Let’s solve our math and science challenges

Readers: We recently launched a new campaign to help raise awareness about the state of math and science achievement in the United States. I’ve invited Suzanne McCarron, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation, to talk about the importance of efforts to prepare students for careers in an increasingly competitive global economy. – Ken

The United States is known for its history of innovation and technological leadership – from transportation to medicine to personal and mobile computing.

Looking back, it’s hardly a coincidence that for many years, American students were among the top performers when it came to math and science.

While the importance of these fundamental fields of study has not waivered, U.S. proficiency in them has. U.S. students ranked 25th in math and 17th in science in the most recent international testing.

For the United States to remain competitive in the global economy, this is a challenge we need to solve. That’s why ExxonMobil is raising awareness about this important issue in a new series of commercials running during the Masters golf tournament.

ExxonMobil employs more than 18,000 scientists and engineers around the world. Our success as a U.S. company in a global economy depends on the quality and ingenuity of our work force, and we’re certainly not alone in that respect. But if the next generation of U.S. workers lacks the skills to solve the problems of the future, it’s not just U.S. leadership in energy that’s at risk – it’s also our leadership in medicine, research, technology, and other pillars of the American economy.

Education experts are calling for improvement in education outcomes for American students in math and science. A significant program we’re involved in is the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), an unprecedented effort to improve both student and teacher performance in the classroom. ExxonMobil has committed $125 million to this major effort. Three years after NMSI was implemented in schools, we’re seeing impressive results.

High school students who participate in NMSI programs are six times more likely to earn passing scores on Advanced Placement tests. When you consider that students who pass an AP exam are three times more likely to graduate from college, the bottom line is clear. We need more students being challenged in critical fields of study like math and science to prepare them not just for college, but for their careers.

It’s also clear that students won’t excel without good teachers to challenge and encourage them. We support programs such as the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy and the Sally Ride Science Academy, which are focused on improving the skills of teachers in math and science classrooms so they can inspire students to pursue careers in these all-important fields.

The value of teacher leadership and commitment should not be overlooked. In a commercial that will run tonight during CBS’ 60 Minutes, several ExxonMobil employees thank the teachers who inspired them to pursue their passions. You can view their stories at our website.

While programs like the National Math and Science Initiative and others across the country play a vital role in helping solve the math and science challenge, there is no one solution. It’s up to all of us – parents, teachers, students, policymakers, professionals, citizens and more – to make this a national priority.

Every challenge the United States faces today – from the economy to healthcare to energy and more – ultimately will be placed in the hands of today’s youth. Let’s give them the skills to create a brighter future for our nation. Let’s solve this.

To learn more, visit our website.


14 Comments

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  1. robert preston says:

    The best and brightest are reluctant to enter the teaching profession because the job is underpaid. In many schools there is an alarming lack of discipline, which makes for an impossible classroom environment. Many times teaching students with no self-discipline equates to babysitting with worksheets. There are exceptions, to be sure, but overall the quality of public education in our country guarantees profits and full enrollments for private schools.

  2. Steve H says:

    Exxon got my attention with a televised short version of this message. Bravo! Americans need to hear that we are 17th or 25th on various measures, rather than puffery political phrases from days gone by (that we are the greatest, etc. ) Your wake up call is timely.

    Regarding Robert’s post, I respectfully disagree with his leading reason for poor teaching is teachers being underpaid. A case can easily be made that most teachers are overpaid. A quick way to see this is to consider the value of their retirement benefits and compare it to the amount a non governmental person would need to save in an IRA or 401k account to have the same retirement annuity income . Do the same for other benefits and throw in an imputed value for job security and steady pay. This might explain Tea Party and other movements aimed at chopping government.

    Stated in a more positive fashion, the fact that young people continue to enroll in the Peace Corps and other programs suggests that money is not always their prime motivator. If the other conditions that Robert mentioned could be fixed, I think we’d have a good supply of future teachers.

    How could our country encourage self discipline at early ages? Is a current lack of self discipline a result of things just being given to kids?

