Wednesday, November 10, 2010

American teens: It's the other kids who have a problem in math

Intel recently conducted a survey of American teenagers, to determine their attitudes toward math and science. The results are fascinating. Not for asking if kids feel that being good at math and science is important (99 percent said yes -- perhaps the other 1 percent didn't understand the question). But for finding that 85 percent of American teens are confident in their own math and science abilities. Indeed, a full 58 percent aspire to pursue a math or science-related career.

There are interesting statistics, since no where near 58 percent of American teenagers will finish college, let alone do so in STEM majors. State 8th grade proficiency scores on the math NAEP range from 7 percent (DC) to 43 percent (MA). Apparently, American teenagers have absorbed some of these statistics, since 90 percent said the US was not the best in the world in math and science. Yet the vast majority felt they, personally, were doing just fine.

Intel spun these results as saying that American kids may not be challenged enough, which I think is true. It's easy to be confident of your abilities if you've never truly been tested. Unfortunately for the over-confident among our teenagers, we now live in a global economy. Doing fine for your school, or for your community, is no longer enough.

At least, according to the Intel survey, most teens don't think this lack of international standing is a result of a lack of educational funding. They attribute it to a lack of discipline and work habits -- though, again, among other people. We all tend to think we, ourselves, are working hard (something I've discovered with time use data, and write about occasionally on my other blog). But working hard is not always enough. I'm curious if this study will get any press, and if so, how other organizations will analyze it.

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