Children and Calculators
Kenneth M. Hoffman
Forget the upcoming presidential election or Madonna's new movie. The next time you want to pick an argument with someone, tell them our country's schoolchildren should be using pocket calculators more often to learn mathematics.
I've said so to people I've met on airplanes and at parties, and they often look at me like I'm crazy. "If children use calculators in class," they sputter, "how will they learn the multiplication tables?" Or, "Students will know how to push the buttons but won't understand the underlying mathematics." Then they tell me about the time they went to the store when the cash register wasn't working and the teenage cashier didn't know how to make change.
The very idea of using calculators in classrooms hits a vital nerve in many Americans. They view it as cheating and fear that our already dismal level of mathematics performance will worsen.
As one who has spent a lifetime teaching mathematics, I disagree profoundly with these criticisms. There is no evidence that the average young cashier today is any worse at arithmetic than teenagers were 50 years ago, although the growth of the service sector does make their inadequacies more obvious. Teenagers of the past depended on a pad and pencil instead of on a cash register. In practical terms, what's the difference?
Contrary to many people's assumptions, mathematics is not an unchanging body of facts and procedures. It is the language of science, and it evolves continually. When chalkboards were introduced in schools many years ago, some teachers feared children would lose the ability to write. Modern worries about calculators are likely to prove similarly groundless.
Technology is not a panacea, as many school systems have learned with computer-based learning materials and other reputed innovations. Dedicated teachers and sound pedagogy remain essential. Yet, used appropriately, calculators can make the job easier, and we should not fear them. They give students what their parents lacked: time and freedom to become better problem-solvers and to discover the beauty of mathematics.
June 9, 1991
Kenneth M. Hoffman, professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also is associate executive officer for education at the National Research Council.
* * *
One Year Down, Nine to Go
Timothy H. Goldsmith
Nine years to go. That's how long U.S. students now have to become first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.
At their "education summit" last year, President Bush and state governors set the year 2000 for students to accomplish this goal. Their challenge came as Americans have been debating educational reforms ranging from lengthening the school year to requiring better teacher-competency tests.
Yet American students have little hope of catching — much less surpassing — their counterparts in Japan, Britain
and elsewhere until something more fundamental happens. Our science classrooms must stop being so dreadfully boring and irrelevant.
I chaired a committee of the National Research Council that recently examined the most widely taught science subject — biology. We found that biology is taught so poorly in the United States that it frequently snuffs out student interest in all science. Four of every five students take biology in high school, but fewer than a third of them continue with science by studying chemistry. Less than half of chemistry students, in turn, take high school physics. We cannot possibly meet our deadline of the year 2000 with this commitment.
Dismal enrollment figures do not tell the whole story. A recent analysis found that fully half the students who never take a class in biology do as well or better on biology tests than 40 percent of their peers who took and passed a biology class. In other words, many students learn almost nothing in these courses — except to dislike science.
Biology classes should be helping students develop an interest in the world around them and an understanding of societal issues such as AIDS and the environment. But from the early grades to high school, biology education is hampered by poorly trained and supported teachers, irrelevant curricula, inappropriate standardized tests, and textbooks that often are inaccurate or misleading. Considerable evidence suggests that the same problems exist in other science classrooms.
Biology and the rest of science need to become an essential part of elementary school, while the curiosity of children is uninhibited. Instead, most students receive little science instruction until junior high school, and then with curricula and textbooks that typically are exercises in memorization rather than an intellectual voyage of exploration.
What's needed is a curriculum that emphasizes science as a process of understanding. It should be an open-ended game of "What if . . .?" rather than a stupefying exercise in memorizing terminology reinforced by pedantic standardized tests. Students need to confront their beliefs about cause and effect, and spend time experimenting with their own hands and eyes, in simple laboratory settings.
Teachers need better training and should stop being so constrained by bureaucratic directives, non-educational duties and insufficient time to prepare class materials. They also need many more opportunities for meaningful, in-service experiences in which they can interact with research scientists, upgrade their knowledge, and share ideas and experiences.
