In Philadelphia, local leaders recently attended a summit design to focus attention on the need for advanced math, science and technology training in the region's schools, proof that Pennsylvania at least is taking seriously the need for improvement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
"The demands that will be placed on our children are different from every other time in history," Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald L. Zahorchak (pictured) told superintendents, school board members, university professors, and business executives meeting in King of Prussia.
"We think, more than anything, we have to step up science and math education. Too often, we look at international results in math and science and find the United States is below average."
Pennsylvania has been studying math and science education in countries that outperform the United States, including Japan, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, to find out what can be duplicated.
Pa. Gov. Rendell has proposed state funding to duplicate a program involving elementary and middle schools in Southwestern Pennsylvania and scientists from the Bayer Corp. The scientists are working with teachers to boost science instruction. Students in the program are scoring as well in math and science as their counterparts around the world, Zahorchak said.
Gary Cooper, superintendent for the high-performing Radnor Township Schools, said the district emphaizes integrating subjects into real-world projects.
His district, which is among the highest-performing in the region, does some interdisciplinary teaching: High school students learn social studies and English at the same time. Seventh-graders learn most of their subjects through a yearlong ecology project.
But "we're not close to where things should be," he said.
This kind of change is a long-term goal, he said. The first thing districts must do is raise their expectations of students within the existing structure. "We have about 40 percent of our kids taking calculus," he said. "We should have about 70 percent."