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American Innovation & Competitiveness At Risk? Report Says Yes.

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Last week, as reported by Forbes, congress auctioned off underused wireless spectrum— even though a wireless broadband infrastructure is a necessary part of advancing a thriving 21st century economy.  The Dodd-Frank financial overhaul has been a disaster for businesses, which will also continue to have an impact on the economy.  But, the sharp decline in American innovation and the plummeting levels of U.S. students’ math and science performance cannot be overlooked in assessing the state of the economy.

The Heritage Foundation reports that back in 1983, The National Commission on Excellence in Education reported that our once uncontested world dominance in science, technology, commerce and industry was at risk.  Over two decades later, in 2010, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine warned that, “Today, for the first time in history, America’s younger generation is less well-educated than its parents.”[3]

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is crucial to U.S. competitiveness.  From StemEducation.Org:

The STEM Education Coalition works aggressively to raise awareness in Congress, the Administration, and other organizations about the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the U.S. to remain the economic and technological leader of the global marketplace of the 21st century. The Coalition advocates for strengthening of STEM-related programs for educators and students and increased federal investments in STEM education. We also support robust federal investments in basic scientific research to inspire current and future generations of young people to pursue careers in STEM fields. Members of the STEM Coalition believe that our nation must improve the way our students learn science, mathematics, technology and engineering and that the business, education, and STEM communities must work together to achieve this goal.

Heritage emphasizes the importance of a STEM-educated workforce, not only for the growth of the U.S. economy but also because of relationship to national security.  Heritage cites problems with the Obama Administration’s Educate to Innovate initiative, however, which is designed to raise the U.S. “from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.”  Heritage states:

“The United States must not allow itself to continue to be outcompeted in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. While the Administration’s Educate to Innovate initiative is intended to raise the U.S. ‘from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math,’ this one-size-fits-all, federal approach fails to remedy the underlying problems of academic performance and does not plug the leaky pipeline in the American education system.”

Walter Williams weighs in, addressing, in a Townhall.Com article, the fact that only 7% of U.S. students perform at an advanced level in math, in comparison with 45% of students in Shanghai, 20% in South Korea and Switzerland and 15% in Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada and Japan who perform at an advanced level in math.

A significant portion of the U.S.  science and engineering workforce, are immigrants.  “Forty-seven percent of all U.S. science and engineering workers with doctorates are immigrants as were 67 percent of the additions to the U.S. science and engineering work force between 1995 to 2006. And roughly 60 percent of engineering Ph.D. students and 40 percent of master’s students are foreign nationals.”

The National Academies, which are nonprofit institutions that administers expert guidance on science and technology, warned years ago, according to US News & World, that the U.S. would continue its failure to compete in a global market unless the levels of performance in math and science education improve.  They reported that, as of 2011, among 29 prosperous countries, the U.S. ranks 27th in the proportion of those with degrees in science and engineering.   And, in a study performed by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. students rank 25th in math and 17th in science, out of 31 countries.

NationalMathandScience.Org forecasts that 60% of new jobs that will open in the 21st century will necessitate a level of education that only 20% of the current workforce has.  Worldwide, the U.S. comes in 17th place, in the number of science degrees earned.

Additionally, the report goes on to say that, “25 years ago, the U.S. led the world in high school and college graduation rates. Today, the U.S. has dropped to 20th and 16th.”  Innovation drives the economy, but we will not return to our legacy of innovation until we seriously address the state of education, particularly in the subjects of math and science, in this country.

Candice Lanier