From a national perspective, the most important need is to keep sight of these day-to-day realities in the classroom as we consider other reforms. Most of the "solutions" that have received attention lately are largely managerial or administrative. Examples include lengthening the school day or the school year, requiring more multiple-choice tests to establish the competence of teachers or the progress of pupils, opting for alternatives to the traditional certification or licensing of teachers, and adjusting the relative authority of teachers, principals, superintendents and boards of education. A voucher system, allowing parents to choose their child's school, is the latest such enthusiasm.
Some of these approaches contain useful ideas. But few specify or assure the kinds of fundamental change that are most necessary to improve learning, those that must take place in the classroom. Significant improvement among U.S. students in science cannot occur without better training for teachers, more relevant curricula and textbooks, and tests that focus on concepts rather than terminology. These fundamental reforms are the first step to young Americans' excelling in science — and in the complex world of the future.
Only 15 percent of high school seniors now opt to take science, so students are voting with their feet about what's wrong. With just nine years to go, we should listen to them.
December 30, 1990
Timothy H. Goldsmith is professor of biology at Yale University.
* * *
Minority Students and Mathematics
Asa G. Hilliard III
Millions of minority students graduate from high school unable to do simple equations, evaluate statistics or perform other mathematical tasks essential to success in today's technological society.
This isn't news. But what amazes me is that even though this problem is widely lamented, we hear little about teachers across the country who have shown absolutely that it doesn't need to be this way.
Jaime Escalante, the man who inspired the movie "Stand and Deliver," is the only "success story" known to the public or, for that matter, to many mathematics teachers. He helped minority students at Garfield High School in Los Angeles to excel in calculus.
Just across town from Garfield, a group of regular third graders at the Marcus Garvey School in Watts triumphed in a math competition over a group of sixth graders from a magnet school for gifted students. In the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, a regular fifth grade class received special instruction for one year and then passed New York's ninth grade math examination in overwhelming numbers.
I had a similar experience in Denver, helping a class of poor white and Hispanic students to excel in algebra two years before they were even supposed to study the subject. My purpose here is not to suggest that Hollywood update "Stand and Deliver" with an epic about any of these experiences. Damage already has been done by well-meaning tales that lead people to conclude that minority students can learn mathematics only if they have a teacher with superhuman dedication.
Since few teachers, or others, are so dedicated, such a conclusion is tantamount to saying that many students will continue to fail in math and have little chance to become computer programmers, pilots, engineers or accountants. That conclusion is simply wrong. Even teachers with low expec-
tations of their students can be trained to improve student performance dramatically.
The record shows how this can be accomplished. One lesson we can learn from Escalante and others is to bypass the basics and focus on intellectual challenges. Uri Treisman, who helped African-American students in Berkeley to achieve dramatic increases in mathematics scores over a short period, went straight to calculus. Bill Johntz, who has worked with students in Texas and California, taught fifth graders some concepts usually introduced during the freshman year of college. The students did not feel overwhelmed, but challenged.
This strategy is exactly the opposite of what many public schools do. When kids get behind, the schools pull them aside, slow them down, and feed them "dumbed down" courses, bit by bit, at a slower pace. This strategy is guaranteed to destroy children's enthusiasm.
Successful teachers achieve results quickly. Renee Wilkerson Anderson in Portland, Ore., is among those who have helped minority students improve performance rapidly. She and the other teachers all had a strong personal background in mathematics. They encouraged students to ask questions, introduced them to real mathematicians, and strove to develop a feeling of competency among young people who previously had not experienced much success.
One thing these teachers did not emphasize is grades. Nor did any of them divide children into ability groups. Although the vast majority of American schools use grouping, a growing body of empirical evidence indicates this approach doesn't work. Also contrary to prevailing wisdom, these teachers had few special materials, textbooks or equipment. Bill Johntz and Uri Treisman used little more than chalk and a blackboard. Elementary school students at the Garvey School studied from ordinary college algebra textbooks.
These cases also show that the best way to train new teachers is through an apprenticeship. A big problem in education today is that few prospective math teachers ever see success as a reality rather than an abstraction. They need to watch master teachers in action.
The contrast between these teachers and others is striking, and it suggests that dramatic changes are needed in mathematics education not only for minority students, but for all young Americans. Successful pedagogy is not special. It is reproducible and can work for minorities and everyone else. We should stop regarding excellence in mathematics as anything other than the norm.
