« Newt Gingrich Recommends Two Million Minutes in a Major Speech | Main | Bill Gates: It surprises me that more parents are not upset about the education their own kids are receiving. »

June 13, 2009


Cam J

This was most likely not an eighth grade exam and more than likely a teacher certification exam. From what I glean from Snopes.com it was hard for teachers back then to pass it as well...

I enjoy your blog and glad to see that someone is paying attention to our current education situation.

Bob Compton Comments:
You are wrong, but that's OK.

Laura Adelman-Cannon

Well, an 8th grader at the International School of Louisiana could. We are a PUBLIC charter school that is non-selective in its admissions. 53% of our student body is eligible for free and reduced breakfast and lunch. 100% of our 8th graders passed the LEAP test this year. LEAP, the 8th grade exam in LA is extremely difficult. Want to see what 8th graders in LA are expected to do? Go to http://louisianapass.org/ Sign in as a guest. Go to PASS practice test and click on 8th grade. A score of BASIC (passing) is linked to being in the 85th percentile nationally. LA has the 3rd higest benchmark for a passing score in the country. Statewide only 40% of 8th graders pass. Additionally, ISL's kids pass a test taken in English even though ALL of their Math instruction is in a Target Language (French or Spanish).


I believe a Charter school student could pass this test, but I'd challenge you to select 5 at random, take the test and post their answers. I'll share the answers and we'll see how they did.


Your lemmings piece was okay: US education is not well designed and wastes a LOT of time, money, effort, and opportunity. Parents and students have been confident that the program provided by the US educational system is good, and the result of following this program is too often falling off a cliff into disaster. That allegory is correct.

It appears that you are connected with Memphis and Indiana: I grew up in Memphis, went to East, graduated from Rhodes, was a grad student in math at IU, started violin, met my wife from 15 miles south of Warsaw. Went back to help start FedEx and did two things for the company with math. We got our Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins, hers in mathematical sociology and mine in mathematical engineering.

Your efforts seem to suggest that the US should do better in education, especially grades 9-12. Okay. Parents, students, teachers should be more serious and work harder. Okay.

But, now what? What to teach? That's a very big, challenging question. So far from your work I have seen no hint of an answer.

Believe me, it's quite possible just to waste time studying. Spending a lot of time and effort stuffing library contents between the ears can be wasteful nonsense.

Yes, in college, graduate school, and academic research in the US in math, physical science, and engineering, mostly the values and work are quite separated from jobs, the economy, or anything practical. Overwhelmingly applications outside of academics and, indeed, the whole non-academic world are viewed with contempt. So, education is not well connected with business.

For nearly all of academic work, each piece of work is entirely within a narrow 'silo'. That silo is a leaf in a tree of nested silos. At the root of the tree is all of academics, one more silo.

In math, physical science, and engineering in academics, nearly everyone with results has a very narrow solution still looking for a real problem; there is nearly no one around with a real problem looking for a solution. So the silos become more and more narrow and irrelevant. Occasionally some E = mc^2 result pops out, but otherwise there is a lot of missed opportunity.

The NSF tries to push 'cross-cutting' research, but the fundamental point is that academics, especially via its leaders, has 'physics envy', really only likes more cases of E = mc^2, and has profound contempt for the non-academic world.

For these academic problems, it is not the least bit clear that India or China has better solutions. Net, they can't avoid the problems: What to teach? How to connect with the real world? How to get high quality research done, much of which does connect with practice? How does the world of practice evaluate the practical potential of highly technical work?

It is also very true that nearly no one in US business is able to look at advanced technical material in math, physical science, or engineering and evaluate its business potential.

Here's the easiest solution: The US needs more math, physical science, and engineering Ph.D. entrepreneurs with 200' yachts -- and this is mostly not a joke. That is, to take Ph.D. work and workers seriously, business needs more examples where such work led to significant business success. Instead, what we have is, Bill Gates dropped out of college, Warren Buffett does his own thing not emphasized even in business school, Steve Jobs creates products from his unique mind, Jim Simons has claimed that his business does not depend on math, etc. Exceptions might be A. Viterbi and R. Bixby, but very few people in business have heard of either of these two.

Actually in the US, a key part of the successful computer industry was the hard push in the 1960s and 1970s of US national security aerospace projects that needed much, much more in digital electronics. Soon we got microprocessors, and then software techniques already running on mainframes, especially Multics, suddenly got cheap processors. Microsoft and Apple became great successes quickly. To connect the computers, the DoD work in TCP/IP made Cisco a great success.

What to do for a second act? Tough question.

My suggestion of the key would be much closer connections between academics and practice. E.g., schools of engineering should be research-teaching hospitals with clinics for engineering problems from real businesses. Most if not all professors should be practicing their profession. Part of the education should be working on engineering problems in the clinics. Research work should often be motivated by problems in the clinics that currently have no good solutions.

As it is, for a professor in math, physical science, or engineering to have a career, they need to avoid any contact outside of academics and pursue some grand result such as E = mc^2. So, the goal for everyone is to be Einstein and otherwise they have nothing important to do. In particular they can't make contact with real problems from outside academics. So, inside academics, there is no connection with real problems, and outside academics people laugh at academics.

Discovering the next E = mc^2 is excellent, but so is much other work.

Actually there is work in math, physical science, and engineering that can be the basis of 'secret sauce' for an entrepreneur, but essentially no one in US venture capital is able to evaluate such work. The situation in US biomedical venture capital is much better -- there venture partners can have MD and/or biomedical Ph.D. degrees and be able to understand and evaluate core technical details. In information technology venture capital, the venture partners evaluate the technical work by looking at only the user interface and ignore everything else; nearly no venture partners know enough to get deeper than the user interface or even know how to direct a 'peer review' that could get deeper. Looking only at the user interface is such a superficial review that the venture people are shooting in the dark and, thus, guaranteeing low average return on investment. In particular, your point about ad targeting is correct: Venture people cannot evaluate the core math for better ad targeting and, thus, won't see the value much before the accountants do. Similarly for Internet search, monitoring computers and networks, etc.

Your claim that Microsoft can't fill 5000 technical jobs with US citizens is nonsense: The US is just awash in people much more qualified then nearly anyone at Microsoft that Microsoft just refuses to hire. The situation is similar at Intel, Google, etc. The issue is absolutely NOT qualifications or ability.

Wall Street just killed much of the world economy with some really stupid work in 'risk management' but for decades just refused to hire people with solid qualifications in stochastic processes.

There is a pattern: US business does NOT want high technical qualifications. Why? The old pattern of the industrial revolution is still in place: The supervisor is supposed to know more about the work than the subordinate. So, highly qualified people can't be hired as subordinates. Moreover, in large organizations, nearly never does the CEO have a technical background.

The movie 'Stand and Deliver' was awful: Actually, the student and her family who wanted her to learn to run the family Mexican restaurant business was fully correct: Learning to run the business was MUCH more valuable than anything closely connected with calculus.

Actually, all across the US, a Ph.D. in electrical engineering will usually be better off with an electrician's license. Often he can do better with a $30,000 truck and a $6000 lawn mower and mowing grass than with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Net, the US economy does NOT know how to use Ph.D. educations in math, physical science, and engineering.

George Bowser, Jr.

We have definitely missed the ball, or rather let it behind. This is a good article, and I ask that you continue to post whenever you find these.

George Bowser, Jr.
Founder, The Tech Club
www.streetspeculators.com (Biz Blog)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter