It is wonderful when businesses offer ways to support effective teaching. People can speculate about the advancement of agendas, but anything that can offer opportunities to help teachers hone their craft and thus increase student achievment is a good thing.
I'm sure you've seen these commercials from Exxon Mobil about supporting science and math education:
Let's solve this: I like that. However, one piece of rhetoric is more troubling: "Let's raise academic standards across the nation" (00:15).
Here we have a situation that fits perfectly into the framework of education: students are not performing, what do we do? When we look at what they are finishing with, it is unsatisfactory. From an outsider's perspective--especially a corporate perspective--the solution is simple: make them finish with more. How do we do that? Redefine a higher expectation of what finishing with more should look like.
I don't think the U.S. is lagging because we had low standards to begin with.
It is fitting that I saw this commercial most recently while I was watching the Olympic trials on TV. If education is a race and we are not satisfied with how we are finishing, we don't just look at where the finish line is. Likewise, we don't just look at what our time is. If Ryan Lochte (the swimmer I'm hoping will humble Michael Phelps) is unsatsifed with his time in the 200m IM, he doesn't make the pool longer or just say he needs to raise his standards to match the competition. He thinks. He trains. He watches video of his turns and his entry. If Tianna Madison wants to shave four hundreths of a second off of her 100 meter sprint time on the track in order to match Carmelita Jeter, she knows she needs to do more than just have high standards. She thinks. She trains. She watches video of her starts and her footstrikes and her form.
There are so many factors which place other countries "above" us in the rankings of science and math standards. We could, for one, point out that our data is based on all of our students, whereas the data for many of those countries who outrank us does not do the same.
This is why I hope that one other phrase from the Exxon Mobil campaign (though it was sadly absent from the commerical above) carries more weight than the standards rhetoric: Exxon Mobil calls for us to invest in science and math education. From a scientific approach it is a no brainer--we could even craft an experiment and use the scientific method. Our question: which will produce increased results, higher standards or greater investment?