November 11, 1990
Asa G. Hilliard III is the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University.
* * *
A Failing Grade for School Tests
If you've gone to school, you've probably endured at least one teacher who "taught to the test," spending day after day preparing you for a state biology exam, the SAT or some other standardized test. A class like that can be a monotonous, miserable experience for teacher and student alike, crushing the spontaneity out of learning.
Why then are so many politicians and educators calling for "new standards" as a way to improve our troubled schools? President Bush, for one, said at the National Academy of Sciences that "we can't expect kids to meet the test of worldwide competition unless we first establish world-class standards that define the knowledge and skills we expect students to learn and master."
Won't new standards put even more pressure on teachers to rigidly follow a prepared curriculum that turns off their students? As one who has been active in mathematics education reform, that is a concern I hear frequently from teachers, parents, students and others.
The concern is understandable — but misplaced. The real problem is not the existence of standards and tests; it is that we are using the wrong standards and the wrong tests for the wrong reasons. Tests should measure what our society truly values. All too often, they now measure what is easy to test.
In most mathematics classes, for example, tests largely measure computation and routine procedural skills rather than a student's ability to apply mathematics in the real world. Multiple choice and short-answer tests, with their emphasis on quick responses, are used excessively. These tests do not allow students to show how they can integrate and apply their mathematical knowledge.
Consider these two test questions:
Question One. What percentage of 500 is 30?
E. None of the above
Question Two. In 1980 the education budget of a certain community was $30 million out of a total budget of $500 million. In 1981 the education budget of the same community was $35 million out of a total budget of $605 million. The inflation rate for that one-year period was 10%. Do the following tasks:
Use the facts to argue that the education budget increased from 1980 to 1981.
Use the facts to argue that the education budget declined from 1980 to 1981.
The first question might have been adequate at a time when society was content with young people mastering routine mathematical skills. But as we have learned so painfully in recent years, our economic and social well-being now requires a population with greater thinking, reasoning and learning skills. We no longer can treat mathematics as a set of recipes to be memorized and, all too often, forgotten.
Our national experience with the Advanced Placement exams taken by many college-bound high school students
shows it is feasible to create more flexible assessments that include portfolios of student work, essays and other free-response tasks. Other approaches might involve the use of student debates, computer demonstrations or simulation models. The same argument extends beyond mathematics. A good way to assess students in science, for example, is to ask them to develop a hypothesis and conduct a simple experiment.
Classroom teachers are in the best position to make these evaluations, and we should place more trust in them. Teachers need help improving their own assessment methods, not pressure to conform to commercially developed tests of questionable relevance.
Many standardized tests are misused. The SAT and ACT college entrance exams, for instance, were developed to help make good matches between individual students and colleges. But now they are cited widely — and inappropriately — as measures of the performance of school districts, states or the entire country. School systems should be evaluated directly, not with dubious extrapolations from the tests of college applicants.
Better assessment methods obviously cannot transform American education by themselves; establishing tough new standards without also providing the necessary instruction and resources is just setting up students for failure. We also should be wary of adopting a single national curriculum or test, which would raise many other problems.
Still, the basic fact is that we cannot make our schools more accountable unless we state clearly what we expect students to achieve — and then measure whether they have succeeded. Doing so is not ''teaching to the test.'' It's common sense.
March 8, 1992
Jeremy Kilpatrick, professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, chaired a group studying mathematics assessment for the Mathematical Sciences Education Board of the National Research Council.
* * *
Getting Scientists Involved in Science Education
Ramon E. Lopez
Millions of young Americans barely know the difference between a protein and a proton. In a world that depends on science and technology, they're in big trouble. The irony is that the United States possesses the world's most productive scientific community — many thousands of people blazing a path in immunology, astrophysics and other fields.
An obvious question is why more of these experts don't help students in local elementary, junior high and high schools to overcome their ignorance of science and become the world's best in the subject by the end of the decade, as President Bush has proposed.
Scientists teaching kids about "real science" might work wonders. Students could hear for themselves how exciting it is to unravel the mysteries of diseases or distant galaxies.
