April 17, 2007 4:48 PM PDT

Experts: Education key to U.S. competitiveness

CUPERTINO, Calif.--Innovation and U.S. competitiveness will suffer if kids don't get a better education, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

In particular, science, technology, engineering and math education in kindergarten through 12th grade needs a boost, according to panelists speaking at an event here that's part of a National Governors Association initiative. K-through-12 education has traditionally been a focus of governors because much of a state's budget is spent there.

"In technology and engineering we're really doing nothing. In math and science we're basically teaching the same things we taught when I was in school and we're teaching it the same way," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who turns 50 this year.

Photo: An innovation initiative

As current chair of the National Governors Association, Napolitano established the "Innovation America" initiative. The goal is to come up with a list of policies and strategies governors across the U.S. can use to enhance the innovative capacity of their states and their ability to compete in this global economy, she said.

Calling for improvements to U.S. education isn't new. Others, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, have made similar pleas to help the U.S. stay competitive.

The Innovation America effort goes beyond lower education. It also aims to establish links with higher education and suggests incentives for entrepreneurship, such as tax credits for early investors and businesses that do research with universities, Napolitano said.

"What is going to keep us competitive and what is going to help us in-source jobs? That is the investment in human capital and that is the investment in innovation," Napolitano said.

The focus from governors is needed as countries including China and India increase their roles in the global marketplace. "The world is shrinking and now we're really competing for people all across the world," said Sean Walsh, special adviser to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

California has attracted smart people from across the globe, but that actually points to shortcomings in the U.S. education system, Walsh said.

"In technology and engineering we're really doing nothing. In math and science we're basically teaching the same things we taught when I was in school and we're teaching it the same way."
--Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano

"We are attracting the best and the brightest from all around the world, but that's making up for the fact that we're not necessarily producing some of the best and the brightest because our education is not up to snuff," he said.

Silicon Valley in particular is at a crossroads, said Dennis Cima, vice president of education and policy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which is made up of businesses in the area.

"The crisis is really how America maintains its competitive edge and how Silicon Valley maintains its competitive edge...The availability of talent is a real huge issue," he said.

One possible solution to the talent problem is promoting math and science among groups that typically don't pick those subjects, said John Thompson, chief executive at Symantec, which hosted the event.

"Science, technology, engineering and math (education) is such an important issue for our company and our country, more should be done by every single organization to convince young women and minorities to participate and pursue careers in math and science," Thompson said. "It does represent an opportunity for us to expand the talent pool quite rapidly."

Higher education in California is moving to help lower education with qualified teachers. The University of California and the California State University systems have committed to a program that should see 2,500 math and science teachers graduate each year by 2010.

"I have seen whole schools and whole school districts where there has not been a single accredited science and math teacher," said Robert Dynes, president of the University of California.

Governors can make a difference as many innovations happen at the state level, not the federal level, Walsh said, pointing to Schwarzenegger's environmental initiatives as an example. "It is not going to go from the top down, it is going to go from the bottom up," he said.

The Innovation America initiative started in August and ends in July when Napolitano will present her suggestions at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association. The work will continue as a not-for-profit organization after that, she said.

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7 comments

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US More Competitive?
Executives and Politicans want more of America's youth in higher education? With the average student debt around $20k, and many colleges costing more than $40k/year, it's no wonder why many kids do not go to school. Coupled with the fact that companies want to pay ungrads a starting rate of $14/hr, it isn't worth the time.
Posted by ih8sprint (2 comments )
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Well lets just give up then?
These kinds of comments are not the solution to the problem. Instead of posing a solution you choose complain about the cost of private schools and wages. What you want is wage regulation and big government programs. Is this going to help? I this going save American jobs or make us more competitive in the open market? The answer is no. Only a drastic change in our education system will work. We need a more competitive and quality system. We don't need more money, or regulations. Both serve put our education system further into the muck. Instead we need meaningful reform, competition, and leaner school systems.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.rightsideoftech.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.rightsideoftech.com</a>
Posted by russ960 (22 comments )
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what?
No real degree will net you $14 an hour and certainly not legitimate high tech degrees. Maybe if you majored in philosophy, business or something equally worthless you will get $14 an hour. But then lazy unmotivated slobs deserve no better. There is no reason a properly educated highly minted grad can't net at least $45,000 a year to start. But not if you take the easy path.

What needs to change is hiring substandard teachers and paying them peanuts. Teachers salaries should double and the standards triple. That would be a good start.

Mathematics is the key to everything, it should be required for every term in high school.
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
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The Key To Competitiveness
The key to competitiveness is being in the game. In what field does the U.S. need to be more competitive? Education? You could argue that's the case, but the main problem with match and science education in the U.S. is no one's buying it.
The problem is the interesting research is not being done in the U.S. in quantity, and won't be tomorrow. And the reason is that the new operations will be set up overseas, not here, even if the number of match, science, or engineering graduates doubled next year. And if it were, we wouldn't know about it. Neither the fame nor the money are perceived to be in those fields. Our best students know they will do better with an MBA in the foreseeable future.
We're not really much in the game in manufacturing or high-end research except in niche areas, as far as I can tell. I don't see how better educational institutions are going to change that unless the new graduates and their buddies are ready to build start-ups to wow the big guys. But I don't buy it; I think you learn best by doing the real thing in the real world. and I think the hot shot young guys in America smart enough to go against multinational research labs are going to be smart enough to find a game with better odds.
Posted by CompEng (201 comments )
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word problems
I say, and have been saying for years, that the problem with most math and science programs is the lack of applicability to real life. I remember in 3rd grade (about 8 years old), when word problems were introduced, everyone hated them but me. Why did I like them? Because they actually showed a use for math in the real world. You are presented with the problem and you have to figure out how to use what you have learned in a real world situation to solve the problem. How exciting!? But these were always assigned as "extra credit" for the "smart kids" to do. Shouldn't we engage everyone this way. Do you think someone who repairs cars for a living doesn't use (or could benefit from) the same problem solving techniques taught by such problems. Let kids figure out their own problems. Teach them how to solve their own problems.

And don't get me started on grade inflation. Most parents in the US (at least those in suburbia where I grew up) railed against teachers who didn't give their kids A's. That's BS. If you only do what the teacher requires of you (this is coming more from a Creative Writing/English background) you should only get a C. Only students who go above and beyond deserve B's and A's. There's no shame in C's. You did what was required.

Instead we get people going to college and expecting straight A's just because they do the bare minimum. How can we say someone is at the top of their class just for doing the minimum. We should be challenging our students to go above and beyond. Not coddling them for just scraping by.
Posted by worsethannormal (52 comments )
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Attitudes need to be changed.
I'll bet US has more universities and colleges then any other foreign country and that we probably also have more graduates than any other country. The problem is the weak curriculum compounded by the culture of seeking easy money for the least amount of work. American culture cultivates the "get rich with no pain" schemes and glorifies the obscene excesses of the rich that presents to the young people that quality education and hard work is NOT related to being successful. There's not a minute on TV on some channel that doesn't have somebody telling us that we can be rich, no education necessary.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
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