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Education Edition: Reenergizing Science and Math Education; When To Start Kindergarten; Is College Worth It?; Learning From Sal Khan

Aired October 1, 2011 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Do American schools need to be re-engineered to prepare our kids in science and math?

Good morning, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

Coming up, Sesame Street now brought to you by the letters S-T-E-M. Elmo is here to explain.

Plus, is college worth it? Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, they don't have a college degree. Why do you need one?

And millions of students are learning math for free from Sal Khan . What you can learn from him.

But first, the big talker of the week. Hold your kid back from kindergarten at your child's peril. A recent "New York Times" op-ed suggests that parents who think they're giving their child an edge by holding them back a year from kindergarten may actually set them back.

Sandra Aamodt co-wrote the piece, she is also the co-author of "Welcome To Your Child's Brain." And she joins us now.

Good morning, Sandra.

SANDRA, AAMODT, AUTHOR, "WELCOME TO YOUR CHILD'S BRAIN": Good morning.

ROMANS: You say in the long run, five-year-old kindergartners do better than six-year-old kindergartners. Why is that?

AAMODT: Well, the short answer is because school makes kids smarter. The experience of being young in class makes kids work harder, and as a result they learn more. The kids who are oldest in the class are already doing pretty well, and they're not motivated to work as hard.

ROMANS: There's so many moms and dads out there, though, who think this red shirting, which is a sports term, but holding their kid back one year is going to let them mature a little bit. Maybe be a little more confident when they head into kindergarten.

That is a misconception. You say, that's hurting children. Parents listening right now, you are saying, should realize, they shouldn't hold their kid back? AAMODT: That's right. And the reason is because kids don't learn in a vacuum. People are social learners. And so kids will learn much better if they have older classmates with better social skills, and better academic skills, to look up to than they will when they're the only people in the class with their level of skill.

ROMANS: Let's broaden out the discussion a little bit. I want to bring in Nick Kristof. He's a "New York Times" columnist and a two- time Pulitzer Prize winner and also Pedro Noguera, he is a professor of education at New York University.

Gentleman, welcome to the program.

This particular story was widely e-mailed this week. Just the discussion was so interesting. And then another story I wanted to bring in. Research showing kindergarten may be starting too late. Consider this quote from "Time" magazine's piece, "Rethinking Pre-K: Five Ways To Fix Preschool."

"Take two kids, one from low-income family, the other middle class. Let them run around and do little kid things in their respective homes and then at age five enroll them in kindergarten. When the first day of school rolls around, the child from the low-income household will be as many as one and a half years behind grade level. The middle class kid one and a half years ahead."

Nick, that's a three-year gap in learning at the very start. Are we starting too late?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": In terms of fighting poverty, there is just abundant evidence that you really need to address it very early on. Some evidence, that you need to begin addressing it actually in utero, with helping mothers -- one of the most helpful projects is a nurse family partnership, which works with mothers while they're expecting. And things like the Perry Preschool Project, or Abisidarian (ph) project had terrific results by working intensively with kids very, very early on, as you say, to prepare them for school. And I think we're missing the boat by not doing that.

ROMANS: But we have, Pedro, a K through 12 system. Should we be thinking of a pre-K through 12 system? And should we be starting looking at other countries that have daycare and kindergarten and these sorts of programs all wrapped up together?

PEDRO NOGUERA, STEINHARDT SCHOOL OF EDUCATION, NYU: Absolutely. Most of the countries that are outperforming the United States have universal access to preschool. It is one way to level the playing field between children and to ensure that children don't get set back early. We have a preparation gap had this country that contributes to the disparities we are seeing in achievement. And we could address that through quality access to early childhood education.

ROMANS: Some people say we already spend twice as much per student than we did 30 years ago. You are just spending more money, Romans. You are just talking about the government spending more money, but it's how you smartly spend money. It's spending the right money in the right places, to save money later on?

KRISTOF: Yes.

And some of these studies, some of the kids, for example, in the Perry Preschool Project have been followed for decades afterward. And they were randomly assigned to it, or some others were randomly assigned to it. Those who got that kind of attention, ended up saving the government money, because you had less incarceration, lower teen pregnancy rates, much better educational outcomes. I mean, sure, there's an initial --

ROMANS: Come on, it is socialist Scandinavia. This is America.

