U.S. Math, Science Teaching Called `Flawed'

Article excerpt

Children in other countries beat American students on international science and mathematics tests because the U.S. curriculum is unfocused and demands too little too late, according to the study being released today.

The finding could lead to centralized national standards that could override local control of education.

"The system has a fundamental flaw in it - it's splintered," said William H. Schmidt, a professor of education at Michigan State University and director of the National Research Center for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

"The solution is systemic and deeply structural," he said in an interview yesterday. "To solve the problem is not trivial. There are no magic bullets here."

TIMSS involved testing 500,000 students in 30 languages in 45 countries and in five grade levels. For the first time in any international study, researchers looked at textbooks, curriculum guides and teaching practices as well as test results.

Country-by-country rankings of TIMSS, funded by the National Science Foundation, will come out next month. Among the findings of the curriculum component being released today:

* U.S. standards are unfocused and aimed at the lowest common denominator.

* This approach reflects the fragmented nature of the U.S. educational system - authority for education is distributed among federal, state and local governments and a "loose federation of organizations" - and the lack of common standards on what to teach and how to teach it.

* As a result, it is too optimistic to expect our students to do as well in science and, especially, in mathematics as do students in other countries. …