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The Moral Effect; A Class of Their Own; Does Class Size Matter?; The Right STEM Stuff; Paying for A STEM Degree

Aired December 10, 2011 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Too many desks and too few students. We tackle overcrowded schools and show you where undercrowding is the worry.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

Also, STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. They're the careers of the future, careers that pay. We'll talk to an astronaut whose mission it is to get girls and minorities engaged in STEM.

Then, we'll tell you how to save for college for that budding rocket scientist.

All right, but first, blame the banks, blame consumers, blame capitalism, blame government, but who's blaming themselves? Did a prosperous America lose its ethical way, and how do we get it back? I'm thrilled this morning to have three very special guests to help us do some soul searching about the economy and our values and how they feed on each other.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of "The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger." David Callahan, author of "The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead." And, a special guest, frequent guest on this program, Deepak Chopra, author of "The Soul of Leadership."

Deepak, I want to start with you. When I first spoke with you for my first book, you said to me something that has really resonated, "First thing the consumer should do is learn to stop spending money that they haven't earned to buy things that they don't need to impress people they don't like."

You went on to tell me that buying stuff we don't need with money we don't have, it's all just to keep up with the Joneses. America got selfish, and America is paying. Is it as simple as that?

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "WAR OF THE WORLDVIEWS": Americans are trite, selfish, greedy, complaisant and has a sense of entitlement. While the world is surging ahead with education and health reform, you know, we don't even have basics here, like good health care or good education, unless it costs a lot.

ROMANS: Well, we have a - a government that is divided, quite frankly, right now about what its role should be. What is the ethical, the moral role, I guess, for - for government to help us out of this mess we're in?

CHOPRA: I personally, and we are - my colleagues may disagree with me. But I think, you know, moral self righteousness is just jealousy with a halo. You can't impose morality, I think. It's a natural expression of our emotional and spiritual maturity and, by and large, we are at a very early stage of development.

ROMANS: Let me bring in another one of our colleagues. Let me (ph) talk about it, one of your colleagues, Rabbi Shmuley. I - I know you say this isn't a religious problem but a spiritual deficiency.

I want to show you a chart that illustrates younger generations are less religiously affiliated. If we've been practicing soulless capitalism, as you say, how do we get back to what you call soulful capitalism in a world where people are embracing fewer religious and spiritual values?

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, AUTHOR, "THE BLESSING OF ENOUGH": Well, let's begin with the problem. The United States has begun to use money as a currency by which to purchase self-esteem. We have perverted Descartes. It is no longer "I think, therefore I am," it is I have, therefore I am, and the more I have, the more I am.

Now, this is a basic erosion of not just morality and ethics but a basic identity. The fact is that we believe that accumulation is why we're here. These hedge fund managers who were earning billions a year, they can never spend it. It's just about being listed on some number that grants them self-esteem. The net result is greed is out of control, insatiability is out of control, and we all feel a deep sense of inadequacy.

Essentially, we're using material objects to fill gaping holes of our soul that are supposed to be filled with family, community, a relationship with God. The United States even has God on its money. We just don't have God on all these consumer products that we're desperate for.

ROMANS: I mean, when you look - Rabbi Shmuley, when you look at the messages that are happening all around people, it's to continue this. It's to continue what many of you are telling me is a spiritual deficit, another kind of deficit, in America, a spiritual deficit.

BOTEACH: Well, think about it. We have every blessing in America. We have a very high standard of living. But we don't have the blessing of enough. Enough is never enough. Super size me. Bigger is better.

This is what directly collapsed our economy. We bought houses that were - our houses were big enough, but they - they weren't ultimately large enough. Our cars were never new enough. I mean, my gosh, people trade cars after just three years that are in perfect working order. Our clothing designer labels were never fancy enough.

It really betrays a feeling of anonymity.

ROMANS: Right. BOTEACH: I'm a nobody, but if I've got someone's name on my derriere, then that makes me feel precious. And it's especially true of our - of our children, of our teenagers. They utterly lack identity and they submit to peer pressure.

