Can American Students Compete?

By Mar 19, 2012, 10:40 AM Author's Blog  

Can we accept as a premise that the health of our economy is predicated on our ability to compete on the world stage?

Strikes me as a basic principle of Sense on Cents.

Stephane Garelli of IMD, a Swiss-based school which is a pioneer in the field of executive education, zeroes in on the key factors on this topic in writing on The Competitivenes of Nations: The Fundamentals. Garelli asserts,

Competitiveness is thus one of the most powerful concepts in modern economic thinking.

One of its key contributions to classical economic theories is that competitiveness encompasses the economic consequences of non-economic issues, such as education, sciences, political stability or value systems. It is precisely because it is a multifaceted concept that it has lead to a proliferation of definitions.

This diversity should however be welcomed in order to refine such an important concept, which has the ambition to provide a dynamic and systemic approach to the creation of wealth for nations and the long-term prosperity of people.

I am not going to veer off course here and discuss at length what I think of the value system or political stability in our nation, although I would not grade them all that high. However, what about education and the sciences? America’s Promise Alliance just today releases promising data highlighting that our overall national high school graduation rate has improved by 3.5% (from 72 to 75.5%) between 2001-2009.

For those interested in education and our nation’s economic future, this report entitled Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge In Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic is loaded with a voluminous amount of details and date and qualifies as a must read. I am heartened by the progress but let’s be real, what is the overall point of departure for that report. Additionally the achievement gap remains particularly disturbing. How so? As America’s Promise Alliance points out,

Nationwide, nearly one in three U.S. high school students fails to graduate. In total, approximately 1.3 million students drop out each year — averaging 7,200 every school day. Among minority students, the problem is even more severe with nearly 50 percent of African American and Hispanic students not completing high school on time.

On the topic of education and the ability to compete, let’s get even more granular. How uncanny that EducationNext recently asked that very question in a report Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?. Let’s get very real here. I believe the following statements and findings are most disconcerting:

1. According to Internet entrepreneur Vinton Cerf, “America simply is not producing enough of our own innovators, and the cause is twofold—a deteriorating K–12 education system and a national culture that does not emphasize the importance of education and the value of engineering and science.”

2. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, of the 30 occupations projected to grow the most rapidly over the next decade, nearly half are professional jobs that require at least a college degree. On the basis of these projections, McKinsey’s Global Institute estimates that over the next few years there will be a gap of nearly 2 million workers with the necessary analytical and technical skills.

3. In 2007, just 32 percent of 8th graders in public and private schools in the United States performed at or above the NAEP proficiency standard in mathematics, and 31 percent performed at or above that level in reading. When more than two-thirds of students fail to reach a proficiency bar, it raises serious questions.

4. Given that definition of math proficiency, U.S. students in the Class of 2011, with a 32 percent proficiency rate, came in 32nd among the nations that participated in PISA. Performance levels among the countries ranked 23rd to 31st are not significantly different from that of the U.S. in a statistical sense, yet 22 countries do significantly outperform the United States in the share of students reaching the proficiency level in math.

Six countries plus Shanghai and Hong Kong had majorities of students performing at least at the proficiency level, while the United States had less than one-third.

For example, 58 percent of Korean students and 56 percent of Finnish students performed at or above a proficient level. Other countries in which a majority—or near majority—of students performed at or above the proficiency level included Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Many other nations also had math proficiency rates well above that of the United States, including Germany (45 percent), Australia (44 percent), and France (39 percent).

32nd. We are 32nd as a nation in terms of math proficiency. We have FAILED!!

What does this means in terms of competing on the global economic landscape? It’s not good. Is America even aware of this reality? In regard to the achievement gap,

The percentage proficient in the United States varies considerably among students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. While 42 percent of white students were identified as proficient in math, only 11 percent of African American students, 15 percent of Hispanic students, and 16 percent of Native Americans were so identified.

When those in Washington willingly and knowingly direct the attention within our nation to the daily drivel provided by the likes of Sandra Fluke and others rather than the truly meaningful attention needed in this area of education and the family, then you can count me as unimpressed. Too harsh, you think?

32nd!! Maybe I should be even more harsh and strident in promoting that number and the realities behind it. I am not alone.

Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has warned, “America faces many challenges…but the enemy I fear most is complacency. We are about to be hit by the full force of global competition. If we continue to ignore the obvious task at hand while others beat us at our own game, our children and grandchildren will pay the price. We must now establish a sense of urgency.”

Let’s all get together and shout out for the cameras and those trolling for campaign dollars….,

YES, WE ARE 32!!

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