Tag Archives: math

Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

Rick Scott.jpg

In the first couple weeks of any survey course in the
principles of economics, students are taught that prices are determined by the
interactions of consumers (demand) and producers (supply). Prices for many
things, such as oil, or of common stocks, constantly change with the frequent
shifts in the willingness of consumers and producers to buy or sell the good or
service in question.

Yet the price of college–tuition fees–seems to be
determined differently. For starters, tuition fees change but once a year, not
constantly. Universities are like restaurants, with “menus” giving prices for a
variety of different offerings, with the menu changing once a year.  For many schools, however, the listed price
is not what economists call an “equilibrium” price–a price equating quantity
demanded with quantity supplied. Rather, thousands are turned away at the
listed price at selective admission universities.  Also, massive price discrimination exists, so
many customers–often a majority–pay less than the stated or sticker price.

Amidst all of this, schools typically charge students the
same regardless of their major. A committee advising Florida Governor Rick
Scott has recommended a move to differential pricing–majors would pay
differing amounts. The goal is partly to entice students into the STEM
disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) on grounds that our
future would be enhanced by having more scientists relative to, say, English
majors or anthropologists. By making STEM tuition fees lower, we will encourage
enrollment expansion in those fields. Ohio University’s Board of Trustees
recently considered (but did not yet adopt) a multiple-price approach, and
other schools are doing so. 

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The Perils of Student Choice

The release of SAT scores last week gives strong ammunition to proponents of a core curriculum. As reported in the Wall Street Journal , reading scores hit their lowest figure in four decades. Writing scores hit their lowest number since a writing component was added to the exam six years ago; in fact, writing scores have dropped every year except one, when they were flat.

The College Board, which administers the exam, attributes the decline to two factors. One, more second-language students are taking the exam; and two, not enough test-takers follow a core curriculum. James Montoya, vice president of College Board, is quoted to that effect in the story, and he states the case even more strongly in the College Board’s own report. In his opening remarks, Montoya asserts that “students who complete a rigorous core curriculum do better in high school; they do better on the SAT; and they are more prepared for college. This holds true across all socioeconomic and ethnic lines.”

What a contrast to the education establishment, which regards a core curriculum as narrow and authoritarian! Parents are inundated with this argument during campus tours, where backward-walking guides assure them that students have ample license in their coursework. The proliferation of choice complements trendy ideas of student empowerment and student-centered learning that caught on in the 1960s and drifted quickly up to higher education.

However, those who favor a core curriculum now have certified announcements by the College Board against a high-elective approach. They may also take heart from a survey released this week by American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Administered by Roper, the first question asked respondents if colleges and universities should force students to take classes in “core subjects” (writing, math, science, U.S. history, economics, foreign language). Fully 70 percent answered “Yes.” More than half (54 percent) of them agreed that they were “Very” or “Somewhat” surprised that many institutions do not have those requirements. Most respondents (57 percent) also said they believe schools do a “fair” or “poor” job preparing students for the job market, while 46 percent believed that institutions do not give student’s “their money’s worth.”

The combination of dissatisfaction with the overall product plus the endorsement of core curricula marks a timely opening for reformers.

About All Those STEM Dropouts…

science_lab_students.jpgThe New York Times proclaimed recently that science educators and others are vitally concerned that high dropout rates of students studying math, science, and engineering (the “STEM” disciplines) will imperil our nation’s technological leadership. There is a shortage of people in these fields, it is argued, and efforts to increase numbers are thwarted by dropout rates that run from 40 to as high as 60 percent (for those originally pre-med majors).

I want to make two points. First, the high dropout rates are not only far from surprising; indeed, they should be expected, and we should rejoice that someone in higher education is trying to maintain standards of academic excellence. Second, for well over half of a century, STEM advocates have cried “shortages of key personnel” and “crisis” when none really existed, showing a lamentable lack of scientific objectivity and intellectual honesty in the process. I fear this may be happening again.

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Romance Hinders Women in STEM Courses?

Another day, another bunch of dollars thrown at studies lamenting “the gender gap in science and technology fields.” The most recent comes from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.

From its Executive Summary:

Our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

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Do Female Students Need ‘Stereotype Inoculation’?


Are you a female STEM student (or wannabe STEM student) suffering from a stereotype infection? Then, according to new research recently described in Inside Higher Ed (“Inoculation Against Stereotype”), you should take a course from a female instructor to inoculate yourself.

The research, based on a study at U Mass Amherst by Nilanjana Dasgupta, associate professor of psychology  and some graduate students there,
found notable benefits for female students (and for male students as well, though to a lesser degree) to being taught by women — and may point to strategies that would keep more women in STEM fields. The idea behind the research is that certain strategies “inoculate” female students against the sense that they don’t belong or are not likely to succeed in math and science courses.
…. Dasgupta said that the evidence suggests that women who are exposed to women doing math and science successfully end up with “stereotype inoculation” in which they gain confidence. The obvious solution from the new research — which Dasgupta said wasn’t realistic — would be to have only women teach introductory STEM courses.