ROMANS: I want you to listen to something that the president said earlier this week in a speech in Kansas, talking about opportunity decline in America. I want to bring that in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people.


ROMANS: Well, have we lost the connection between hard work and merit and reward, and does that feed into - your book is about the cheating culture. Does that feed into the cheating? Is there a cheating culture here, too?

DAVID CALLAHAN, AUTHOR, "THE CHEATING CULTURE": Well, I want to figure another culprit in this story, which is rising economic inequality.

ROMANS: Which is what the president is talking about.

CALLAHAN: We've heard a lot about the one percent getting so much richer, and they have. They have tripled their incomes over the past 30 years, even as many middle class people have - are just treading water.

And I think inequality brings out the worst in Americans. It brings out the worst in the people on the top, because they feel they can get away with - with anything. I think that those outsized rewards can make people feel like it's worth cutting corners, it's worth taking big risks to grasp those big rewards.

I mean, look at all the stuff that happened on Wall Street. Some of those people who were bundling the subprime mortgages, they made hundreds of millions of dollars while kind of, you know, screwing over the rest of Americans.

ROMANS: Money is what makes it all move, and I guess there's - there's money that can make your life better and it can make you comfortable. And then, there's money that can distort and that can corrupt.

BOTEACH: Christine, can I - can I -

ROMANS: Yes. One last thought.

BOTEACH: Can I just point out, you know, the reason why we're not making any progress in this conversation is that we're scapegoating. It's not the super rich who are solely at fault. All they are is us on steroids. All of us have become greedy. Yes, they may have sold subprime junk but it was us who bought it because wanted houses that were never big enough.

We have to stop the scapegoating. This is not a political problem -

CALLAHAN: But I do think we have the structure -

BOTEACH: And I - and I would - what I would even say - excuse me for just a moment - it's also a religious problem.

You know, religion is supposed to convey values, and yet for 20 years in America, the only thing religion has talked about is gay marriage and abortion, abortion and gay married. I'm sick of that conversation. If it's brought up one more time, I'll eat my yarmulke.

I want to hear about materialism and corruption -

CHOPRA: But you're scapegoating right now.

BOTEACH: -- and - and soullessness.

CHOPRA: You're scapegoating right now.

BOTEACH: But just to blame the government and to blame the super rich absolves us of all responsibility.

CALLAHAN: I think - I think that there's a lot to what you said. I also think that we have a - a political system which is nominated by the rich, that has produced this high level of inequality, and that inequality is a poisonous thing. It brings out the worst in us.

It brings out the worst in ordinary Americans who feel the system is stacked against them. It brings out the worst in the rich who feel they can get away with anything.

ROMANS: Well, I'm glad we're talking about it. I'm glad that we're talking about what led us here -


ROMANS: -- and - and I'm so glad that we're having this conversation.

Thanks, everyone. Rabbi Shmuley, thank you so much, Deepak Chopra and David Callahan.

All right, you've seen the kindergartens with 35 five- and six-year- olds vying for their teachers' attention. We're going to take you to a school where there's one kindergartner in the class, next.


ROMANS: One little boy, one teacher, one chalk board and a dozen empty chairs. Come with us inside a school with only one boy in kindergarten.


ROMANS (voice-over): This is what many schools look like around the country, classes in trailers and attics and halls. Overcrowding is overwhelming and angering parents.

But, in the cow patches (ph) of Vermont, class sizes are at an all time low, so small at Weybridge Elementary School that 5-year-old Dylan is the only child in kindergarten this year.

TIFFANY, DYLAN'S MOTHER: I really like that they get a lot of attention, individualized attention. The teaching can be specific to where they're at. The teacher can really meet them where their need is. They feel very safe and also very confident in asking questions.

ROMANS: Vermont has the smallest class sizes in the country, the product of an aging population and a low birthrate.

Weybridge students get home cooked meals and one on one time with teachers.

