Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa, a Triangle-based entrepreneur, is now an executive in residence at Duke University and is a fellow at the Harvard Law School. He writes a column for BusinessWeek online, which granted permission to reprint a portion of his commentary. Wadhwa and fellow researchers have written extensively about engineer graduation rates in the U.S., India and China as well as the ongoing U.S. debate about immigration policies toward engineers and scientists.
DURHAH – Political leaders, tech executives, and academics often claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science education. They cite poor test results, declining international rankings, and decreasing enrollment in the hard sciences. They urge us to improve our education system and to graduate more engineers and scientists to keep pace with countries such as India and China.
Yet a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, tells a different story. The report disproves many confident pronouncements about the alleged weaknesses and failures of the U.S. education system. This data will certainly be examined by both sides in the debate over highly skilled workers and immigration (BusinessWeek.com, 10/10/07). The argument by Microsoft , Google, Intel, and others is that there are not enough tech workers in the U.S.
The authors of the report, the Urban Institute’s Hal Salzman and Georgetown University professor Lindsay Lowell, show that math, science, and reading test scores at the primary and secondary level have increased over the past two decades, and U.S. students are now close to the top of international rankings. Perhaps just as surprising, the report finds that our education system actually produces more science and engineering graduates than the market demands.
Junior Scientists on the Rise
These findings go against what has been the dominant position about our education system and our science and engineering workforce. Consider reports on national competitiveness that policymakers often turn to, such reports as the 2005 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" by the National Academy of Sciences. This report says the U.S. is in dire straits because of poor math and science preparation. The report points to declining test scores, fewer students taking math and science courses, and low-quality curriculums and teacher preparation in K-12 education compared to other countries.
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