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Woman’s Work

This piece appeared originally in the June 2010 issue of Liberty
Women can’t get any satisfaction these days. Yet another report, this by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), asks why there are so few women in the STEM professions. (For those outside the education community, this acronym refers to the prestigious disciplines of “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”) The putative exclusion of women from STEM fields is a hot topic in higher education; there is even talk of instituting programs such as the federal law known as Title IX, which expanded college sports to encompass more women.
There are no shades of Larry Summers in the AAUW report. It skirts the possibility that something inherent in women, either their brains or the lifestyle they value, leads them to choose other fields. Instead, the report is all about self-esteem and overcoming bias and low expectations. The chapter on “Beliefs about Intelligence” does not discuss research on intelligence per se, but rather how to overcome the “mindset” that one’s intelligence is not as high as it should be.
Yet, as Susan Pinker commented on the Minding the Campus website in April, women are well-represented in science-related disciplines, at least at the university level. She lists “biology, medicine, dentistry, econology, pharmacology, neuroscience, or veterinary science” as “science programs that were mostly male 40 years ago but are now dominated by women on every university campus.” In fact, AAUW’s colorful charts reveal plainly that more women receive bachelor’s degrees in biology and the biological sciences than do men.
Furthermore, there’s something sinister about this report – or at least it’s out of date: STEM jobs are not all that attractive. The Ohio University economist Richard Vedder suggests that the pressure to push people (of either sex) into STEM smacks of scandal – a retread of the post-Sputnik pressures of the late 1950s, with less justification . STEM fields are not that highly paid (which would be a sign of great demand), he says and “it is not uncommon for science graduates to have trouble getting a job in their field.” Nor does the Bureau of Labor Statistics expect the number of jobs in these fields to grow substantially (in percentage terms, yes, but not in absolute numbers.)
Exactly why STEM has fallen out of favor Vedder doesn’t say. Others, however, have pointed to the international outsourcing of such jobs and to the changing nature of technology, which now automates procedures that previously required highly skilled technicians.
Why don’t we just let women do what they want to do? If that means avoiding some academic fields because they like others better or because they envision a life that is more compatible with being a mother, let them. Isn’t freedom what “women’s liberation” was all about?.

The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity

Sometimes it seems as though the most heavily researched, richly funded area of American science today involves studies of why there aren’t more women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and efforts to induce, recruit, and retain more of them.
In her article for Minding the Campus, Susan Pinker deftly punctures the omissions and evasions of the most recent such study, the AAUW’s “Why So Few?”, pointing out how that study’s predictable bogeymen of “stereotyping” and “unconscious bias” denigrate the choices many women freely make.
There is nothing new about this attempt (dare one call it patronizing?) to deny and denigrate women’s choices. A generation ago, for example, in its spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to hold Sears, Roebuck responsible for the “underrepresentation” of women in such jobs as installing home heating and cooling systems, (EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck and Co. 628 F. Supp. 1264 (1986), 839 F.2d 302 (1988)), the EEOC submitted testimony from an expert witness (Alice Kessler Harris, a prominent women’s historian) that discrimination was the only possible explanation for such “underrepresentation” because “where opportunity has existed, women have never failed to take the job offered…. Failure to find women in so-called non-traditional jobs can thus only be interpreted as a consequence of employers’ discrimination.”

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College Students Who Can’t Do Math Or Read Well

By Sandra Stotsky and Ze’ev Wurman
Every year seems to produce a burst of attention to a particular crisis in education. In 2009, the most publicized crisis is likely the staggering number of post-secondary students with severe debilities in reading and math. Estimates of those needing remedial classes before taking credit courses range from 30% of entering students to 40% of traditional undergraduates. According to a 2008 report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs, 90% of 200 City University of New York students tested couldn’t solve a simple algebra problem in their first class at a four-year college.
A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study reports that 42% of freshmen in public two-year institutions need remediation. While there are many adult (non-traditional) students in remedial classes, those 21 or younger make up approximately 80% of remedial class enrollment, according to a 2009 policy brief from the Charles Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education.
More than half of all college students will not earn a degree or credential, according to a 2009 Gates Foundation report drawing on national education statistics. For community college and low-income students, it notes, the numbers are much worse. Only about one-quarter of the African-American students who enrolled in a community college in 2004 graduated within three years. Immediate enrollment in credit courses that accumulate rapidly towards completion of a degree program is not possible for under-qualified young adults who need to spend at least part-time on remedial courses.

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Who’s Acing The GREs?