JOY DOBSON, DYLAN'S TEACHER: And then can we read "Clever Happy Monkey."

CHRISTINA JOHNSTON, PRINCIPAL, WEYBRIDGE ELEMENTARY: An extraordinarily important part of teaching is being able to listen to children, understand how they're thinking and how they're constructing information.


ROMANS: The state of Vermont has asked all of its communities whether they can afford all these small schools and the hefty tax bill that comes with them. Weybridge, a town of dairy farmers, spends about $17,000 per child when the national average is under $10,000. But Weybridge residents say their school is more than just a costly building.

SPENCER DUNN, TOWN SUPERVISOR: Once the school closes, there really isn't a center. There's no commercial district in Weybridge, very few businesses at all. And so the center of activity, community activity, is the school.

ROMANS: Weybridge combined classes to create a critical mass, but a quarter of the school's children graduate this spring. Dylan's teacher worries too few students limits learning.

DOBSON: Sometimes having a smaller class is harder. The number of children, as that decreases, also decreases then the amount of - I describe it as firepower or brain power in the classroom.

ROMANS: Dylan likes all the attention, but still would like to see a few more kids his age.

DYLAN, SOLE KINDERGARTNER IN WEYBRIDGE: Me here, and another kindergartener here; and another kindergarten or a year (ph).


ROMANS: He's so cute. Communities in Vermont are offering up solutions. They're trying to attract more young families to the state. They're even importing students - I'm not kidding, importing students from China whose parents are more than willing to pay to get an American rural education.

But just how important is class size?

Leonie Haimson is the founder and executive director of Class Size Matters; and Justin Snider, contributing editor of the Hechinger Report - is that how - am I saying it right?


ROMANS: Hechinger Report. He's also an advising dean at Columbia University.

So we just saw a classroom with one student. This is an extreme example of undercrowding, quite frankly. This is - this is rare. But my colleague, Carol Costello, recently visited a New York high school, right there, that was built for 1,400 students and has 3,900 students.

Leonie, they're - they're putting kids in the attic, in the basement. That's what you're seeing in the big cities. When you get away from the rural schools, that's what you're seeing.

Do those big class sizes hurt education?

LEONIE HAIMSON, FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CLASS SIZE MATTERS: They absolutely hurt the kids in those schools. Even the best schools, for example, the one that you talked about yesterday, only 37 percent of its high school graduates are considered college ready when they graduate, and that means they have to take remedial courses and often don't get through college because they're not accumulating credits along the way.

For younger kids, the costs are even much more damaging, and economists, such as Alan Krueger, who is the head of the Council for Economic Advisors, has estimated that the economic benefits of class size reduction are worth twice the costs.

ROMANS: Justin, I want to bring you in, because a lot of states - most states, actually, have some policy or another on the books to try to limit or have guidelines for class size. I mean, you look at our map here, you can see it is almost every state has some kind of a class size limit.

Most parents don't want too many kids in a class, but it's hard to say we are going to put that limit at 29 kids because that's the best for our school. That's what you think?

SNIDER: Right. The problem with class size reduction talks is people think there's a magic number.

In California in 1996, they had a surplus of money and they didn't know how to spend it and they basically picked the number 20 out of thin air and they said 20 is the maximum we can have in kindergarten, first, second and third grade. But there's no research to back that up. The research -

ROMANS: Did it help?

SNIDER: No. The studies show that actually this is a $20 billion investment, when we had the money, that didn't lead to improved achievement.

HAIMSON: I disagree with that, by the way.

ROMANS: But isn't it - but isn't it common sense, though, if you have a teacher and two aides or other people - other adults in the classroom, that the fewer kids they have, the more that teacher can attend to that child?

SNIDER: That's definitely true. And what you look at over time, you can see in the United States that we have been increasing the number of people in the classroom in the last 30 years. And so, therefore, the student to teacher ratio has dropped. And we have in the United States one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the world.

ROMANS: And that's counting in professionals and other people -


ROMANS: -- in the classrooms.