    • Ed Dodds says:

      Ken and Suzanne: Please consider doing an internal poll of your 18,000 scientists and engineers and ask them how active they are in some form of one on one mentorship|womentorship. Without direct guidance about careers the kids will not know how to navigate the H1B visa abuse, the systematic ageism which occurs in STEM (healthcare insurance cost related mainly), and the threat of outsourcing; as well as the high cost of tuition which is rarely forgiven (unless these are healthcare careers which target underserved areas). Thanks for your efforts. @ed_dodds blog.conmergence.com

  3. corey kyle says:

    While it is nice to see some adds with engineers complimenting their past teachers, do you really think this gets at the problem? I have a BSEE and MBA, nearly 20 years experience as an engineer, and 10 years as a physics teacher. I teach physics (or , at least, try to) 140 students every day, typically work 60 to 70 hours per week. My salary has been frozen at about $50K for two years, my budget for lab supplies has been $0 for three years (although I usually spend several $100 of my own on materials each year), and recent news stories have reported that the starting salary for a petroleum engineer fresh out of college is $25K more than what I am making now.

    I’m all for raising the standards ( or, more importantly, the expectations) on our students, but the current approach by government is to push an onerous evaluation system onto the teachers (not the students) with some misguided expectation that it will somehow make the students work harder.

    I’m really not sure what these commercials are aiming to do.

  4. Cyrus Pakzad says:

    If the U.S. economy were to truly recover from its economic woes, it would have to establish a link between its reindustrialization plans and its educational methodology reforms. So far American educational system has had two major problems, lack of individualized curriculum for its vast diverse student bodies, and politicization of its existing group teaching methodology in favor of those who have been managing it. The underlying selfish motivation of those managing American educational system has been to have an uneven playing field in favor of themselves. Competition to them has meant less good jobs for their own sub-population and more opportunities for all other diverse populations of the system. Personally I experienced this discrimination when I finally decided to abandon my Ph. D. program at the University of Southern California in 1979.

    The solution to both above problems will be in creation of an industry called Computer Individualized Curriculum. The products of such a Computer Individualized Curriculum industry would be useful to both academic and vocational education, employing thousands of subject matter experts, programmers, graphic designers, curriculum designers and teachers for creation of its products. Also the market for such products worldwide will be vast as the pent up demand for them has existed for a long time.

    This is how a typical product of this new industry would work. A typical course, let us say Chemistry Level II, is to be taught to three or more students with completely different language skill, family stability, academic achievement and learning style backgrounds. Computer beforehand asks each student about 200 questions regarding their language skill, family stability, academic achievement, learning style and Chemistry Level I and then it revamps the target curriculum Chemistry Level II and delivers it to all of them self-paced, in different number of lessons, and styles for joyous… read more »

    …learning experience with assurance of 95 percentile success. Chemistry Level I would be a beginning point (source) and Chemistry Level II will a finishing point (target) of this example.

  5. Steve Leary says:

    How to get America into the top 5 in various areas of study. COPY WHAT NUMBER ONE IS DOING.

  6. David Eastwood says:

    If a comic like SpongeBob could teach the average 8th grader to do algebra 2,
    would it change how kids learn?

    I found that students learn short, easy to learn concepts best when they
    actually enjoy the characters in the lesson and my online product easily makes
    algebra much simpler than Khan Academy.

    How does it make money? Short lessons (no characters) would be free, but
    the entire product would be reasonably priced as well the workbooks, which
    are designed so that mom could tutor child, friend to friend, or teacher to
    class.

  7. Paul Avery says:

    Thank you, Exxon for this initiative. Having been educated overseas I see the biggest issue with the USA education system is the lack of mathematical training at early age. Basic math skills are pounded into kids from the age of 4 or 5 and are constantly reinforced at school and at home. Longer school hours and more challenging testing are common in Europe and Asia. The effect of this is a continuous degradation of math skills in the USA as most primary school teachers fear maths and cannot teach what needs to be learned. This whole scenario prevents the vital brain calculations being made and reinforced before the age of 7. This is hard for teachers to accept but the proof is all around us – we just hate math!

    The same delays exist in teaching algebra, geometry and calculus in the US school system. There is no excuse for this – just an erroneous paradigm that is damaging our Nation’s future.

