HICKS: U.S. students need a good wake-up text

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What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

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An equation: If “x” is the average number of hours per day U.S. students spend studying math and science and “y” is the U.S. ranking on the recently released 2009 international academic achievement comparisons as measured by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, what is the median number of text messages sent by American students during the school day?

The answer? Math is lame, of course.

That’s the likely attitude of the 15-year-old students whose math scores placed the U.S. at No. 25 out of 34 countries participating in the Program for International Student Assessment. U.S. students ranked 17th overall in science and 14th in reading.

Meanwhile, South Korea, Finland and the Shanghai region of China outranked all other countries in math; South Korea, Finland and Canada scored highest in reading; and Finland, Japan and South Korea did best in science.

According to reports, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the results “should be a massive wake-up call to the entire country.” The solution to our poor international standing advocated by the Obama administration is the adoption of national curriculum standards and revamping teacher pay to reward performance rather than credentials and seniority.

Frankly, the “massive wake-up call” was better illustrated by a video produced by Time Warner Cable’s “Connect a Million Minds” (CAMM) initiative in November 2009 (right about the time our students were bombing on these international assessment tests on behalf of the United States).

Responding to previous international rankings that prove we’re far behind the rest of the world in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) scores, CAMM set out to identify the differing attitudes about these subjects among teens from several countries.

Not surprisingly, they learned that students in Finland, China and Australia understand how crucial it is to work hard, compete against other students and master the skills that will enable them to find jobs in these areas.

American students “hate math” (What did it ever do to them?), preferring to “text,” “socialize,” “watch YouTube videos” and generally not appear to be intellectually engaged. (Want to be annoyed? Watch CAMM’s video at www.connectamillionminds.com.)

The CAMM initiative is looking to connect mentors to U.S. students to show them how cool it is to study STEM subjects and work in related fields, proving that math and science now must compete in the arena of public relations for the attention of overindulged American youths.

To wit: Another headline in this week’s news declares a controversial new policy at a California high school: “Zero tolerance for classroom texters.” Apparently, a principal at a school near San Francisco is making waves because he actually intends to confiscate cell phones from teens when they text in class (as opposed to during the lunch hour or recess, when cell phone use is permitted).

The policy at Benicia High School is announced twice a day over the school’s PA system (more often than the due date for math homework, I’m just guessing). Still, some parents object to the policy because they’re worried about school safety. Of course, for the kids at this high school, the challenge is, as one student put it, to be “more discreet” when texting during class.

Yo, Arnie. Teachers’ pay is not the problem.

More likely, the problem rests at the feet of the teacher education elite, who long ago usurped American public education for the cause of social justice and social engineering. Thanks to their “child centered” pedagogy, we’re more concerned about righting injustice than teaching kids the knowledge and skills they will need to be truly competitive, self-sufficient and successful.

We’re infusing self-esteem, while in far away Finland, Australia and South Korea, they’re simply teaching math and science and reading to an eager population of knowledge-thirsty learners.

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