HAIMSON: Right. When you look at class size, our class sizes are somewhere in the middle or the top of the other industrialized countries.

ROMANS: China, Korea, not necessarily Japan, but some of these other places that are really eating our lunch on some of the - the big international tests and rankings, they have humongous classes, very big classes.

HAIMSON: You know that the vast majority of Korean students go to after school tutoring programs and the average family spends 40 percent of their disposable income on private tutoring because they know that the class sizes are too large there.

China, over and over, the experts on the Chinese educational system say their system is undermining the kind of critical thinking and creativity that they need for their country to move forward. And they want to emulate us more which is why they're sending some of their kids here.

ROMANS: Justin, let me let you have the last word then on class size and the whole debate, because it is a very big debate.

SNIDER: Right. Well, I think that evidence would show that class size matters but only at the extremes. And when we're talking in the policy world, what happens is we have reductions from 28 to 26 - or from 32 to 30. And that's where there is actually no research to say that that's going to do anything. HAIMSON: That's not true (ph).

ROMANS: All right. Leonie Haimson -

HAIMSON: That's not true.

ROMANS: -- Class Size Matters founder and Justin Snider, thank you both. You will never be able to agree on this.

HAIMSON: There's plenty of research that shows that every single kid you reduce the class size by, there's more learning for the rest of the kids. Plenty of research for that shows that.

ROMANS: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Thank you both.

SNIDER: Thank you.

ROMANS: Come back again soon.

All right, astronaut, doctor, lawyer, CNN anchor - every kid has a dream of what they want to be when they grow up. But one woman's dream is with the stars. Find out how she got there, next.


ROMANS: STEM, there's that acronym again. It's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. They're the careers, the fields of the future and the careers that pay.

My next guest took her STEM degree and took it all the way to space. Dr. Mae Jemison was the African-American female astronaut in space flying aboard the space shuttle "Endeavour" in September 1992. She's now working with the Bayer Corporation and their "Making Science Make Sense" program.

Welcome to the program.


ROMANS: Well, we all want the Make Science Make Sense especially for girls, for minorities, for people who feel like it's not - it's not for them, it's too - it's too hard, too daunting or they don't have a role model already. Why did you get excited about - about this?

JEMISON: Well, here's the thing. I think all children are excited about science because we grew up, we look at the bugs, the snails. We're trying to figure out why do bubbles work, all those kinds of things.


JEMISON: So that's what's part of children. They experiment with things. And what happens is they get into school and we beat it out of them, right? So we make it all of a sudden much more difficult, much more mysterious and rather than using that hands on, hearts on, minds on approach. And that's what we have to pay attention to. What are we doing that is discouraging students from going into STEM, that's keeping them from understanding the opportunities that are there? We have to change that.

ROMANS: Well, it gets harder because at first it's fun and it's creative and it's discovery and it's bugs and bubbles and worms, right? And then the older you get, the tougher it gets. And when you look at kids when they even start an engineering degree, for example, a lot of them drop out in the first couple of years because it's hard and they can take their smarts and make more money with less work.

JEMISON: Well, let me tell you this. So, yes, it's harder. You can take your smarts to make money with less work. But it's not harder in the sense that it's not fun anymore.

ROMANS: Right.

JEMISON: We take the fun off. So Bayer Corporation did a survey of college department shares of STEM departments asking them about women and underrepresented minorities what happens to them.

Interestingly enough, we do know that statistically overall 40 to 60 percent of students who go into engineering and science fields wouldn't continue on into a major. But girls who come in, department chairs say they are the best prepared.

ROMANS: The girls are more prepared.

JEMISON: They fall out - they fall out at higher levels.


JEMISON: People talk about weeding out courses. And what those courses do, they don't encourage you to stay in STEM.

ROMANS: Right.

JEMISON: They weed you out. Not because you don't have the capability or the capacity, but because we have this mysterious thing that, oh, we're supposed to drop that many kids out. We don't make it engaging.