KRISTOF: Oh, but, boy, if you want to try to fight poverty, you just can't wait until age six.

ROMANS: A lot of parents think they're doing the right thing keeping their kids home from preschool. This is an issue that was so widely talked about this week. I was surprised how this really caught a lot of people's attention.

NOGUERA: Think, though, we should also keep in mind that children develop at different paces.

ROMANS: Right.

NOGUERA: I have four children. First one walked at nine months. The last one didn't walk until 13 months. They're all walking fine now, but they were not the same. So the age is fairly arbitrary. It doesn't mean that all children do things at the same age. We need to be more developmentally focused than we are focused on the age of a child.

ROMANS: Yes, we didn't even touch on multi-age. I mean, I was talking to an educator recently who studies this pretty closely. He said, multiage, at the very young ages, is more important than just these arbitrary grades. We can talk about that another time.

Sandra, thank you. We'll Tweet out a link to that op-ed. Because it was widely e-mailed this week.

Nick, Pedro, stick around.

In this week's installment of "Is College Worth It?," compelling evidence for entrepreneurs. That it isn't. My next guest brings some high-profile examples to back it up.

Plus, he's red. Oh, isn't he cute? Fuzzy? All about math and science this season.

ELMO: Let's talk about math and science.

ROMANS: That's right. That is Elmo. He is here to talk about Sesame Street's latest mission.

ELMO: That tickles. (LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: It's the popular conversation with 1.9 unemployment and an average 24 grand in student loan debt, is college worth it? Michael Ellsberg, author of "The Education of Millionaires." He writes in his book, and I'll quote, "You've been fed a lie. That lie is if you study hard in school, get good grades, get into a good college and get a degree, that your success in life is guaranteed. That might have been true 50 years ago. It is no longer true today."

Michael, welcome to the program.

MICHAEL ELLSBERG, AUTHOR: Great to be here.

ROMANS: You spent a couple of years talking to very successful people. Millionaires who did not have a college degree. Why did they succeed?

They succeeded because they learned street smart skills. Practical success skills, and so what I'm talking about in my book. The gentlemen who are here to talk before were talking how to get young kids out of poverty, which is an important dialogue. I'm talking about a different side of equation, which is how to create job creators. How to make young people who will go on to build businesses and create jobs.

ROMANS: What's their common denominator? The people you spent all of this time talking to, what is it about them that makes them that successful without a college degree, without a traditional path?

ELLSBERG: It is a commitment to just go out and do it without the right check mark, without the right punch cards on their resume. They just want to go out and start earning money for themselves, creating wealth for themselves and their employees, whatever it takes.

ROMANS: Do they defy conventional wisdom?

ELLSBERG: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Turn it upside down.

ELLSBERG: Everyone I interviewed is a rebel, thinks out of the box. Really to be an entrepreneur, that is the price of admission. It is to be thinking out of the box.

ROMANS: Nick and Pedro are still with me. I want to show these numbers to Nick.

Numbers don't lie, too. Not everyone can be Bill Gates. Take a look at this chart. A higher education does pay off, literally. Unemployment is much higher among non-college grads. And your pay increases with further degrees. So when you look at how -- these are numbers from the BLS. Weekly meeting earnings for people with a higher advanced degree are double the average. In fact, people with advanced degrees are the only group that managed to see their wealth grow over the past 10 years. So more than a few people have told me in this whole discussion, is college worth it, that it's hurting people to say that. It is the first point of entry for society.

KRISTOF: I mean, I think not only is college worth it, and not only it increases your incomes, it also -- there have been a lot of studies that shows it increases your happiness. It makes you more likely to live longer. One recent study in the American Journal of Public Health said that 245,000 people die a year, because they didn't get enough of an education. And it distresses me that we look around the world and the U.S. used to be top, in terms of college graduation, now we're 16. And Asia, in particular, has really vaulted over us in college graduation rates.

ROMANS: We like to look at the millionaire, and the billionaires, the Bill Gates of the world and Richard Bransons and say, that could be me. The fact is, are we giving the kids the stuff they need to get to that point? That's kind of the question.

