Headline Jan 25, 2016/ ALL-STUDENTS : *THE BEST* - !THE POOREST?



THE PHENOMENON  of relative deprivation applied to education is called  -appropriately enough  :  the ''Big Fish Little Pond Effect.'' The more elite an educational institution is, the worse students feel about their own academic abilities.

Students who would be at the top of their class at a good school can easily fall to the bottom of a really good school. Students who would feel that they have mastered a subject at a good school can have the feeling that they are falling farther and farther behind in a really good school.

And that feeling  -as subjective and ridiculous and  irrational it maybe matters. How you feel about your abilities  -your academic  ''self-concept'' in the context of your classroom shapes your willingness to tackle challenges and finish difficult tasks. It's a crucial element in your motivation and confidence.  

MORE THAN HALF OF all American students who start out in in science, technology, and math programs  -or STEM as they are known-  drop out after their first or second year.

Even though a science degree is just about the most valuable asset a young person can have can have in the modern economy, large numbers of would-be-STEM majors end up switching into the arts- Where academic standards are less demanding and the coursework is less competitive. 

That's the major reason that there's such a shortage of qualified  American-educated scientists and engineers in the United States.

To get a sense of who is dropping out   -and why-  lets take a look at the science enrollments of school in upstate New York called Hartwick College. It's a small liberal arts college of the sort that is common in the American Northeast.

Here are all Hartwick  STEM  majors divided into three groups  -top third, middle third, and bottom third according to their  test scores in mathematics. The scores are from SAT, the exam used by many American colleges as an admissions test. The mathematics section of the text is out of 800 points.

STEM majors
Math SAT
.- Top Third         569
.- Middle Third     472
.- Bottom Third    407 

If we take SAT as a guide, there's a pretty big different in raw ability between the best and the poorest students at Hartwick.
Now let's look at the portion of all science degrees at Hartwick that are earned by each of those three groups


Top Third         55.0
Middle Third     27.1
Bottom Third    17.8

The students in the top third at Hartwick earn well over half of the school's science degrees. the bottom third end up earning only 17.8% of Hartwick's science degrees. The students who come into Hartwick with the poorest levels of math ability are dropping out of math and science in droves.

This much seems like common sense. Learning the advance mathematics and physics necessary to become an engineer or scientist is really hard- and only a small number of students clustered at the top of the class are smart enough to handle the material.

Now let's do the same analysis for Harvard,one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

STEM majors
Math SAT

.- Top Third         753
.- Middle Third     674
.- Bottom Third    581.  

HARVARD students, not surprisingly, score far higher on the math SAT than their counterparts at Hartwick. In fact, the students in Harvard bottom third have higher scores than the best students at Hartwick.

If getting a science degree is about how smart you are, then virtually everyone at Harvard should end up with a degree  -right?  At least on paper, there is no one at Harvard who lacks the intellectual firepower to master the coursework. Well, let's take a look at the portion of degrees that are earned by each group.

STEM degrees%
.- Top Third         53.4
.- Middle Third     31.2
.- Bottom Third    15.4 

Isn't that strange? The students in the bottom third of the Harvard class drop out of math and science just as much as their counterparts in upstate New York. ''Harvard has the same distribution of science degrees as Hartwick.

Think about this for a moment. We have a group of high achievers at Hartwick. Let's call them the Hartwick All Stars. And we've got another group of lower achievers at Harvard. Let's call them the Harvard Dregs.

Each is studying the same textbooks and wrestling with the same concepts and trying to master the same problem sets in courses like advanced calculus and organic chemistry, and according to test scores, they are of roughly equal academic ability.

But the overwhelming majority of All Stars get what they want and end-up as engineers or biologists. Meanwhile, the Harvard dregs  -we go to the far more prestigious school-  are so demoralized by their experience that many of them drop out of science entirely and transfer to some nonscience major.

The Harvard Dregs are Little Fish in a Very Big and Scary Pond. The Hartwick All Stars are Big Fish in a Very Welcoming Small Pond. 

What matters, in determining the likelihood of getting a science degree, is not just how smart you are. It's how smart you feel feel relative to the other people in your classroom.

By the way, this pattern holds true for virtually any school you look at   -regardless of its academic quality.

[*These stats are derived from a research paper entitled ''The Role of Ethnicity in Choosing and Leaving Science in Highly Selective Institutions,'' by sociologists Rogers Elliott and A. Christopher Strenta et al. the SAT scores are from the early 1990s, and may be somewhat different today*]      

With Most Respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the United States of America. 
!WOW! and the world at large,   -deeply admires your support to the cause of education in the Developing World. And with special honours for:

Dr. Mohammed Jawaid Khan/University of Virginia, University of California, Technologist Amin Malik/ Chicago.

See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society and the Ecosystem 2011.

''' The Essence of A Better World '''

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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