Unfortunately, although scientists complain about science education regularly, they tend to be like most people in not getting involved in something that doesn't affect them directly. Once at a scientific meeting I asked everyone to sign a volunteer list for local schools. One of my colleagues rolled his eyes and said something to the effect of, "Oh, no, Lopez is at it again." Needless to say, he was not interested in helping.
Another reason scientists aren't doing more is that they may come to a school expecting to "fix" a situation they do not really understand. Well-meaning scientists sometimes believe all educational problems would be solved if only the teachers would listen to them. They fail to recognize that knowing something about chemistry or biology does not make them experts in teaching young people.
Furthermore, some scientists have a poor opinion of teachers and difficulty treating them as equals. The teachers I have known are dedicated, hard-working and intelligent. Given innovative materials and the necessary training and resources, they do an excellent job. What they need is not condescension but support.
Perhaps the biggest underlying problem is that many scientists continue to see science education as a filter for identifying a handful of interested people like themselves rather than as a pump that injects everyone with excitement about science. Such an open approach is especially important with girls and minority students, who now are badly outnumbered in the sciences and must fill the ranks in the future.
Rather than just listening to lectures and memorizing facts, young people should be encouraged to make hypotheses, observe, measure, and draw conclusions on their own — in other words, to learn science by doing science instead of just reading about it. Even if they don't become scientists, they must know how to evaluate facts and make judgments, skills essential in a democratic society.
Although several obstacles impede scientists from becoming more active, the fact is that a growing number are working hard to help improve local schools. Several scientific organizations have organized efforts to help them.
The National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution, for example, have established a National Science Resources Center, which has begun holding workshops that train scientists to assist at schools. The center also
brings together scientists and teachers in developing innovative teaching materials, such as kits for experimenting with electric circuits or for cultivating fast-growing plants. Programs elsewhere are helping scientists share their skills in ways students can understand and emulate.
Even scientists who receive this training face a problem. They generally work long hours and survive on grants and contracts of short duration. They must write proposals and publish results. There are few nights and weekends left over for personal projects such as working in local schools. I have heard many colleagues say, "You know, I'd really like to help but just can't find the time."
The heart of the problem, in other words, is not a lack of good intentions but of resources and structure. Scientists could provide schools with expertise and role models to inspire students to raise their sights to the heavens. But they cannot do it alone. They need guidance on how to be truly helpful. They need employers to support their efforts. And they need schools that really want to change. Scientists and parents alike should be demanding reforms like these to produce excellence in science education. Otherwise, our children may grow up to be scientific dimwits in an increasingly scientific world.
July 26, 1992
Ramon Lopez, a space physicist in the astronomy department at the University of Maryland, College Park, has worked closely with local public schools.
* * *
Barbie, Math and Science
Mildred S. Dresselhaus
A new Barbie doll that says "math class is tough" has been greeted with hoots of derision for teaching girls to fear math and science. As one of the relatively few women of my generation who grew up to succeed in the scientific world, I am glad to see this reaction. Our daughters shouldn't have to overcome the same hurdles we did.
My career opportunities were created largely by the advent of Sputnik in 1957, the year before I received my doctorate. Constant encouragement from my mentor, Rosalyn Yalow, played an important role in my early career.
I am glad to see the manufacturers of Barbie dolls being taken to task for perpetuating the tired old myth that girls cannot excel in math and science. Barbara McClintock, who just passed away, was among the greatest geneticists of this century. Gertrude Elion — like Yalow and McClintock, a Nobel laureate — helped revolutionize the way we treat diseases. Susan Solomon is an authority on atmospheric ozone depletion. Mae Jemison was a physician and engineer aboard the last space shuttle mission. The list goes on and on.
Still, for all of the progress they have made, American women hold only 16 percent of our country's science and engineering positions. That is not enough. The "Barbie controversy" reminds us how much more women could be contributing to curing diseases, cleaning up the environment, modernizing factories and uncovering the secrets of nature. Discouraging girls from pursuing math and science not only cheats them as individuals but also squanders one of our country's most precious resources — the brain power of half its citizens.
