I recently sat on an examination committee for a masters student from Saudi Arabia. She was asked to provide the formula for making a certain quantity of 70 percent alcohol from a stock of 95% alcohol. In seconds, she turned to the board and rapidly wrote out the exact formula for the requested amount. An American graduate student would have taken a minute or two; some would have gotten it wrong.
“When did you first learn algebra?” I asked.
“Fourth or fifth grade,” she replied. I smiled. This is also the time Asian students begin algebra. American schools of education tell state boards of education that a child’s brain is not developed
enough to understand algebra until just before high school.
I have lectured at over two dozen Chinese normal universities and I have fun with this remark. When I tell them that the U.S. delays algebra because kids cannot learn it when young, they scoff because their elementary students are learning it quite well, thank you.
“Person who say it cannot be done should not get in way of person doing it” is a saying I would like to put into fortune cookies and hand out to American education schools. But Chinese fortune cookies are another American falsehood.
When American schools delay teaching algebra until 8th or 9th grade, this pushes off physics, chemistry, and the portions of other sciences that require algebra, until the last half of high school. Meanwhile, students in Asia and the Middle East begin to study chemistry and physics well before middle school. As a result, they have much higher rates of students entering engineering, physics, chemistry and molecular biology than in the United States. Their students take nearly three times the course work in science as U.S. students in K–12. The science literacy level of the American public is so far behind other developed countries that we must rely on their students to feed our science pipeline.
The National Science Foundation National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics updates and releases data on the numbers of doctoral recipients at U.S. colleges and universities each year. They break down the doctoral graduate numbers by U.S. citizens versus temporary visa holders. Data show that the more a science requires a command of mathematics, the more we rely on foreign students in science.
From 1985 to 2015, foreign students earning a biology doctorate at U.S. universities grew from 934 to 3,262 (from 16 percent to 26%). If biology was split into molecular biology versus field biology, the gap would be dramatic with mostly U.S. students in fieldwork and mostly foreign students in lab coats.
Annual foreign students receiving U.S. doctorates in the physical and earth sciences rose from 2,618 to 3,481 (from 21 to 36 percent). In mathematics and computer sciences, the numbers rose from 332 in 1985 to 1,924 in 2015 (from 33 percent to half of U.S. doctoral graduates).
Most alarming are the numbers in engineering, where the U.S. failure to make the metric system a part of out native language is involved. Foreign students made up 1,423 or 45 percent of U.S. doctorates in 1985 and 5,122 or 52 percent in 2015. Walk into a U.S. university engineering classroom and it will seat a majority of foreign students.
Stupidly require all foreign-born scientists to leave the U.S. and American science would collapse. –Engineering and physics immediately, and field biology last. In the 1940s, American science gained a foreign accent due to the influx of scientists fleeing the Third Reich. A substantial portion of “American” Nobel Prizes were these foreign-born and foreign-educated scientists. Many more-recent winners came to the U.S. for better research facilities. We do not produce enough nuclear physicists to run our own labs.
We recruit many of the foreign-born students that we graduate. And we import more scientists. But this is becoming more difficult as their standard of living and opportunities back home improve.
Both American technology industries and our research universities rely on H1B visas to import critical science talent. But some propose to cut the H1B program and “hire Americans first.” The problem is that the U.S. educational system does not produce anywhere enough scientists. And that problem starts with a K–12 curriculum that teaches far too little science. –And teaches science and math far too late.