Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How far away is our "Sputnik" moment? Well, it depends...

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama underscored the importance of  American innovation as the first step in "winning our future."   "What we can do--what America does better than anyone else," he stated, "is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living."   This moment in time, he declared, is "our generation's 'Sputnik' moment."

Ironically, the President's declaration was made just days after Education Week published an article about how poorly US students performed on the science National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  NAEP is also known as "the nation's report card."   The report revealed that  most students are not performing at a level deemed "proficient" in science and that 12th graders posted the weakest scores compared with their elementary and middle-level peers.   In fact, forty percent of  twelfth graders scored below basic.  Yes, the same twelfth graders who we send to college, with the hope that they will be capable of creating "the next best thing."

It is impossible to move forward and backward at the same time.  Something has to give.  The sweeping advancements we want made in laboratories will not occur if we don't make sweeping advancements in classrooms first.  If not, the conversation will make a drastic shift from "how" we compete to "if" we can compete while the rest of the world passes us by.

The President went on to say, "Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids. Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –as citizens, and as parents –are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed."

Well said, Mr. President.   Count me in.

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