KRISTOF: There's no magic formula. And, Michael is absolutely right. That street smarts matter. There are a lot of things that go into this. But if the -- it's also crucial that kids not only get early childhood education, as we were talking about earlier, but also get that kind of tertiary education. It's important for them, it is important for our country.

ROMANS: If any of my three boys begins to show signs of Zuckerberg, I'll let them drop out of school. I'm letting you know.

ELLSBERG: Good idea.

ROMANS: For right now, I'm just trying to get them through kindergarten.

You know, Pedro, Michael's book also concludes is that the biggest thing you won't learn in college, how to be successful professionally. And on this subject I think we all agree. College is the key to open the door, but you have to walk through that door and you have to start going down the path?

NOGUERA: That's right. And that is why you have to strike a balance. Investing in your college education is important, but it is also important to get work experience. We should encourage young people to get that experience early, even in high school. It doesn't -- not simply distributing newspapers. It's internships that give you the exposure to the world at work, because so much of what you need to learn, in the work setting, you don't learn in college. So we need to bridge that gap as well.

But I think it's a mistake to look at exceptions, and say, well, I, too, could be a Bill Gates. We should learn from their experiences but should not model our society on the idea we don't need a college degree.

ROMANS: I have no doubt you could have been a Bill Gates. You are a Pedro Noguera, for crying out loud.

How does the rest of the world see us? You spend so much time in the tiger countries. Do they think those discussions of is college worth it? They must think we're nuts.

KRISTOF: They do. Especially in the Confuciusion (ph) belt of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and so on. There is this 2,500 year old passion for education. And parents pour their soles into getting their kids a better education. They seen the returns. And their countries have seen the returns. Why has South Korea, Japan, China prospered so much? It is partly because they built up the human capital. It just breaks my heart, in this country to see us declining relative to those countries in terms of education alone.

ROMANS: Fantastic discussion. Let's do it all again, gentlemen. Nice to see you all.

ELLSBERG: Thanks so much.

KRISTOF: Thank you.

ROMANS: So, have you ever heard had a guy named Sal Khan ? He has three degrees from MIT, and an MBA from Harvard. And his YouTube videos explain math and chemistry and theoretical physics. Want a free tutor? He's your man. He's here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: So a school district in Stillwater, Minnesota is flipping the day. Homework happens at school, under the close eye of teachers and the lectures are at night when kids are at home and logged on. The inspiration, the Khan Academy, a free online learning site that's caught the attention of students, parents, educators, even Bill Gates. Sal Khan is the founder of the Khan Academy.

Welcome to the program.

SAL KHAN , Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: Look, I mean, you're a guy with a few different degrees. You are highly educated yourself. You were working, I guess, as a hedge fund. What made you start putting these online tutorials, online, and you found out that you had a niche here?

SAL KHAN, FOUNDER, KHAN ACADEMY: Yes. I was actually tutoring some family members. I was in Boston. They were in New Orleans. I later moved out here to California. I was tutoring them after work and after a while it just got hard for me to tutor all the different family members and friends.

So I had a buddy, who said, hey, why don't you put your stuff on YouTube? And I got -- you know, first I thought YouTube was kind of for cats playing the piano, or whatever else. But I decided to give it a shot. And a long story short, my cousins said they liked me better on YouTube than in person, and other people started watching. ROMANS: I guess there must be students who like you better than their teacher, too. Or somehow you're able to connect with them and kids are using this to really augment everything from what, physics to chemistry? We have a video of one of your chemistry tutorials, to math. You can probably do everything you say, except, maybe a French tutorial?

KHAN: No, exactly, it is everything from basic arithmetic all the way through, I would say college-level math and science. And there is a lot on actually, finance and economics. And it's for multiple types of students. Some people are people my age and they are leaving the military, and they want to go back to college. They use it that way.

Some people, maybe -- a student has a great teacher, but they were gone, they were sick the three lectures where they kind of set up the class. And they can go to Khan Academy for that. Or they could go for, if you are a home school or whatever else. Not only do we have the videos but we have the exercises now. So it is all of the above.

ROMANS: Tell me about this idea of flipping the school day. A few different school districts have tried this. We mentioned Stillwater, Minnesota. But the advantage here is that the kids are doing homework under the eye of a watchful eye of a trained professional, and then at home getting just the material delivered to them.

