Magazine article USA TODAY

The K-12 Establishment Is Pulling America's Industrial Leadership at Risk; We Need the K-12 Teaching Community to "Take Responsibility for the Poor Results They Are Achieving ... Increase the Number of Instructors Qualified to Teach Math and Science ... and Stop Promoting Unprepared Students to the Next Grade Level."

Magazine article USA TODAY

The K-12 Establishment Is Pulling America's Industrial Leadership at Risk; We Need the K-12 Teaching Community to "Take Responsibility for the Poor Results They Are Achieving ... Increase the Number of Instructors Qualified to Teach Math and Science ... and Stop Promoting Unprepared Students to the Next Grade Level."

Article excerpt

THERE ARE SOME very worrisome trends in the U.S. with respect to our global share of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics expertise. Simply put, it is decreasing significantly, both at the bachelor's and Ph.D. levels. The National Science Foundation has published data demonstrating that our country is producing far fewer engineers than are other parts of the world, particularly Asia. Among 24-year-olds in 2001 who had a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree, only five percent in the U.S. were engineers, compared to 39% in China and 19% or more in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. China is producing three times more engineers than the U.S. America even compares poorly to European countries in terms of the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded in the fields of engineering and science.

Another disturbing trend is in the numbers of individuals receiving a Ph.D. in physical science and engineering. In 1987, 4,700 U.S. citizens earned these degrees, compared to 5,600 Asians. In 2001, the U.S. figure had dropped to 4,400 and the number of Asians had risen to 24,900. That is a dramatic shift. We also should note that the percentage of Asians getting science and engineering Ph.D.s at U.S. universities is declining. Indeed, 25% fewer Asians received such degrees at U.S. universities in 2001 than in 1996.

This data was assembled by professor R.E. Smalley, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from Rice University. His disturbing conclusion: "By 2010, 90% of all Ph.D. physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asian living in Asia."

Why are these figures important? Traditionally, it has been the U.S.'s technical human talent that has driven our industrial success. Basic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics knowledge is vitally important in the business world. For perspective, more than 50% of the CEOs of our Fortune 100 companies come from a technical background. In addition, physical science and engineering capabilities at the PhD. level typically drive the kind of highly prized innovations that lead to the emergence of new industries. With expertise in these fields declining in the U.S. while rising in other parts of the world, we risk seeing our industrial leadership weaken.

One of the main reasons why U.S. production of science and engineering talent in universities is low in comparison to other nations is that America's K-12 math and science skill levels are quite weak. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate that the scores of U.S. students across the fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-grade levels are abysmal. For example, in science, a mere two percent of our 12th-graders are rated advanced, and just 16% are rated proficient. (NAEP defines "proficient" as "solid academic performance for the grade assessed.") Thirty-four percent of our 12th-graders are only partially proficient in science, and almost half are below partial proficiency.

Meanwhile, the International Math and Science Study rates the U.S. against other nations and provides the percentile our students achieved. For example, in mathematics, our 12th-graders rated at the 10th percentile. In other words, 90% of the countries did better than the U.S. while 10% percent performed worse. While we do well in grade four, we do mediocre in grade eight and very poorly in grade 12.

I have been heading up a group called the Workforce/Education Subcommittee, which is part of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Much of what I am providing here is the work of that subcommittee, which was charged to determine whether we have sufficient science and engineering students to support our workforce needs. Once our subcommittee assembled the necessary data, the key question became: Why we U.S. students so weak in science and mathematics? Many groups have studied this issue over the last 10 years, and they consistently have identified two key problems. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.