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What About the Ceiling on our Nation’s Education Deficit?

In addition to our financial deficit as a nation, we have an education deficit in America that is further putting our future and economic prosperity as a nation in jeopardy.  We are moving deeper into a knowledge economy and information age where more and more good paying jobs are going to require advanced knowledge, degrees, etc.  The national education results that we are getting in our K-12 system per the amount of money we are spending are probably the worst in the world.  We need to fundamentally rethink and transform education in the United States to change this.  We have to get out of the mindset of “this is how we have in the past” and be open to entirely new models of learning and education for our youth as well as continuously globally benchmarking our spending on education versus results.  Below are just a couple of transformative ideas.:

1. Khan Academy – http://www.khanacademy.org/ .  It is a free educational internet platform that combines videos and over 2000 lessons in such areas as math, physics, finance, and history.  Participants can learn at their own pace, anytime, and all year round.  Participants are not limited by age to advance to more advanced lessons.   There are tutoring platforms around this and many other great features.  Again it is free, and as an example, Bill Gates kids are using it.

2. School Choice- If we as taxpayers spend around $10K per student per year in our K-12 public education system, we should give parents vouchers and give them the choice to take that $10K and send their kids to the best schools to give parents and families the highest educational return for our tax dollars that are spent.  This creates competition among schools that creates higher performance.   Juan Williams shares his perspective here mentioning this is the civil rights issue of our time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lYq2LE6SwM&feature=player_embedded .  I also applaud the work of American Federation for Children https://www.facebook.com/#!/SchoolChoiceNow who are working to push this effort.

3. Leverage Corporate Platforms – Corporate America has created many technology platforms, which educators can use for free, that offer a rich technology platform for lessons, storing work, global collaboration, etc.  Some examples include: Oracle –Thinkquest http://www.thinkquest.org/en/, Verizon  http://www.thinkfinity.org/ .  There are many other free learning platforms that are out there that are phenomenal.

Unfortunately, there will be no debt ceiling moment to highlight our education deficit and we risk a gradual education decline until we reach a point where global competitors (i.e., China, India) have distanced themselves so far from us educationally that we can no longer compete in this new world.

Above I offered just a couple of ideas of probably 1000s of other great ideas out there to help us transform our educational system.

What are your thoughts on the urgency by which the United States needs to transform its education system to better compete globally?

David Olivencia is an international business strategy, technology, and public policy executive with 20 years of diverse leadership experiences achieved via leadership roles within Global 300 organizations and prominent national non-profits. From a board leadership perspective, David currently serves on the Board of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business, is the Co-founder and President of HITEC (Hispanic IT Executive Council), and is on the Board of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute. David has been recognized with several awards and honors including: Hispanic Business Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Leaders in America, University of Notre Dame’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Crain’s Detroit 40 under 40, and HACR’s (www.hacr.org) Young Corporate Achiever Award. David earned his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (#1 US News and World Report), and his M.B.A. from the University Notre Dame (Cum Laude). David also completed the NACD and Harvard Business School Corporate Governance programs. David is proud husband and father of 3 children.

El Gob. Jeb Bush habla sobre el éxito de estudiantes hispanos

El sueño Americano – la promesa asumida de seguir la posibilidad de la prosperidad y el éxito – infunde a los individuos el deseo de hacerse responsable de su futuro, aplicarse, y buscar una vida plena. Una educación de calidad es el pasaje al sue¬ño Americano. Una educación de calidad prepara los estudiantes con los conocimientos y las destrezas para tener éxito con los estudios universitarios y sus carreras.

Los Estados Unidos han sido, tradicionalmente, un país de inmigrantes, y esta tendencia continúa hoy en día. En marzo, el Centro de Investigación de Pew informó sobre un viraje tremendo en el crecimiento demográfico de nuestra nación. Según el informe, las minorías étnicas y raciales componen 91.7 por ciento del crecimiento de los Estado Unidos entre 2000 y 2010.

Los hispanos – la minoría más grande de nuestro país – componen más que la mitad de este crecimiento. De hecho, el Censo de 2010 informa que los Hispanos constituyen 16.3 por ciento de la población de los Estados Unidos.

Cuando estos individuos y sus familias participan en sus comunidades e involucrase como ciudadanos, se hacen vecinos, colegas, líderes, y votantes. Sus contribuciones formarán nuestra nación. Como estos ciudadanos son una parte crucial de nuestra sociedad, proveer los hijos de estas familias con una educación de calidad es una inversión crítica.

