Math, science curricula are derided by educator Middle school students need challenges, he says


Maryland's business leaders were warned yesterday that middle school students -- even the high achievers -- are being dragged down by chaotic and shallow curricula in math and science.

"The middle school curriculum in this country is a wasteland. We make them march in place and repeat what they have done in the first four years," Michigan State University Professor William Schmidt told education officials and representatives of about 70 of the state's largest companies during the annual meeting of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore.

"Our students don't start out behind. They fall behind," said Schmidt, the national research coordinator for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, which showed America's 12th graders performing abysmally in both subjects.

Reviewing the results of the most recent study, Schmidt noted that the country's fourth-graders scored well above average. By eighth grade, however, science and math scores had dipped to about average, and by 12th grade, students in the United States outperformed only those in Cyprus and South Africa.

"Our education system is failing even our most advanced kids. Our best kids are not world class. Everything is not OK in little suburban enclaves," Schmidt said. "The problem is the curriculum. We don't challenge our students in any intellectual ways."

He laid much of the blame on textbook publishers, and an educational system that has little focus.

"We are No. 1 in the world in the size of textbooks. They have more topics than any others in the world," Schmidt asserted. U.S. math texts average 35 topics per course; those in Germany and Japan have five to seven, meaning students are able to study subjects in depth, rather than dabble in them, as in this country.

Saying his keynote address was not without hope, Schmidt urged the educators and business leaders to work for national standards that would allow all children access to what they need to know; to discourage tracking of students by ability, and to take responsibility for curricula away from textbook publishers.

"We don't have to accept any of this. What you are doing here could not be any more important. Schools do make the dTC difference. Curriculum matters," he said.

For the past six years, the business roundtable has been a formidable force in Maryland education reform, standing behind

the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, which has prompted changes in teaching and learning in elementary and middle schools.

The coalition of more than 90 firms and organizations also is a strong supporter of the nascent high school improvement program and graduation tests, of technology in the schools and relevant teacher training.

At yesterday's meeting, roundtable chairman Raymond V. "Chip" Mason announced its newest initiative: a program to get employers to require high school transcripts as part of the hiring process. This is intended to strengthen the link between high school and the rest of students' lives and to give employers a clearer picture of students' attitudes and attendance records.

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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