  8. Eric Knoth says:

    A company like yours must be reaching here for support from someone. It is obvious the Government runs schools, much like it tries to run everything. It is also clear they are not successful either. The problem is that Government runs our schools and the teachers unions control our teachers. If you are speaking of demolishing the union and paying teachers for performance like most others careers, than you have my support. Invest in school buildings, supplies etc, but teachers are already over paid for their results in many cases. Look at Chicago’s teachers union strike a few months back as an example. Those teachers have poor results, average 75,000 dollars a year, get summer vacation, holidays and snow days equaling 4 months of the year off work! They wanted more cash and less accountability. WHAT!!! I thought it was about our kids? WAKE UP AMERICA! So please exon stop pandering to whoever you are attempting to do in these ignorant commercials and really do the right thing by investing in school structure and supplies and not the teachers and unions.

  9. Eric Knoth says:

    Also, put me in charge of the worse school system and by the 2nd complete school year it would be a school of excellence. I only ask 3 things- keep the unions & Government out of my way and put the kids first! That would give you the educated graduates you need for science.

  10. Cynthia Miller says:

    I just saw your commercial about investing in teachers and I don’t think more money is the answer to students doing better in school. I taught for 10 years, and a good teacher wants to be paid well, but there’s more to it than more money. They want students to come to school that have supporting parents, are well rested, have their homework done, have been feed, who are loved and have been taught to respect themselves, others and the educational system. I feel those are the reasons are students are doing poorly in school.
    I left the teaching field not because of the paycheck (I made more as a teacher than my current job), but because children were coming to school tired, hungry, crappy home life, unsupported parents, bullying etc…. Parents who also taught children to blame others if they don’t do well.
    We need to focus more on family, attitudes, and respect than a bigger pay check for teachers.
    Maybe Exxon, your commercial should say, Let’s invest more in our children

  11. Ken Allison says:

    TERC Investigations? Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth …

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr1qee-bTZI

    http://home.comcast.net/~kendo2/webs/AM.html

    In my flying USN ASW career, we would not call them cluster problems. They would be called a cluster (f-word goes here). MJ McDermott (Scientist) got it right. Who recommends that these alternative methods be used as primary ones? Let me guess -not China, Japan, Canada ….

    Next: On to administraitors (sic), educators (not Scientists or Mathematicians for the most part) and unions. These are the easier parts of the overall problem to fix.

  12. Dave Norton says:

    One of the biggest problems is how teachers are treated. Over 17 years ago I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and medically retired from the US Navy. The VA tested me and found that I had an aptitude for teaching. So, they sent me back to school and I earned my M.S. in Education. My state had a provision in it’s licensing process that provided the possibility of getting experience years attached to my license if “what you have done in the public or private sector is directly related to what you did in the classroom.” Now my rating was Surface Sonar Technician. I was an E6 at the time of retirement. I submitted my paperwork to my HR in my system.

    A few days later I got a response from “Jane Smith” who had the job of interpreting my DD 214. She told me, in writing, that none of my 4 years and 7 months in the navy could be considered for experience years. I called her and told her I had been in the Navy for 10 years. She asked me if I was sure. She then asked if I could prove it. I told her I could….by resubmitting the same paper she had misread, my DD 214. I then asked her why I could not be considered for time. Living in the ocean for 10 years hunting for submarines would certainly give me some consideration for teaching oceanography, which I was teaching among other things in an integrated middle school science class.

    For months my system refused to acknowledge my area(s) of expertise. My state finally stepped in a gave me 9 of my 10 years. They looked at my full licensure… read more »

    …area and actually read my VA Form DD2586. A VA expert on military and civilian job correlation volunteered to help with this problem and my local system refused before my state had intervened.

    Herein lies one of the main problems in education. Someone like me, a veteran, will stand up for themselves if I feel it is necessary. This gets me (us) labeled as a trouble maker. If someone is making a significant decision about my career and they cannot perform their task (like reading a DD 214 properly) then I will say something. The system expects that I will just say “ok, you are right, I was only there for 4 years and 7 months” and walk away.

    I have been teaching for a number of years. The techniques and strategies I have utilized have grown science scores in several middle schools. Science scores, in a very short time, grew 3 and 4 times for certain schools. I have shared these strategies with a number of other teachers who had even better results than I. The African American “gap” in science scores was all but erased. In one instance the African American pass rate one year was higher than the school score for the same science test.