KHAN: Yes. You know, we talk about flipping the classroom. We actually kind of do that as an intermediary step. The ideal is where everyone starts to work at their own pace. But when you flip -- what happens is in a traditional classroom kids spend - they are watching a lecture. They might be bored or lost. Then they go home and they are supposed to do the problems.

That's where the real learning takes place. Most students don't have a sibling, or a tutor or a parent that can help them with that, especially in mathematics. So, now when you flip it, students can get the lectures at home. They can pause, repeat it.

I think that's why my cousins like me better on YouTube than in person. When they go to class, not only do they have the teacher who can help them out, but they have their peers. And we all know if you teach something, you learn it that much better. Then the teacher gets to see how the class is doing before that exam a couple weeks later.

ROMANS: I guess you are the epitome of STEM. We talk about it on this program all the time, science, technology, engineering and math, and how we can do a little better in this country getting kids up to speed on it. It's the future of jobs. It is the future of innovation. Does STEM have a branding problem? How do we make it cool to be really interested in chemistry and engineering and math, and the things that are going to drive the country?

KHAN: Yes. As you mentioned, STEM jobs is where all the growth is. And I would say it even more broadly creative jobs is where all the growth is. Anything that is process driven, those things are going to get automated. The real jobs are where you're creating new things. I think the branding problem with STEM is, is that people think they're not creative jobs.

If you ask a kid, hey, do you want to be a dancer, or an artist or a musician, they say, yes, absolutely. That's a creative job. But for some reason, even though, engineering, you could even call it creation-neering, isn't viewed.

And you know, I think that is something that we just have to make it clear to kids. Oh, these are the jobs that you get to define people's realities. You get to define what an iPad app looks like, or how people interact with each other. So, these are some of the most fundamentally creative jobs. And I think when kids realize it, hopefully, more will get into it.

ROMANS: All right. Sal Khan, well, said from a guy who has what? You have four degrees?

KHAN: I have four.

ROMANS: Four degrees, wow. Thanks.

(LAUGHTER)

Elmo has done it again. He and the folks at Sesame Street actually getting kids excited about math and science.

Our good friend, Elmo, is here to tell us how. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Our program today is brought to you by the letters S-T-E-M. That is science, technology, engineering and math. They are the future jobs in innovation in this country and "Sesame Street" is trying to make STEM fun, in its 42nd season.

Here now to talk all about it is Carol Lynn Parente, executive producer of "Sesame Street." And our furry red friend, Elmo, is here.

Good morning, Elmo.

ELMO: Hi, it is so good to see you.

ROMANS: It is so nice to meet you Elmo. You are --

ELMO: It is always good to see Ms. Parente.

(LAUGHTER)

CAROL LYNN PARENTE, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "SESAME STREET": Thank you, Elmo.

ROMANS: You know, Elmo is a real star in my household. So this is a very important morning for us.

ELMO: Important to me.

PARENTE: I'm used to being trumped by Elmo. ROMANS: I know, I know. How can you ever go on after Elmo?

Elmo, what does STEM mean?

ELMO: Oh, that is hard. What does STEM mean?

PARENTE: Well, remember Elmo, it's science, technology, engineering and M is the easy one.

ELMO: and math!

PARENTE: There you go.

ROMANS: Do you like math?

ELMO: Yes, Elmo loves math.

ROMANS: You like math?

ELMO: Yes. Because Elmo likes to count.

ROMANS: Well, can you count for me a little?

ELMO: Yes, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty.

ROMANS: Is math fun?

ELMO: Yes, math is a lot of fun, because you add things, you can use it when you are cooking.

ROMANS: Hmm.

ELMO: Like if you are going to use two eggs, or three eggs, stuff like that.

ROMANS: Why is it important to get kids excited about STEM, about science, technology, engineering, and math? And why is "Sesame Street" trying to make this part of the season this year.

PARENTE: Well, as a nation we recognize we are falling behind in these areas. And it has always been Sesame Street's tradition to sort of give kids a head start, a leg up, and when you actually boil down the stem curriculum, right Elmo, it is perfect for pre-schoolers, because it is about asking questions. And investigating and experimenting.

ELMO: And experimenting.

