Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trickle Down Education

I have never been one of those who keeps careful records, and when it comes to something about which you care a lot, while you may not always recall precise dates, you certainly don't forget that you have feelings about the subject and have voiced them.

Such is the case with the post you see below which I came across the other day when I was trying to clean up folders to create a bit more space.  As I read through it again, I was both encouraged and discouraged at the same time.

Encouraged because the subject of putting some real effort into rejuvenating public education and getting it back on track actually appears like it might be getting our attention.  Pols from both parties are starting to talk about it a fair amount and for sure business leaders are raising their voices too.  Look what Bill Gates is trying to do about it.

I was discouraged because Friedman and others have been banging this drum to make this a national priority for a long, long time, and here we are six years later and not much has happened. 

I know as a country we have more challenges to deal with than as they used to say "Carter's got pills" but I can't think of a single challenge that if we were to make it a top priority would do more to benefit our country than fixing public education.  It touches us all.
A colleague here in the office gave me some plane reading last week as I was on my way to a conference in Chicago. It was a copy of a recent the NY Times magazine that comes with the Sunday paper. Tom Friedman had an article in it called The World is Flat. Pretty powerful stuff. Essentially he laid out the challenge facing our country if we are to remain competitive in a world which (thanks to cyber communication) has removed the barriers to the application of intellectual horsepower.
His point is that if we as a country (and that really means we as a business community) don't really get behind a genuine, consolidated effort to push up the educational standards soon, we are in big, big trouble. As he points out, by the time our students get through the 12th grade, they are last in the educational rankings of all the industrialized countries. Not a happy list to be on to say the least.

When you look at the achievement level of students coming out of the educational system in places like China, South Korea, and India, particularly as it relates to math, the sciences, and engineering, and then superimpose the degree to which they outnumber the U.S. in population, the issue seems pretty clear. Just to give you an idea, in China, he says, there are already more people using cell phones than the population of the U.S.

Bottom line, Friedman's point is that in the not too distant future, if we don't get things fixed in this arena, it isn't just going to say Made in China, etc., it will say "Designed in China."

I think he's right.  [Posted: April 18, 2005]

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