A recent survey by the American Association of University Women found that most girls between the ages of 8 and 18 have a negative view of math and science and of their ability to perform as well as boys in these subjects. Their
self-perception is affected significantly by the behavior of their parents and teachers.
Simply providing girls with more enlightened Barbie dolls will not overcome this situation. To encourage more women to pursue careers in science and engineering, we need intervention programs that help women overcome the many barriers that still exist.
At the pre-college level, much can be learned from Harvey Keynes at the University of Minnesota. He has implemented changes in recruitment procedures, course curricula and teaching styles that have resulted in more girls pursuing science studies as they prepare for careers, citizenship and parenthood. Science is an important part of our cultural heritage.
At the undergraduate level, universities need to make women feel welcome in physics, chemistry, engineering and other classrooms where they may be outnumbered by males. Women should be encouraged to participate actively and not be treated as intruders. I have found through my long career on the MIT faculty that many women benefit from peer group and networking programs that provide women with information, guidance and reassurance that they can succeed.
"Big Sister" and other mentoring programs can provide women with role models that help them visualize their own scientific success. At the University of Washington, for example, undergraduate and graduate female students are matched with scientists and engineers on the faculty and in the surrounding community. Other universities have programs that help women science and engineering students improve their communication skills.
In the business world, companies need to recruit more women for technical positions. Those already hired should band together to provide mutual support and to overcome the organizational barriers that keep "glass ceilings" in place.
To succeed, these and other efforts need active support from the top, whether on campus or in the corporate suite. Institutions also must become more adaptable in helping scientists and engineers balance their jobs and family responsibilities. Too many laboratories now cling to a macho work ethic that leaves no room for children. This tradition also hurts fathers, but is especially difficult for women.
Interventions like these are essential if American women are to help our country deal with global warming, the AIDS epidemic, economic competitiveness, and a host of other problems involving science and technology. Ken cannot handle all of these problems alone; we need Barbie, too. Setting her straight about math is only a start.
October 18, 1992
Mildred S. Dresselhaus is Institute Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences. She chairs the National Research Council Committee on Women in Science and Engineering.
* * *
The Contrast Between Computers and Classrooms
Kenneth G. Wilson
Over the past thirty years, I have lived in two worlds, the world of computers and the world of teaching and learning. The contrast between them is stark. In the 1960s, I could only dream about computers fast enough to help me unlock secrets of atoms and nuclei. Within a decade, supercomputers became central to my research. Today, a personal computer, or PC, can outdo the supercomputers I used in 1970.
My ability to teach students, however, advanced hardly at all. I became frustrated as millions of children failed to learn the basics of mathematics and science. Even if I abandoned my research and taught full time, I could personally help only a tiny fraction of them.
Why has progress come so rapidly to computers but so slowly to education? One important reason is that computer
designers have put in place a system for monitoring how their machines are faring, seeing what works, and making improvements quickly. PCs were not designed by a few employees at a local computer store on their lunch break.
Teachers, by contrast, have been expected to plan for reforms in their classrooms with little outside help. They are stretched thin just trying to help a subset of their students.
We need to learn from this contrast. Although many worthwhile efforts are under way to improve our schools, they will be transitory and insufficient unless the process of change is incorporated into education. Well-intentioned bursts of reform cannot produce the steady progress achieved with computers.
A number of pioneering organizations already have helped 50 or more schools with reform planning or professional development. Among them are several "whole school restructuring" programs, such as Robert Slavin's "Success for All" organization at Johns Hopkins University. Others are mentioned in the book Smart Schools, Smart Kids, by Edward Fiske.
Erie, Pa., has an especially interesting project — a 10-year effort to apply the principles of W. Edwards Deming to local workplaces and schools. Deming's ideas of "quality management" played a large role in modernizing industry in Japan.
These and other organizations are analogous to the young computer designers at Apple Computer who began designing the Apple II even while the first Apple computer was enjoying success. The computer experts had the capital to undertake a new redesign cycle. Educational reform groups, which are non-profit, do not.
As a result, progress in education remains momentary. We take one step forward and then slip back to the usual lethargy. Good ideas in one school are unknown elsewhere.