Who are the smartest graduate students? You’ve probably already guessed that one: physicists. Second down in the brains ranking are mathematicians, then computer scientists, then economists and practically any sort of engineer. Such are the results of an analysis made in 2004 by Christian Roessler, a lecturer in economics at the University of Queensland, in Australia, of the mean scores on the Graduate Record Examination of Ph.D. candidates in 28 different academic fields. Roessler’s findings, recently linked on the Carpe Diem blog of Mark J. Perry, an economics and finance professor at the University of Michigan-Flint’s business school, and also by education blogger Joanne Jacobs. Roessler derived his rankings by looking at doctoral candidates’ average scores in 2002 on the three components of intellectual ability tested by the GRE: quantitative, verbal, and analytical (the analytical section, then a multiple-choice test like the quantitative and verbal sections, has since been replaced by a written test of analytical reasoning).
And if physicists (No. 1), mathematicians (No. 2) computer scientists (No. 3), economists (No. 4), and engineers (Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, and 13) are the smartest young people, judging from their test scores, to enter graduate programs that will train them to conduct scholarly research and teach the next generation of scholars in their fields, who are the dumbest? The answer to that question may well be easy to guess, too: grad students in communication (No. 26), education (No. 27), and public administration (No. 28). The dismal mean scores for doctoral candidates at education schools (467 in verbal ability, 515 in quantitative)—giving new meaning to the adage “Those who can’t, teach”–prompted a commenter on Jacobs’s blog to write, “The fact that the dimmest bulbs in our colleges self-select themselves as being the ones who should influence the education of future generations explains many of the edu-fads we see, as well as our continued failure to improve educational outcomes across disadvantaged populations….”
By contrast, the physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, economists, and engineers consistently scored on average either above 700 or close to it in quantitative ability, although their verbal scores tended to be mediocre (the top-ranking physicists, for example, scored only 536 on average in verbal ability, while civil engineers, ranked at No. 13 on Roessler’s list, scored a mere 469, just two points higher than the educators). The scientists tended, however, to make up for lost verbal points by their high scores—typically above 600—on the analytic component of the GRE, a feat the educators, testing on average at 532 in analytic ability, could not match.

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Crunching the Numbers

In a new report on elementary teacher preparation, the National Council on Teacher Quality finds that only 10 of 77 schools surveyed did an “adequate” job of preparing aspiring math teachers. Low expectations and standards, inconsistent guidance, insufficient grounding in algebra, and a nationwide inability to agree on what math teachers should know is effectively crippling elementary math teacher preparation, the study found.

The few schools that manage to transcend these problems deserve special mention. They are: the University of Georgia, Boston College, Indiana University at Bloomington, Lourdes College, University of Louisiana at Monroe, University of Maryland at College Park, University of Michigan, University of Montana, University of New Mexico, and Western Oregon University.

Special praise was reserved for the University of Georgia, one of the institutions studied in ACTA’s recent report, Shining the Light, for requiring math of all its graduates, not just aspiring teachers. Georgia’s program was deemed “exemplary” for requiring teachers-in-training to take at least two college-level math courses, three courses specifically on the material covered in elementary math, and two method-based courses on how to make mathematical concepts accessible to children.

Well worth reading, No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools is a major wakeup call: “We simply must begin to appreciate the critical importance of elementary teachers gaining the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach mathematics,” said Kate Walsh, president of the teacher quality council. “It is what our children need in order to keep up with their peers around the world – and what our country needs in order to produce a skilled workforce that can compete in today’s global economy.”

The same can be said for college graduates generally – a point ACTA made in praising the University of Georgia system for its current strong general education requirements in composition, math, and science. Rather than diluting these requirements, as some have recently proposed, Georgia can set a standard for demanding the kind of rigorous education citizens will need to compete in a global society.

Down With Math

Those who have been operating the managerial levers of the financial system have failed embarassingly and massively to comprehend the processes for which they are responsible. They have loaned money avidly and recklessly to people who couldn’t pay it back. They fudged data to get loans approved and recalculated . Then they sausaged fragile figments of moneyreality into new “products” which could be sold around the world to investors eager to enjoy the surprising returns which often accompany theft, managerial incompetence, and fraud.

One result is that our hard-nurtured national assets are being sold to foreign governments, our dollar which represents a share in our whole economy is at a portentous low while shrewd investors make bets on its continued decline. Houses and cars are being repossessed, pension funds shrink like bad shirts, people even hold off buying cheeseburgers it’s that bad.

When it comes to responsibility for all this, there appears to be no one here but us spring chickens. Not only that but the overseers of the bitter debacle may lose their jobs for a month but nonetheless fill their wheelbarrows with company money and “severance” when they leave to tide them over until the next corner office becomes available. Surrealists appear to write the scripts for the drama. Stanley O’Neal was the lavishly – paid king of Merrill Lynch who – oops – mislaid about 22 billion dollars before he was shoved out the door. Sad. Shattered dreams. But he was speedily named to the Board of Directors of Alcoa! So you don’t have to worry about yet another incompetent member of an increasingly overpaid and underskilled financial ruling class.

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