May 07 2012

Sputnik-like Concerns About U.S. Education Linked to Economic Growth

Published by at 6:11 pm under Wave Guide 4: Education

Serious concerns about the quality of the U.S. education system continue to grow. Recently (Wall Street Journal, 5/1/12), former Secretary of State George Shultz and his colleague at the Hoover Institution, Eric Hanushek, have emphasized the need for K-12 reforms in the context of economic growth, income disparity, and global competitiveness.

Annual growth of GDP per capita from 1960 to 2000, is directly correlated with international math test scores.

In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries’ PISA rankings for 2009 the U.S. ranked only 31st in math — comparable to Portugal or Italy — while 16 other countries dwarfed the U.S. with twice as many “high achievers” per capita in math. Even the state of California — once a national leader in K-12 education — is now ranked behind 40 other states in math achievement, at about the level of Greece.

This kind of performance will condemn the U.S. to a “low-growth path,” and is consistent with record low SAT scores in reading and writing, China’s ascent to world leadership in math and science scores, and even the World Economic Forum ranking the U.S. 48th in quality of math and science education.
For example, click: State of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for 2011. (see #4).

These concerns are reminiscent of Sputnik-era anxieties about U.S. education and technology that triggered the first Space Age, and are harbingers of the approaching new Space Age, as I wrote in 2010:

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, legitimate public concerns about the state of education will skyrocket because of anxiety over America’s ability to compete with the rest of the world in space and technology. And it’s already begun.

Shultz and Hanushek suggest that if the U.S. adoped K-12 reforms that made it competitive with Canada — i.e., increasing its PISA scores by 40 points —

The improvement in GDP over the next 80 years would exceed a present value of $70 trillion. That’s equivalent to an average 20% boost in income for every U.S. worker each year over his or her entire career.

In their recent front-page Sputnik-style headline, the Wall Street Journal (4/26/12; D. Wessel, S. Banchero) suggests that an “Education Slowdown Threatens U.S.” Since Lewis and Clark, nearly each successive generation in America has had considerably more education than their parents — until now.

For example, when Babyboomers born in 1955 reached 30, they had almost 2 years more education than their parents, compared with the 30-year-olds born in 1980 who had only 8 months more. This has key implications for increased unemployment and lower wages which typically afflict less educated workers, as well as a lower general standard of living in the U.S.

Thirty years ago the U.S. led the world in young people (25-34) with at least 2 years of college. Since 2009, the U.S. has been superseded by 14 other developed countries. By the way, The Space Report 2012 indicates that China is currently the leader in production of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) university bachelor degrees, having doubled their production between 2002 and 2006.

Part of the reason for the decline in college education in the U.S. is rising tuition costs and large student debt, but the New York Times Sunday page one story (5/6/12; S. Greenhouse) also blames it on:

the worst job market in decades.

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