Why do people go into certain things? Because it's engaging. Because it keeps me excited. It doesn't mean, ha-ha, we're having a party, but I'm engaged with it. And I see a good job or career coming down the pike. So you have to expose them to the different works that I think -

ROMANS: And we know that it pays. I mean, eight of the top 10 according to a Georgetown study recently, eight of the top 10 majors are all engineering majors. And when you look at how engineering compares with the liberal arts majors, here we've got earnings 25th to 75th percentile.

And you can see, I mean, if you are in - for example, I'm looking at here, psychology, oh, my gosh, the lowest 20 - 25 percent of that is only $30,000. But look at that. Any of the engineering, computer, mathematics, wow, especially engineering at the top 100 in 2000. I mean, but you really do it for money necessarily. You have to love it and be good at it, too.

JEMISON: Yes. You have to love it in order to get through the course work. But the way you love it, the way we have colleges should have kids loving it is by having them, first of all, seeing the range of things you can do with Computer Science. It's not just about sitting down there -

ROMANS: Right.

JEMISON: -- programming. You can actually understand and make people communicate more clearly. There are lots of things you can do.

I want to throw one other thing out.


JEMISON: So we're talking about colleges. But there's another piece that's really interesting. Jobs that are in science fields that don't require a two-year college degree.


JEMISON: A four-year college degree. Machinist, right? On shop floors, they require science literacy, biotechnicians require science literacy. And in fact, there are lots of jobs like that that go unfilled -

ROMANS: You're right. You're right.

JEMISON: -- in this country because we don't do an adequate job with science literacy.

ROMANS: Behind you, we have some amazing pictures of you on the space shuttle. And I - I'm amazed. I think this is going right through over my shoulder that's you working here with all of those things. You have a very serious look.

When you see those pictures, that must have been such an amazing time. Because that is like all that you loved to do, all you studied for right there and practice at work.

JEMISON: So all of those things that you study for, so I did Chemical Engineering and Medicine. So that's in there. But the other thing that's in there is that critical thinking, that problem solving, so we're doing experiments.

But in order to get up there, you have to work with the engineers. We see the astronauts up there, but all of that was developed by engineers, the shuttle was put together by technicians.

ROMANS: You know, engineering is creativity. People think it's numbers and things that's rules, but engineering is creativity, too. It's looking at something and it's problem solving. And there's so much room for that in the economy.

JEMISON: Absolutely.

ROMANS: All right. It's so nice to meet you.

JEMISON: You're very welcome.

ROMANS: Thank you very much.

JEMISON: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. A STEM degree can really help your child succeed, but it can be expensive. Not to worry, though, we'll tell you how you can afford that degree, next.


ROMANS: Well, we showed you how it pays to go into STEM. But can you afford that STEM education? Well, some tips for you.

First, the longer you're saving for college, the better. If you're saving for your kid's education, whether they're an aspiring engineer or not, make a contribution to a 529 plan. Most investments in the 529 plan come in the last three weeks of the year and most states offer a tax deduction for the money you invest.

Next, don't underestimate the cost of that education. Especially an engineering degree, that can take five years. You can afford to borrow more for than engineering degree than you can for a Liberal Arts major since you can expect to be paid more when you graduate if you're an engineer or you're a scientist.

Aim for loans totaling what you expect to earn in your first year working. That means maybe $65,000 to $85,000 is manageable. And, parents, don't think you have to save for all of it. Plan on your child getting loans and applying for scholarships. And don't sacrifice your retirement savings for their education.

Have any good tips on how to save for college? What are you doing to save for college? Get online. Let us know. Send us a tweet and e-mail us. We want to hear from you. You can also find us on Facebook or Twitter. Our handle is CNNBottomLine. You can also find me @ChristineRomans.

And if you want to know more about the topics we cover here every week, don't forget about my new book with Ali Velshi, "How to Speak Money," it's a guide to handling money maze in your life, the gift that truly keeps on giving.

Back now to "CNN SATURDAY" for the latest news.