National, Voluntary Standards to Improve Education

By August 16, 2007Education and Training

Smart column by Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, writing in the context of the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act.

President Bush just signed the America Competes Act, overwhelmingly approved by a bipartisan Congress pursuing a first-rate science and mathematics education for all children at a time when American youngsters lag behind many of their peers abroad. With the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act up for renewal, an essential next step is clear: Scrap the crazy-quilt pattern of wildly differing tests and proficiency thresholds that currently vary from state to state.

Revise NCLB to set voluntary nationwide education standards.

Science literacy is, after all, no longer merely a luxury for the gifted and wealthy, but in fact a baseline requirement for any student hoping to compete for jobs in the 21st century.

National standards are always a tough sell, politically. Conservatives resist what they see as educrats and self-styled progressives gaining a tool to impose moral relativism, and there are sound fiscal reasons for opposing the further federalization of education.

But … science is science, math is math, and from an employer’s standpoint, students should be gaining the same knowledge and skills whether they graduate from schools in St. Louis, Kingman or San Bernadino. Legislation designed to elevate standards through incentives — voluntary national standards — makes good sense, especially given the highly competitive, industrialized global economy we live in.

Leshner praises Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) for proposing the Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids Act, or SPEAK, calling for voluntary, nationwide standards in science and math. Those standards would be developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, with public input.

We share his positive assessment. NAM President John Engler participated in an event promoting the SPEAK Act held last January, sponsored by the New America Foundation. For details and a video of that event, please click here.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • James Murphy says:

    The America Competes Act is designed to promote the myth that there is a shortage American scientist and engineers. Employers need to promote this myth so that they can continue to layoff Americans who when they were elementary and middle school were good in math and science and replace them with much cheaper H-1Bs from the third world willing to accept low wages in return for a ticket to the front of the line for American citizenship.

    We have a several hundred year tradition of excellence in science and engineering that is put at risk, not by American student achievement, but by greedy corporations bent on giving away our technology through outsourcing and the import of H-1Bs.

    The American Competes Act is all about solving a problem that does not exist. If American student achievement score in mathematics and science are adjusted for the fact that we try to educate minorities and nobody else in the study does American students are behind only Singapore and not by much at that. All other countries expel any student not serious about their studies. We keep trying. The result is a decline in the average score of Americans when compared to the rest of the world.

    Even if this were not true, American science and engineering excellence has never depended on the skills of the average student anyway but rather the above average student. Average math and science skill has never been enough to get you into engineering school much less out with a degree.

    The problem is corporations seeking cheap foreign labor and willing to misrepresent the facts to get it.

    Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University says “…the problem isn’t the supply, it’s the demand…we have enough engineers and scientists. The problem is that the salaries aren’t there.

    Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified to Congress: “Simply producing more engineers and scientists may not be the answer because the labor market for those workers will simply reflect lower wages or, perhaps, greater unemployment for those — for those workers.”

    Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council says: “If you don’t have the jobs here because the industries aren’t here, because they have been sent overseas by our outsourcing-focused trade policies, it doesn’t matter how highly skilled our workers are. They’ll still be unemployed.”

    From both ends of the political spectrum thinkers reject the H-1B. On the right Nobel economist Milton Friedman called the H-1B a subsidy: “There is no doubt,” he said, “that the [H-1B] program is a benefit to their employers, enabling them to get workers at a lower wage, and to that extent, it is a subsidy.” On the left socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says: “What many of us have come to understand is that these H-1B visas are not being used to supplement the American workforce where we have shortages but, rather, H1-B visas are being used to replace American workers with lower cost foreign workers,”

    The American Competes Act is a solution to a problem that does not exist.

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