testing devices were dice, calculators, folding, and packing. Science tests implemented magnets, batteries, rubber bands, and shadows. As in the written tests, United States students placed below the international average in all of the age groups (Research 1-3). These statistics obviously display that the students in the United States, though one of the most technological superior nations in the world, somehow lack basic knowledge in the fields of science and mathematics. A trend that the statistics displayed was that the youngest students did the best of the three age groups and the oldest students did the worst. The more advanced the tests became, the worse the United States performed. What is causing this problem? Are the teaching methods employed by the U.S. really inferior to those around the world, or is there some other determining factor that has affected the results the TIMSS study? In the last decade, parents and teachers, eager to raise U.S. children s test scores have sent children back to the books. Now it has become evident that U.S. students do more homework than their foreign counterparts, but are still receiving poor grades (Vergano 341). The problem must stem from another source. The real difference in learning comes from the quality of teaching that the students received in each nation. U.S. math and science teachers tackled more topics than other educators did. Students barely had enough time to assimilate what they had learned before moving on to the next topic. For example, Japanese math classes spent only 40 percent of their time practicing routine problems. U.S. classes spent 96 percent of their time on such problems. The Japanese goal is guiding their students to a deeper understanding of the concept. The U.S. goal is to expose their students to a wider variety of subjects, thus, lessening the ability of the students to understand each concept (Toch 40). This idea of learning the basic concepts deeply in not limited to Japan, but is employed by many of the leading countries in the study.Teacher training was a major difference found by the TIMSS study among high and low scoring countries. Most Asian teachers had more on the job training along with mentoring by more experienced teachers. Many American teachers learn the theory and philosophy behind teaching in college and then are thrust into the classroom to learn for themselves (Vergano 341). On the job training has somehow been overlooked by the system.
Upon hearing the results of the TIMSS study, President Clinton suggested more money be put into the U.S. educational system. The United States already spends more than any other country on education. It is not how much money is spent per student that is important, the determining factor is how it is spent. The Czech Republic spends a third as much per pupil as the United States, yet their scores were significantly higher (Economist 15). American education had a large financial backing, but a sense of confusion as to where the money should go. Schools may be up to date in technology, but out of date in teaching methods. In this case the effect of the modernization is lost along the line.A major explanation for the high Asian scores in the study has been the so-called Asian Values. Many people use this to explain the secret of their success. Many people have claimed to see a greater degree of work ethic in Asian students (Toch 42). Is this a trait learned at home or early in their schooling, or is this trait even a reality? Why did U.S. fourth graders equal Asians in the science section of the test, while falling behind in the math section? It seems that once again the source goes back to the teaching methods used.The United States needs to reexamine the method used to train future educators. A teacher is perhaps the most important job in society. A culture can only advance with smarter individuals, which goes back to their education. Once teachers are trained in the correct way, with better techniques and on the job training, all the money funding education will be put to better use. Technology will be utilized correctly, justifying having the equipment in the first place.The other place American education needs to focus on is freedom. Good science and math depends on freedom freedom of inquiry, freedom of communication, and freedom of spirit all at the core of the American ideal. This freedom may be manifested in the form of science fairs and similar events (Bronner A1). Having children form their own projects is the first step to utilizing their own freedom.Could the real explanation for the low U.S. scores be the study, not the students? There were many problems found in the study that work against the United States. Is the TIMSS study really flawed and misleading? The following three flaws may account for much of the problem: Sampling, Eligible Populations, and Age and Grade.Most of the participating countries failed to meet the TIMSS sampling standards for selecting schools and students. Low participation and high exclusion tends to increase a country s rank because the lower achieving schools and students tend to be dropped from the study. In most of the tests, only one-fourth to one third, of the countries actually met the standards provided by the TIMSS. The result was higher scores by many countries, thereby, lowering the rank of the countries that met the standards (Rotberg 1030). Eligible Populations is the second flaw in the study. In many countries, only the gifted students are encouraged to stay in school and continue until graduation. Those students who do not do as well are steered toward vocational training. This is one difference that affects the testing drastically. More students taking the test in the U.S. should be in vocational training but are included in the study nonetheless. This idea affects the advanced mathematics and physics tests the most, the very tests in which the U.S. performed the worst. The countries that performed best in these studies are generally the countries with the lowest percentage of students remaining in school until graduation from secondary school (Spirit 7).The third and final major flaw in the study is age and grade. The age at which students took the test varied depending on the education system. The age of students taking the final year of secondary school ranged from 17 to 21. The average age of the students taking the test in each country clearly influenced the country s rank. The countries whose rank dropped between the second and third studies had an average age gap of 3.5 years between the students taking the two tests. The countries whose rank rose had an average age gap of 5.4 years between the two test taking populations (Rotberg 1030). This simply means that those who scored higher in the final year of secondary school were older more advanced students. The study gives no information about the deterioration of U.S. schools between 8th and 12th grade, although this is usually read into the study.The United States stands today as the world s unchallenged technological powerhouse. The U.S. is a trendsetter for a global computer and information economy that Asian and European countries are struggling to match. The TIMSS study may suggest that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science, but it seems the situation is not as bad as the study suggests. Maybe there is more to learning than just tests. When the Education of Minister came to the United States he was asked what he was looking for, his kids are always at the top of international tests. He responded, All that our kids can do is take tests. He understood that the U.S. nurtures more creativity than the many Asian nations that test higher (Bronner A14). There is more to education than can be represented by numbers. Science and mathematics education in the United States could use some refining in certain areas, but it is definitely not failing as the TIMSS study suggests.