How to Get America Back on Track

I tuned in to the Master’s golf tournament Sunday and was struck by the ExxonMobile commercials urging the country to work toward improving our declining global rank in math and science education. The narrator of one of the many commercial spots says, “Today we rank 25th in mathematics. There’s no medal for that. Let’s train more teachers. Let’s inspire our students. Let’s get America back on track.”

Easy for ExxonMobile to say, but enormously difficult to do—particularly in California, where we are continuing to disinvest in education in apocalyptic ways. Plaudits to ExxonMobile for saying it, but let them be the first in the industry to give their preferential tax loopholes back and return the dollars to the federal government. In turn, the Feds can give it to the states to use for strengthening math and science education and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

But let’s take the points in the ExxonMobile commercial one at a time:

“Let’s train more teachers.”
I agree, but the facts speak to a growing issue here. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down 35-50 percent in the multiple-subject credential area. Some root causes for this systemic decline must be addressed first. These include:

*Teachers are bashed far too much in the media and Legislature. Teaching is a very difficult profession to do well. We must have programs to increase its stature once again. Declining dollars means fewer counselors, librarians, and more students per classroom etc. California ranks last in the nation on students per teacher.

*Some teacher preparation programs take two years of graduate study without earning a Master’s degree. After college, students need to start making money and lengthy teacher preparation programs inhibit this. One-year programs to earn a credential and Master’s degree should be the norm. Teach For America (TFA) does the coursework in five weeks in the summer and then provides coaching and professional development once the individual is receiving pay as a full time teacher in the classroom.

*College is getting more expensive each year. Graduate teaching preparation programs are out of the question for many, especially when a new teacher goes to work in a profession where the pay is less than other professions with graduate degree requirements.

“Let’s inspire our students.”
The NCLB testing requirements have, in too many classrooms, taken creativity and innovation away from the professional teacher. Formative testing so students can meet grade level common core standards should be the goal. Great teachers inspire students, yet the system is not attracting enough of the top-tier talent to the profession.

Public education—preschool through university—is the No. 1 issue of our time. Perhaps, the board of ExxonMobile gets it and is now in a campaign to help the mission—at least I truly hope so. The drumbeats must grow louder and every major corporation should step in to help.

We cannot afford to be 25th in math and 17th in science (2009 Programme for International Student Assessment) and maintain our economic and national security interests. 

We know what works, we know the problems and we know their solution sets. We know how to “win the future,” as President Obama states. Now we need leaders bold and courageous enough to get us back to No. 1 by 2025. “Let’s get America back on track.”

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.

5 Comments

  1. Some would say, “STFU until our education bureaucrats do more than just blow hot air.”  Until the 30 plus school districts in SCV are consolidated downward to just a handful, you won’t get much sympathy from the man on the street.  Such a move would free up billions of dollars statewide, dollars that could be used to enhance and strengthen public education.

  2. My wife keeps wanting to move out of California and I want stay here. But after reading this my eyes have been opened and I need to come to the realization maybe California isn’t the best place to raise our kids. Besides the poor teaching issues, I still love living here in San Jose though.

  3. First of all most of the testing reported comes from public schools. Many of our brightest have fled to private schools. Second, many of our top notch programmers and coders don’t have college degrees because they learn their craft by actually doing it rather than sitting in lectures or labs being taught curriculum that is out of date.

    If you want to increase student achievement in math and sciences, then you need to provide classes to attract these students, rather than dumping them into classes with students who won’t achieve and having the teachers efforts directed to the underachievers. We have to face the reality that not all students will be attracted to math and the sciences. We need to find the ones that are and provide them the path to success. However in the current environment, which is controlled by those who refuse to acknowledge the difference in student potential, we will continue to waste our resources and efforts on trying to get all students to succeed in math and science. The best and brightest now have opportunities to attend private schools on scholarships because these schools understand that students are different and their success brings success to the school.

  4. “We know what works” is funny. We haven’t got a clue how to teach the most crucial knowledge of all: written literacy. Reading literacy isn’t much better. English teacher training at Cal, Stanford, USC, Harvard, Columbia, etc. is four years of studying literature—not how English actually works. Disproven crap like “8 ‘parts’ of speech” are not taught at the schools mentioned above. They are a religion that appears in a discredited textbook—that make millions for its publisher. What does a poor little kid whose mother has never read to him, having no book to read, and no education, to do when confronted with “infinitive”, “accusative”, even “preposition”?
    If the very well funded County Office of Education doesn’t even know there’s a problem, who does? Blah, blah, blah. George Green