    Over the years the strategies I use have been ridiculed and dismissed by many. The research I have done, using my states public scores on tests, show that a student who cannot read will very likely fail their science test. At the start of one year, after evaluating my students in a middle school classroom, I found that out of over 90 students there were 27 who had never passed a reading test for their grade level. In spite of this these students had been passed along. Since my job was going to be based on whether or not my students passed their science test I found this situation disturbing since it could handicap me in being able to keep my job.

    I have always approached my job as a teacher as that I work for the parents and the child. They pay taxes, they pay me. They are the people who expect me to do my job. I have never lost site of that. I work very hard to create independent learners who can take care of themselves. I want them to be able to read a science textbook based on my own experience in college science classes. I have encountered such resistance to these efforts that I have found it more than disturbing. I have heard comments from surprising people: “How many of these students do you think are really going to college?” “If you are teaching the kids to do this themselves then what are we paying you for?” “Don’t ask them to do that, you are asking them too much.”
    “Don’t teach that, it’s not part of the curriculum.”–in reference to teaching the MLA Format as students write about their research in science.

    While I would love to continue teaching I am fearful that my days in the classroom may be over. I can look back on the cards, letters and emails from my students over the years and be proud of what I did. One student looked me up after 2 years to let me know what an impact I had had on her life and how successful she was using the same strategies I had imparted to her. I assured her that it was her willingness to do what I had asked that made her such a huge success.

  13. robert preston says:

    The best and brightest are reluctant to enter the teaching profession because the job is underpaid. In many schools there is an alarming lack of discipline, which makes for an impossible classroom environment. Many times teaching students with no self-discipline equates to babysitting with worksheets. There are exceptions, to be sure, but overall the quality of public education in our country guarantees profits and full enrollments for private schools.

  14. Steve H says:

    Exxon got my attention with a televised short version of this message. Bravo! Americans need to hear that we are 17th or 25th on various measures, rather than puffery political phrases from days gone by (that we are the greatest, etc. ) Your wake up call is timely.

    Regarding Robert’s post, I respectfully disagree with his leading reason for poor teaching is teachers being underpaid. A case can easily be made that most teachers are overpaid. A quick way to see this is to consider the value of their retirement benefits and compare it to the amount a non governmental person would need to save in an IRA or 401k account to have the same retirement annuity income . Do the same for other benefits and throw in an imputed value for job security and steady pay. This might explain Tea Party and other movements aimed at chopping government.

    Stated in a more positive fashion, the fact that young people continue to enroll in the Peace Corps and other programs suggests that money is not always their prime motivator. If the other conditions that Robert mentioned could be fixed, I think we’d have a good supply of future teachers.

    How could our country encourage self discipline at early ages? Is a current lack of self discipline a result of things just being given to kids?

    • Ed Dodds says:

      Ken and Suzanne: Please consider doing an internal poll of your 18,000 scientists and engineers and ask them how active they are in some form of one on one mentorship|womentorship. Without direct guidance about careers the kids will not know how to navigate the H1B visa abuse, the systematic ageism which occurs in STEM (healthcare insurance cost related mainly), and the threat of outsourcing; as well as the high cost of tuition which is rarely forgiven (unless these are healthcare careers which target underserved areas). Thanks for your efforts. @ed_dodds blog.conmergence.com

  15. corey kyle says:

    While it is nice to see some adds with engineers complimenting their past teachers, do you really think this gets at the problem? I have a BSEE and MBA, nearly 20 years experience as an engineer, and 10 years as a physics teacher. I teach physics (or , at least, try to) 140 students every day, typically work 60 to 70 hours per week. My salary has been frozen at about $50K for two years, my budget for lab supplies has been $0 for three years (although I usually spend several $100 of my own on materials each year), and recent news stories have reported that the starting salary for a petroleum engineer fresh out of college is $25K more than what I am making now.

    I’m all for raising the standards ( or, more importantly, the expectations) on our students, but the current approach by government is to push an onerous evaluation system onto the teachers (not the students) with some misguided expectation that it will somehow make the students work harder.

    I’m really not sure what these commercials are aiming to do.