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Educational Complacency Will Make U.S. Feel the Pain

"Only once in the history of humankind, Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett told members of the Portland Business Alliance on Tuesday, do you get to add half the world's population to the free world's economic system.

"Such is the result of economic liberalization in China, India, the former Soviet Union and satellites, and other newly emerging economic markets during the '90s. Moreover, Barrett said, at least 10 percent of those 3 billion people are well educated."

The Oregonian, 5/13/04

Ohanian comment: Smell the competition? I smell a rat.

Playing tag team, NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND EXTRA CREDIT, which oozes out from the U. S. Department of Ed every day, reprinted this op ed and sent it out.

When will we wake up and smell the competition?

U.S. corporations are begging for talent, as foreign scientists and engineers increasingly find well-paying jobs on their own doorsteps.

The balance of innovation has begun to tilt eastward, as China and India start taking their own products to market. For the first time, other nations are about to produce more U.S. patents per year than the United States.

China and India are expanding their university-level math, science and engineering programs at a pace comparable to the United States after World War II. Asian colleges now produce six times the number of engineering degrees produced here.

My company, Intel, invests more than $100 million a year to improve the quality of U.S. education. But if the world's best engineers are produced in India or Singapore, that is where our companies will go. This is not a threat, but a reality in the modern world. We locate facilities where we can find or import talent to produce our products.

“The harsh fact is that the U.S. need for the highest quality human capital in science, mathematics and engineering is not being met,” says the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century. Nor is it likely to be met soon, judging by U.S. student performance on international math and science tests. In a recent study, 15-year-olds in the USA ranked 24th out of 29 industrialized nations on practical math applications.

More troubling is a recent report released by Achieve, Inc. — a group created by the nation's governors and corporate leaders to help states raise standards — revealing one simple reason we're lagging behind: We've institutionalized low performance through low expectations. High schools expect only a small number of students to take the advanced math and science courses young people need.

Moreover, all signs suggest that future requirements for high school completion may be even less rigorous. Several states, concerned about achievement rates, are considering easing their graduation standards, even though their exit exams are pegged below the 10th-grade level.

As psychologists report, human beings tend to put off necessary changes until the moment they begin to feel pain. And, by and large, the pain hasn't reached us yet:

•A $618 billion U.S. trade deficit doesn't hurt when Americans can fill their homes with the latest discount electronic gadgets and designer duds produced in Asia.

•Though downsizing and outsourcing produce great discomfort for a few, most remain unaffected.

•And while the dollar has taken a record-breaking tumble against the euro and the yen, Americans can get credit at the lowest interest rates in 50 years.

This weekend, Achieve and the National Governors Association will host the fifth National Education Summit to shape a new course for high schools. In past summits, much has been accomplished in grades K-8. But it will take more than leaders to address this problem. Parents and the public must support efforts to ensure that a high school diploma is a valid passport for good careers.

Perhaps what's needed is another good punch in the eye, like the one we had in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite. Jolted by the competition, the U.S. pushed for excellence in mathematics and science, resulting in dramatic increases in enrollments and then in the number of scientists and engineers. These workers created new generations of technology and commercial applications that led to the USA's preeminence in the global economy.

The nation stands in immediate danger of losing its edge. True, the United States continues to hold an advantage based on industries established on science and mathematics knowledge. But it doesn't take a genius to see that new generations of well-trained minds will be needed if we're to maintain that advantage. And the competition isn't waiting for us to feel the pain.

Craig R. Barrett is CEO of Intel and a board member of Achieve, Inc.

— Craig R. Barrett
USA Today




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