Educators work to close math, science gap for Hampton Roads students


by Regina Mobley

Posted on February 8, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 25 at 1:11 PM

NORFOLK -- How long does it take the earth to orbit the sun? A recent report from a scientific panel says half of the nation's adults don't know the answer. 

The nation that put the first man on the moon has fallen to 17th place in science and 25th place in math among 34 countries.

For children, the math and science deficit has more immediate concerns.  A recent report from the Programme for International Student Assessment shows our youngsters are not making the grade.

Educators say they're fully aware of the problem and are trying to address it with programs from kindergarten to undergraduate programs.

Dr. Denise Walston, the Math Senior Coordinator for the Norfolk Public Schools, says the problem started in the 1980s.

"I think we got cut off with a lot rhetoric about whether or not we should be looking at back to basics, whether we should have direct instruction, or whether we should have a constructionist view on how math and science are taught," she said.

Today, third graders in Norfolk elementary schools have a teacher and a math coach.   The students are on a fast track in an attempt to measure up to their peers in other countries.

Dr. Walston believes this generation will make the grade.

"We're trying to turn students on at a very early age to mathematics so when they leave fifth grade and transition to middle school they're not turned off and decide that they don't want to pursue a career in math and science," she explains.

At the Norstar Program at the Norfolk Technical Center, veteran science educator Dr. George Skena isn't so optimistic.    While his students are head of the curve,  he believes many of the nation's children will not be able to catch up.

"Frankly, there is going to be a gap of about 10-15 years before this model makes enough of a change to bring that scientific gap small enough to make a difference," he states.

From high school to higher education, the deficit shows up with placement testing.   At Tidewater Community College and at many colleges across the country, 60 percent of incoming freshman have to take developmental math courses before they're ready for college material.

Dr. Dan Demarte, vice president for student and academic affairs at TCC, says the deficit is a national issue.

"[It] comes right down to the local area, and again there is a lot we are doing and continue to do to get our kids excited about math and science and get them engaged in things at an earlier age, middle school and all the way through high school," he says.

President Barack Obama called the international test results our "Sputnik Moment".  He's asking the nation to work toward having the highest proportion of youngsters graduating from colleges and universities by the year 2020.