Hanushek, Woessmann and Peterson in Education Next: Help nation’s best and brightest compete with the world

From the conclusion of an article in the latest issue of Education Next:

The economic and technological demand for a talented, well-educated, highly skilled population has never been greater. Not only must everyday workers have a set of technical skills surpassing those needed in the past, but a cadre of highly talented professionals trained to the highest level of accomplishment is needed to foster innovation and growth. In the words of President Barack Obama, “Whether it’s improving our health or harnessing clean energy, protecting our security or succeeding in the global economy, our future depends on reaffirming America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in math, science, technology, and engineering.”

Unfortunately, the United States trails other industrialized countries in bringing a large proportion of its students up to the highest levels of accomplishment. This is not a story of some states doing well but being dragged down by states that perform poorly. Nor is it a story of immigrant or disadvantaged or minority students hiding the strong performance of better-prepared students. Comparatively small percentages of white students are high achievers. Only a small proportion of the children of our college-educated population is equipped to compete with students in a majority of OECD countries.

Major policy initiatives within the United States have in recent years focused on the educational needs of low-performing students. Such efforts deserve commendation, but they can leave the impression that there is no similar need to enhance the education of those students the STEM coalition has called “the best and brightest.” Yet, with rapidly advancing technologies in an increasingly integrated world economy, no one doubts the extraordinary importance of highly accomplished professionals.

Admittedly, the United States could simply ignore the needs of its own young people and continue to import highly skilled scientists and engineers who were prepared by better-performing schools abroad. But even such a heartless, irresponsible strategy relies on both the nature of immigration policies and the absence of better opportunities abroad, two things on which we might not want the future to depend. It seems much more prudent to encourage the most capable of our own people to reach high levels of academic accomplishment.

 

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