Science

CCR and the Moon People

Hey, you guys remember George W. Bush?

He was the old boy from Texas that was “elected” to run the United States way back in the early 2000s. And he presidented for eight full years. In fact, he presidented the hell out of us, getting Americans involved in two wars after the worst terrorist attack in history, leaving a city stranded after a hurricane, and watching the economy slip into crisis, among other fun stuff.

Remember?

Well, the new administration is busy progressing some of the fine work done in the Bush years. Well okay, maybe “progressing” is not the right word for what the new administration is doing. A better word for what the new administration is doing to some of the Bush programs is “discarding” or perhaps “upgrading”. And this new direction could have a big impact on education and space exploration in the U.S.

First, the Obama administration has outlined some of the proposed changes it would like to make in a sweeping overhaul of Bush’s signature education law, No Child Left Behind. The changes include the replacement of the current system for judging schools based on student test scores and the shift toward increased competition in distributing federal education dollars.

Yes, this change to education law is largely about money. When the federal government mixes with state-run systems, like education, it usually is. But the Bush program, No Child Left Behind, was stingy with the federal dollars unless a school’s students performed to a certain level on standardized tests. Educators have complained since the program’s inception that the quality of education suffers when teachers are forced to teach specifically for a test. The students may perform well on the standardized tests, and the school districts get the federal money, but high schools are still releasing poorly educated students to the colleges and universities.

Plus, the standardized tests, and the requirements to perform at a certain level on them, have been a big worry point for the “no creationism in the science class” groups like the National Center for Science Education. On the rare occasions when the door is left open for creationist ideas to be legally taught in a science classroom — as we saw transpire in the case of the Texas State Board of Education last year — the NCSE and discerning parents can still feel warm and fuzzy with the hope that good teachers will opt to be creative in their classrooms, and focus instead on good science. But if the bad science is added to the state-created standardized tests, teachers are literally forced to teach it, because the pressure to procure a share of the federal goverment’s dough is so high.

With the overhaul the Obama administration is proposing, the accountability system established in No Child Left Behind will be replaced with a new and varying set of educational goals that would qualify a district for federal dollars. Standardized tests will no longer be at the forefront. The new system is built around the goal of helping all students be “college- and career-ready” (CCR) when they graduate high school.

Yeah, “college- and career-ready” would be much better than “trade school- and county lock up-ready”.

In addition to the education update, President Obama is calling on NASA to cancel the Constellation program introduced by the Bush administration. The Constellation program was going to return humans to the Moon by 2020. Obama wants to focus instead on new space technologies.

Mr. Obama’s 2010 budget proposal for NASA asks for $18 billion over five years for fueling spacecraft in orbit, new types of engines to accelerate spacecraft through space and robotic factories that could churn soil on the Moon — and eventually Mars — into rocket fuel.

And there are there other proposed innovative updates to post-Space Shuttle NASA. Instead of using the Ares I rocket and Orion crew capsule to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station — as was proposed by the Bush administration in reaction to the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 — $6 billion will instead go to financing space taxi services from commercial companies.

Not only that, but with the proposed plan, NASA’s budget would increase to $19 billion in the 2011 from $18.7 billion. NASA also stands to see additional increases in subsequent years, reaching $21 billion in 2015. In total, NASA would receive $100 billion over the next five years.

The problem here is that some folks at NASA don’t want to abandon a program in which they have already invested time, labor, and $9 billion. Plus, members of Congress, particularly in Alabama, Florida, and Texas — the homes of the NASA centers most involved with Constellation — are concerned that re-tooling NASA to the proposed extent would have an adverse effect on their constituents and businesses in their districts.

And they very well could be right. Contractors in those areas could suffer.

Of course, there’s a chance they could benefit from new technologies as well. Change isn’t always easy to embrace.

For now, however, these updates to old Bush programs are in the infant stages. True change has yet to take effect, and any successes or failures of the new education bill and the proposed NASA budget remain to be seen. And of course every skeptic knows the exact impact on education and science in the U.S. may not necessarily be positive.

But on paper at least, the changes are encouraging.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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26 Comments

  1. I love the notion of CCR, but as an educator having seen the destruction wrought by NCLB, and especially on students with disabilities of all kinds, I remain skeptical until I see the results. I can’t even rustle up any enthusiasm, just a weary pleasure that at least some changes have been made due to the failure of NCLB.

  2. Hey – don’t knock trade schools! That’s where I lot of kids can head for good-paying jobs in technical fields and applied science. Research and consulting on PhDs aren’t the only science-literate programs of value.