I have two recommendations at the federal level to improve matters. The first is to set aside a modest percentage of federal educational budgets to enable successful education reform programs, such as Slavin's, to broaden their scope to include ongoing redesign.
Second, the National Science Foundation should organize
a major new initiative on this issue of evaluation. It should support needed research and provide large numbers of promising recruits from disadvantaged populations with multiyear traineeships to evaluate reforms in their local schools. Since these populations have the greatest unmet needs, they should be involved directly in attempts at improvement.
Education reform cannot be a one-shot effort. There must be continuing experimentation with ideas such as students teaching each other in small groups and as "teacher's helpers." Materials need to be redesigned repeatedly. So does software for inexpensive, hand-held PCs. Teachers need sustained professional development programs in their schools to keep up to date on subject matter and teaching methods.
My main recommendation for readers is to join a community reform movement, such as the one in Erie. If none exists, learn about Erie's program and talk it up in your community. Be heard. Write your newspaper or member of Congress.
Obviously, improving schools differs in many ways from redesigning computers. Children are not microchips. Yet the opportunity of linking the two worlds is too stunning to ignore. The concept of a redesign cycle has helped to revolutionize communications, transportation, agriculture and other fields. The opportunity now exists to demonstrate that the same process can achieve accelerated progress in education. No nation has attempted such an adventure. If the United States wants education reforms that are sustainable, it must lead the way.
December 6, 1992
Kenneth G. Wilson, a Nobel laureate in physics, is a professor of physics at Ohio State University. He helps direct "Project Discovery," a program to improve mathematics and science education in middle schools throughout Ohio.
* * *
Fooling Ourselves About Improving Ourselves
Robert A. Bjork and Daniel Druckman
Many people who would never dream of buying a car without checking a consumer magazine become amazingly incautious when it comes to methods that purport to improve human performance.
Americans spend more than $50 million annually, for example, on "subliminal learning" tapes that claim to help listeners with problems ranging from losing weight to building self-esteem to becoming a better bowler. There are meditation classes to reduce stress and self-assessment tests to guide career decisions.
Having just directed a National Research Council study that evaluated a variety of techniques designed to enhance performance, we advise readers to be selective in their enthusiasm.
There is neither a theoretical basis nor empirical evidence, for instance, that subliminal self-help audio tapes can alter complex human behaviors. Many people believe they have been helped by such tapes, but the available research suggests that any changes for the better are due to processes such as "expectancy effects," when a person is so ready to change that it matters little what's on the tape.
There also is no convincing evidence that meditation has any special properties as a technique to reduce stress and control tension. Rest and relaxation training appear to be as effective. People who meditate regularly may pursue a more peaceful lifestyle, but one must distinguish between the practice of meditation and these lifestyle changes to determine why stress or tension was reduced.
The popularity of self-assessment tests as a tool in career counseling also seems unjustified. One such test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, classifies people into certain "personality types" and is administered to nearly two million people in the United States each year. Yet our committee could
find no convincing evidence of a relationship between Myers-Briggs types and performance in particular occupations.
So caution is needed. At the same time, however, there is good reason for optimism about some techniques. We concluded, for instance, that people can be taught psychological techniques to help manage pain. Proven stress management techniques such as relaxation training, providing information about what to expect, and enhancing a person's sense of control all can help people cope with pain.
There also is evidence that some mental rehearsal and preparation techniques are effective in helping performance. Mental practice can be useful when learning a motor skill, and mental rehearsal of a learned skill can facilitate getting ready to perform. Simple rituals such as bouncing a tennis ball a certain number of times before serving may slow a person's heartbeat and produce other physiological changes associated with better performance.
Conventional training techniques also need closer scrutiny. Many training programs offered by companies, for example, compress instruction into a short period, fix the conditions of practice, and provide continuous feedback to the students. These approaches may facilitate performance during training, but they are not effective in terms of long-term retention or applying skills to new situations.
What works better is to space practice sessions over time, vary the conditions of training, and provide feedback only intermittently. Such measures introduce difficulties during training, but they result in more durable and flexible skills after training is completed. Training that fosters understanding and involves students as active participants in the learning process also improves long-term performance.
