2010 President's Report

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What can we do to improve math and science education in the United States? WE’RE CREATING A NEW FORMULA FOR A STRONGER AMERICAN FUTURE.

Any way you look at it, flagging math and science scores of U.S. students add up to a nation of learners who are being edged out by their global peers. To help reverse that trend, Michigan State University is working to provide America’s teachers and their students with a formula for improvement and success.

According to the latest international student assessment rankings from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks 23rd in science and 31st in math. While the country never has been at the top in math and science comprehension, according to international surveys, current trends don’t bode well for students who will find themselves competing for jobs with peers around the world.

“This is the perfect storm,” says William Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor of education and statistics, referring to a combination of underachieving students and underperforming teachers. “Right now we sit at the precipice. If we fall, we hurt our kids.”

According to Schmidt, the curriculum in U.S. schools lacks coherence, so topics aren’t built in a logical sequence. This leads teachers to reteach topics year after year, while students in other countries progress at a faster rate. And with 600 school districts in Michigan and 15,000 throughout the nation, many schools are not on the same page.

Expanding its capacity to improve mathematics and science education across the nation, MSU is creating the Institute for Research on Mathematics and Science Education. A collaboration between the College of Education and the College of Natural Science, the institute will bring together top researchers in mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, and education to tackle some of the most pressing challenges related to learning math and science, particularly in grades 7–12 and the first years of college.

“We need to realize that what students learn in school affects them for the rest of their lives,” says Schmidt. “What our kids know is important to the economy.”

MSU has made significant contributions to national educational reform. In addition to conducting national and international studies measuring student comprehension, Schmidt was tapped to help craft the Common Core State Standards—a state-led initiative developed by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to provide consistent standards that lay out what students need to learn at each grade level.

More than 40 states and the District of Columbia have agreed to adopt the standards, which could add up to a sweeping change in the way U.S. students learn. MSU experts currently are working with schools in Michigan that are failing to find solutions for improving the curriculum and to help introduce the Common Core State Standards.

“I do feel hopeful,” says Schmidt. “We have got the ear of governors and administrators. There’s a good chance we can make a big difference for our kids. To do anything less, we will fail our children.”

The interdisciplinary approach of the new institute will create pioneering methods for preparing high-quality teachers, educating those pursuing science-related careers, and developing general mathematics and scientific literacy. That’s a formula—and a future—we all can count on.