Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Over-Encouraging STEM

Published in the Malibu Times, July 1, 2016

Response to:
Those who argue that Malibu High School should keep a super-advanced math class (multivariate analysis and linear algebra) argue that dropping the class shows "a lack of commitment  to provide an excellent STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education."

I think it shows a lack of interest in overdoing and over-encouraging STEM.  MHS has a very strong math program without multivariate analysis, and it is not clear that even even basic calculus is a good idea for most students.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no shortage of qualified STEM experts in the US; in fact, there is a surplus. Rutgers University professor Hal Salzman has concluded that there are approximately three qualified graduates annually for each science or technology opening. Recent studies have also shown the United States is producing more Ph.D.s in science than the market can absorb.

About 1/3 of college-bound high-school students in the US take calculus, and only about 5% of jobs require this much math.

Pushing math (and science) only because it looks good on a college application means less of a chance for students not aiming at a STEM career to pursue their own interests and develop expertise in areas of their choice.

For those who think calculus “trains the mind,” research shows that expertise in a field requires years of hard work in that field, not in a totally different one.

This argument does not come from someone who hates math: I was in the first high school AP class taught in the US in 1958 (scoring 5 on the AP test) and I studied math in college through advanced calculus, differential equations and abstract algebra. I use sophisticated statistical procedures in my work, and I admire winners of the Fields Medal far more than I admire winners of the academy awards.

Stephen Krashen

Stephen Krashen is Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Southern California. Some of his best friends are mathematicians,


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