Why would corporations that spend billions of dollars annually to teach workers to operate machines, use computers, and carry out other tasks, use inefficient methods? And why do experienced instructors use these methods? The answer, in part, is that instructors usually see students' performance only during training and even may be evaluated themselves by that performance. On-the-job performance needs to become the main criterion by which training programs are evaluated.
Our human drive to improve ourselves is laudable, but less admirable is our tendency to believe there are easy solutions to difficult problems. It's time to stop kidding ourselves. Dramatic claims and testimonials, even when accompanied by good intentions, are not enough. We have to be guided by hard evidence. Yes, it is possible to improve how we learn and perform. Those improvements can even be dramatic, but they are rarely effortless.
November 3, 1991
Robert A. Bjork is professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Daniel Druckman is a study director at the National Research Council.
* * *
The Overselling of the University
Lester C. Krogh
The ivy-covered walls are growing a different kind of green these days. Increasingly, American universities are selling their wares.
Corporations are making arrangements with universities for patentable ideas and trained workers. Federal and state governments are turning to them for extension services and to develop new ideas for industry. Foreign governments and companies are reaching out to our campuses for early access to research findings and for training their students.
Many universities, in turn, are aggressively marketing an ever-broader range of services. The Georgia Institute of Technology advises local businesses through its Industrial Extension Service. Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Manufacturing Engineering Applications Center develops products for
subscribers. Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley maintain active industrial affiliate programs. Similar examples abound.
Many of these arrangements provide valuable educational opportunities for college students. Yet if universities become too eager in their pursuit of new revenues, they could lose sight of their main mission — the training of the next generation. That would be disastrous not only for universities and students, but for all of us.
As Princeton University president Harold Shapiro has pointed out, universities only recently have been expected to make a dollars-and-cents contribution to economic growth. Over the past eight centuries, their main product has been their graduates, who go on to influence the economy through their daily working lives, reshaping society without fanfare. The day-to-day job of education is less glamorous than campus research that wins Nobel Prizes, but it represents technology transfer at its most profound and lasting.
There are many reasons why university administrators have begun looking beyond this traditional mission and marketing new services. They are struggling with post-baby boom enrollment declines, rapidly rising administrative and facilities costs, and shrinking pools of government support. Most universities also sincerely want to help government and business make better use of good ideas developed on campus.
Nonetheless, at least some universities are now in danger of becoming victims of their own sales pitches. They endlessly cite a few notable successes — Silicon Valley in California, Boston's Route 128 and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina — as evidence of the economic leverage of their own proposals. These marketers risk becoming mercenaries if they advertise too direct a relationship between higher education and higher profits.
For professors, the pursuit of new sources of research funding may be the inevitable outgrowth of a ''justify your existence'' mentality. The vicious academic cycle of "publish or perish" puts pressure on them to constantly write new research proposals — or write up their résumés. This mindset has helped make teaching careers so unattractive that U.S.-
born professors are now a rarity in some disciplines, particularly in science and engineering. Teaching has taken a back seat to research because it simply doesn't pay for universities or professors. This shift away from teaching threatens to prevent our daughters, sons, employees and other students from getting full value from their education — and from our education dollars.
Make no mistake; university research is essential for generating new ideas, discoveries and technologies. But it is not a sure-fire ticket to prosperity. The openness of our university system is essential to intellectual vitality. Yet it also ensures that research findings, in many cases funded by our government, can be picked up easily by foreign companies. There is no guarantee that the benefits of university research will remain in the United States. We can be much more certain that our students — the real product of our colleges and universities — will invest their careers in our country's economy.
So, as they seek to meet rising expectations with declining resources, universities should be temperate in their promises of economic return. And companies and governments must avoid raiding universities for their intellectual breakup value. We can enhance our national industrial competitiveness only with careful planning, patient effort and hard work. We should expect no magic potions from campus labs.
The real return on our personal and collective investments in universities is the career-long contributions of our graduates. We cannot put too high a value on their training, and we must not forget that the university's focus should be on people, not profit.
February 24, 1991
Lester C. Krogh is retired senior vice president for research and development at 3M Corp. He chaired a National Academy of Engineering symposium on the relationship between universities and economic development.