Obama: A new ‘Sputnik moment’

Our generation faces a “Sputnik moment,” said President Obama in a speech at a North Carolina technical college. He called for investing in math and science education, as the U.S. did in response to the Soviet challenge.

But the Sputnik-inspired National Defense Education Act, which increased federal math and science spending after Sputnik, did not raise math and science scores, writes Andrew Coulson on Cato @ Liberty. He’s got graphs.

I remember Sputnik. There was lots of talk about Ivan being smarter than Johnny. The “new math” was supposed to fix that by teaching conceptual understanding — lots of Venn diagrams — instead of rote learning.

Now Korean and Finnish kids are beating Ivan and Johnny.  (See the PISA story.)  If it was just the Asians excelling in math and science (and reading), we could say it’s Confucian culture and the willingness to work very, very hard. But the Finns are notoriously mellow. And what about those Canadians and New Zealanders? It shouldn’t be all that hard to emulate Canada.

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  1. I thought the New Math came a few years after the Sputnik inspired new programs for math and science.

    I remember Sputnik having a big impact on my social studies homework. If I didn’t do it, I’d fall behind Ivan, and Ivan was working like the devil to learn more than me

    Doing homework was a patriotic obligation.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    So, do we have the implication that there are a bunch of math teachers out there who can do a fantastic job, beat everybody on the planet, but they’re holding out until their average salary is $150,000?
    What, exactly, besides buying another expensive, untried system, is this extra money supposed to do?

  3. More money!
    Yeah, right.
    President Obama and advocates for the State-monopoly school system are stuck on stupid. If money made a difference, US students would score at the top of the lists already.

  4. Well, they don’t have local control in those places, for one.

  5. Money can be a factor, but it never makes the difference.

  6. My guess: the funding kept more kids in school, so scores lowered. But overall, there were more kids learning more math.

  7. Probably a reflex on Obama’s part to prescribe more money. Certainly it’s not the only policy he’s supported and at least one of those policies does bear mentioning if you’re a member of the true-believer class: Race to The Top.

    Then there’s Arnie Duncan running all over the landscape talking charters, vouchers, teacher accountability, school accountability and just generally acting in a way that causes heads to explode among those who’ve managed to convince themselves that the school district idea is not only sacrosanct but good as well.