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Low Math and Science Achievement: Does Not Computebracey

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One of the reasons that public schools are held in low esteem is that their successes are not celebrated, or if given publicity, attributed to the accomplishments of individuals and their individual smarts. The most common form of recognition is merely a bumper sticker: "My Child is an Honor Students at __________ School."

In 1994, the Washington Post did put the triumph of the U. S. team in the International Math Olympiad (where the U. S. always does well) on page A1: "U. S. Math Team: Perfect; MD student, 5 Others Ace World Competition. But it was clear from the article it was that Maryland kid, living in a DC suburb, who made the story newsworthy. If he had been from Delaware, forget it. In the 14 years since, the Post has had 5 articles about various math competitions, none of them garnering front page status.

Thus it was with this year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The Post has never mentioned it until this year. It was mentioned only in the context of some Prince George's (MD) county students winning a local science fair and thus the chance to participate in Intel's Big Dance in Atlanta this month. The Fair this year drew 1500 students from 50 countries.

Intel's Chairman, Craig Barrett is one of the most and worst chronic whiners about the state of science and engineering education in this nation and the state of high schools in general (it's part of a strategy to get Congress to permit more H1-B visas to skilled workers from abroad).

So it was nice to see his outfit providing the only real publicity that the kids in the fair got, nationally. Nice, no matter what the motivation might have been. On May 22, Intel ran full page, full color ads with a portrait of the three top winners standing together. It's a winning shot. Two of the winners are American. One is Taiwanese. All are girls. Color me sexist if you like, but I would have thought that alone, given the rap on girls-and-science, would have made the Fair outcomes newsworthy. None of the Americans are from the scientist farms of the country like Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology or Bronx High School of Science. One is from Muttontown, NY, (in Nassau County, not too far from the Big Apple the other from Cleveland, Mississippi, far from anything).

One "proved that a preexisting invariant, the Alexander-Conway polynomial, can guarantee equivalents on all knots corresponding to lattice chord diagrams." The other developed "an effective quartz crystal microbalance-based biosensor capable of detecting melamine and cyanuric acid at low concentrations and in just a matter of minutes." Useful in detecting food contaminants and maybe other harmful chemicals. (My computer's dictionary doesn't recognize "cyanuric.")

Eight kids in Fairfax County, Virginia (where I live) one third and fourth place prizes for projects such as "Efficacy of a Radon Pump Mitigating Background Radiation Level," "An Analysis of Market Nonlinearity" (chaos theory), "Optimization of Sustained Power Generation in Marine Sediment Microbial Photovoltaic Cells, "Practical Motion Capture for Mixed-Reality Applications," "Survivin Correlates with Prognosis and Inhibits Drug-Induced Apoptosis in Ewing Sarcoma Family Tumors" and so on.

Did I hear somebody talk about schools being in the 19th century?

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