  3. I love trade schools and wish they were a larger part of high school. Not every child even wants to go to college when they graduate high school. Most of the skilled tradesmen in America are in their early 60’s. A licensed plumber, electrician, etc is a good way to own your own business. Also trade schools turn out a lot of nurses and other technical and skilled and licnensed personal who earn a good living.

  4. @JamieF:
    @Gabrielbrawley:
    I totally agree. We in fact need more technical and trade schools that give out two year certifications. This is what happens much more often in many euro countries and is a perfect option for the majority of students who do not attend or drop out of four year colleges and universities. Also consider that after one year about half of 4 year college students drop out and only about 25% of incoming freshmen actually get a BA/BS degree. Also while most municipal infrastructure, power plants and refineries are designed by engineers, they’re operated by folk with two year technical degrees who often make a lot more money than teachers, most college prof’s and I’d guess the majority of PhD’s for that matter.

  5. I never liked NCLB, but what I have never understood is all the complaints about the tests themselves. They were so basic and uninspiring that I’ve always felt the outcries from teachers were out of fear of being objectively judged for a change.

  6. @James Fox
    Those numbers still look insane. It makes me wonder how they accounted for transfer students.

    I’ve met tons of people who aren’t ready for college when they get there. At my school, it was not difficult for a student who wasn’t serious to squeak by in an easy major (and to party nearly 24/7 without serious repercussions, even if they disturbed serious students). I also have relatives who have been in trade programs, and I am very impressed with what I have seen. What percentage of people get out of college and actually do work in the area of their major? I doubt it’s high.

  7. Is there a summary of the NASA dollar commitments to new tech and space development under Obama somewhere? My brother was screaming on the phone that we were going to get nuked by India because Obama was gutting NASA. *eyeroll*

  8. Of course NCLB doesn’t work. Letting a congress who has never taught in a public school decide how to run a school = letting an Amish minister repair your Wii.

    College, btw, isn’t for everyone. Some people ought to have gone to trade school (I am one of those people). Some don’t need either as they can self-teach.

  9. @ShanePB: The problem with those objective tests is that they don’t actually measure student achievement. They measure “ability to take a multiple choice test”; when presented with the same information, in a different format, scores are almost always in the toilet, even at schools that performed well on the test.

  10. @James Fox: From your link it looks like the 6-year grad rate for a bachelor’s degree is 56%. That seems more believable to me. And I stand by my word choice- mostly because that’s $20K/year down the drain if you start college then drop out. That I’m a quarter million dollars in student loan debt still seems a bit crazy to me- and I have the degrees to show for it.

  11. I think my biggest bitch about college is that there are so many majors without a market for them. I wouldn’t prevent anyone from majoring in anything that they want but there should be a counseling session when someone chooses a major or switches majors to let them know what there job prospects are and what you can realistically expect to earn. It is wrong to let some kid think they can earn a decent living with a lot of the libral arts or fine art majors out there. Also if the bill is being footed by a parent the parent should be informed that the kid has chosen a major or switched and be given the same info on the job market for that major.

  12. @Gabrielbrawley: I couldn’t agree more. Of the 7 girls I lived with in college, 4 got degrees in a liberal art and exactly none of them went on to do what they studied (as compared to the 3 science major who all stayed within their fields). Three women went back for another unrelated (expensive) degree and they are now in careers based on the second degree The fourth woman is still figuring out what she wants to do (but is not considering using her degree). I know they wish they had thought more about their majors while in college, and for the price some of them paid for our private college, I can understand why.

  13. @Displaced Northerner: That is pretty much my situation. I got a liberal arts degree (Criminal Justice) and worked in the field for 11 years. The pay was terrible and the advancement opportunities very limited. So now I’m taking the last class I need to sit for the CPA exam. The work is much more rewarding and pays better and I can move and take my license with me.

  14. @justinmckean

    Self teaching is fine but it lacks that oh so important piece of paper that says your smart that the other places issue out after paying them enough money.

    A lot of jobs don’t care if you know what your doing, if your matched up against a college grad vs your self taught skills they’ll take the college grad over you, even though they’ll have to spend a few weeks training him how to do what you already know. All because of that slip of paper.

  15. @Gabrielbrawley: You make a great point with the advancement opportunities. There are some fields that give you a big bang for your buck straight out of training (x-ray tech, genetic counselor) but offer very limited opportunity for advancement. Career counseling should always include what the next 20 years of your life will look like.

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