Russ Carroll said:
Norman R. Augustine:
"Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don't improve."
Because of the twisty path of my career, I attended Purdue from 1979-83 and the Colorado School of Mines from 1999-03. Mines is a top-rated engineering/technology school. The other freshmen at Mines were scary smart. It seemed to me that they were working in Calculus and Physics at much more than a year beyond where I was in 1979, they were maybe even farther ahead.
I confirmed this observation with a couple of professors. In their opinion, the preparedness of the best US high school students was significantly superior to the preparedness of the top kids in past generations. These same professors acknowledged that the preparedness of the bottom half had fallen dramatically
. They were happy to get the best and brightest.
Now, another decade later, in 2011 I have two kids in a challenge program (IB) at a public high school. The amount of work they do in each subject absolutely blows away what I did in high school.
Based upon these data points, I am pretty sure that the top shelf US kids in science and engineering are doing fine. Therefore I don't think the USA is going to run out of engineers and doctors etc. Getting into college is more competitive than ever. There are only so many slots available for engineers, scientists and doctors in the economy anyway, and I do not believe that the data shows any shortage of applicants for the available college slots and career positions.
So, you are asking, what is my point?
1. I think that those who are in panic mode about US competitiveness in science and engineering should take a look at the graduates from our science and engineering schools. They would see high quality students going in and coming out. We have enough high quality grads to fill the available positions. I would argue that the comparison of our overall 4th grade math scores to Singapore is semi-irrelevant except for shock value.
2. None of this changes the fact that the bottom half is educationally in trouble. This is a big time social problem. What is the under-educated group going to do for careers? Manufacturing and heavy industry are going or gone. Is service the answer? I don't know. Either we or the market has to figure this one out though, for the stability of the country.