PARENTE: Right, and that is how you learn.

ELMO: Experimenting.

PARENTE: It's a big word, Elmo.

ROMANS: You have learned some words like, I'm told you have learned about amphibian.

ELMO: Uh-huh.

ROMANS: And balance.

ELMO: Yes, and ingredients.

ROMANS: Ingredients.

ELMO: And liquid.

ROMANS: Why are you learning these words?

ELMO: Because they are really cool words. And it is really fun to learn what they mean.

ROMANS: You also learned "engineer." What is an engineer?

ELMO: Well, that is when you build something, you are an engineer.

ROMANS: So, it is creative?

ELMO: That's a good word, creative.

ROMANS: Static numbers, in math, and tables, but something you are trying to show kids, it is part of learning. And part of life.

PARENTE: It is. It is very physical, STEM is fun. It is physical fun. It about testing out things and any question kids have we encourage parents not to answer the questions that kids have but explore the answers with their kids together.

ROMANS: it's called "Let's Find Out," right?

PARENTE: "Let's Find Out," exactly.

ROMANS: Tell me about technology and how that's helping with this, too. Because little kids know how to use - I don't know, maybe you do or don't, Elmo. Have you ever seen an iPad?

ELMO: Oh, yes, I use an iPad.

ROMANS: Or cell phones or computers.

ELMO: Computers, yes!

ROMANS: So the kids are really exposed to this stuff. And technology can really help in this whole process.

PARENTE: It absolutely can. It's very appealing to kids. What we learn is that technology isn't just the iPads or cell phones. It is also everyday objects can be a lever, right? We learn all about levers.

ELMO: A lever, yep.

PARENTE: That a fork can be a lever

ELMO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sang a song about a lever.

That's right, a whole song.

ELMO: She is in musicals.

ROMANS: You also have some cool experiments with some of your new friends.

ELMO: Experiments.

ROMANS: Cool people like actor James Mardsten (ph), Andy Sandberg from "Saturday Night Live." Whoa, what was your favorite experiment?

ELMO: There were so many of them.

PARENTE: There were a lot.

ELMO: What was the one with Robin Williams did?

PARENTE: Oh, you had fun with Robin Williams, and it is on balance. You learned balance from who? Emma Stone, remember?

ELMO: Yes.

ROMANS: And you even got to go into a recording studio and sing along with somebody who looked just like Justin Bieber, right?

ELMO: Kinda like Justin, but kind of sounded like him, too.

ROMANS: What did it have to do with, I'm told?

ELMO: Measuring. He was measuring a shrimp and an elephant.

ROMANS: Look at that. Oh, he does look like Justin Bieber. How cool?

Carol, and people watching at home, what they do to get their kids get excited about STEM?

PARENTE: You know it really -- it's just such a wonderful curriculum for preschoolers. When your kids ask questions, and they do all the time, because that is what pre-schoolers do. It is how they navigate their world. Engage with your kids, you know, do the -- answer the question -- don't answer the questions, but experiment and test and find out what the answers are for yourself.

ROMANS: Elmo, what are you going to learn this year?

ELMO: Everything.

ROMANS: You're three and a half.

ELMO: Elmo can't wait. Elmo wants to learn everything.

ROMANS: You want to be excited about everything.

ELMO: Yes. It's important. You know what? Because Elmo wants to be a teacher.

ROMANS: You do?

ELMO: Yes, because Elmo knows how important they are.

ROMANS: Oh, Elmo, we think you're so precocious.

ELMO: Oh, really? That's a big word.

ROMANS: It is a big word.

PARENTE: It is a big word. Maybe next year we'll learn that one.

ROMANS: All right. Elmo, it's wonderful to see you. Have a wonderful weekend.

Can I have a kiss, please?

ELMO: Hmm, (KISS SOUND)

ROMANS: Oh, thanks, Elmo.

ELMO: Thanks for having us.

ROMANS: Nice to have you, too.

And everybody remember, this episode has been brought to you by STEM, science, technology, engineering and math.

That is going to wrap things up for us this morning. But the conversation continues online. Find us on Facebook or Twitter. Our handle is CNN/BottomLine. You can also find me @ChristineRomans. Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thanks for coming, Elmo. Bye-bye.