Lamentablemente, por toda de nuestra nación demasiados estudiantes de minorías sacan resultados por debajo de sus pares en las pruebas estandarizadas. Estos estudiantes son víctimas de los mitos tan comunes de educación, las presunciones que dicen que el origen y la experiencia del estudiante, su código postal, o nivel del salario de sus padres deciden su habilidad de aprender. Pero esto es inaceptable; el destino de nuestro país depende en el éxito de todos los estudiantes.

Governor Jeb Bush Discusses Hispanic Student Success

The American dream – an unspoken promise to pursue the possibility of prosperity and success – inspires individuals to take responsibility for their future, work hard and seek a full life.  A quality education is the ticket to the American dream.  A quality education equips students with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and their careers.

America has traditionally been a country of immigrants, a trend that continues today.  In March, the Pew Research Center reported a tremendous shift in our nation’s population growth.  According to the report, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 91.7 percent of the United States’ growth between 2000 and 2010.

Hispanics – our nation’s largest minority group – accounted for more than half of that growth.  In fact, the 2010 Census reports that Hispanics comprise 16.3 percent of the U.S. population.

As these individuals and their families engage in their communities and involve themselves as citizens, they become neighbors, co-workers, leaders and voters.  Their contributions will shape our nation. As these citizens are a crucial part of our society, providing the children of these families with a quality education is a critical investment.

Sadly, throughout our nation, too many minority students score below their peers on standardized tests.  These students are victims of education myths – assumptions that a student’s background, zip code or parents’ salary level determines their ability to learn. But this is unacceptable; our nation’s destiny depends on the success of all students.

Solving Our Nation’s STEM Crisis

In my previous blog posts I discussed our nation’s education crisis especially in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  This is a multi-dimensional problem with no easy answers.  Below are some areas that we will need to focus on to fix the problem.

  • Increase Awareness/Education, we are in a Crisis- The first step to solving a crisis is to realize we are in a crisis. Our nation does not have a good understanding of the depth and breadth of our education crisis (especially in STEM fields) and the long term impacts this will have.
  • Fix National Education System- Over the years we have increased the amount of money we invest into our education system and in some cases invest nearly $10,000-$14,000 per student per year.  However, the outcomes and results have actually gotten worse compared to the rest of the world.  We need to strongly consider transforming the way we educate through leveraging technology and giving the parents in our communities the choice to spend this $10,000-$14,000 a year on the best school they can get their kids into.  The dropout rates in our urban communities are unacceptable and change needs to happen if we want to prosper in this century.
  • Measurement and Accountability- Who is accountable for increasing STEM graduation rates?  Is it the home/parents, local School Board, State Department of Education, or National Department of Education?  Who is accountable for the measuring and continuous improvement?  If we are going to be serious about improving STEM education, measurement and accountability will be vital.

In Defense of Self-Interest

Atlas Shrugged is a novel by Ayn Rand written and published in the Fifties. According to the Associated Content (from Yahoo)[1] this 1,075 page book is the most influential novel of our time. The main argument strongly defended in this novel is that businessmen searching for profit are the motor that keeps the economy alive. This defense of self-interest has brought controversy and debate during its more than 50 years of existence.

The creation of key characters helps the author demonstrate how rational business activity is and how natural self-interest turns out to be in every aspect of life. In the book, profit is the motivation for which the main characters –businessmen– work arduously every day. By looking for their own profit, they not only benefit themselves but also contribute to the society as a whole by creating wealth, generating employment, and offering products and services to the public. Finally, the author argues how likely it is for government officials to chase their own benefit: they look for votes and laws that will favor them. This would not be reprehensible if government’s interest didn’t affect every individual in a society; but it does. In Rand’s perspective, government’s power can result in irreversible harm for entrepreneurs when the former make decisions affecting every business activity. Laws, taxes, and even subsidies coming from the government can be counterproductive to the ones moving the economy.

The movie based on Rand’s novel will be released in 10 days. Hopefully it can be watched worldwide –naturally this will depend on how much money theaters’ owners expect to earn by releasing it, which is not reprehensible. Whether or not the world is able to watch it, Atlas shrugged is a highly recommended reading. Moreover, if you are a college undergraduate or a graduate student I suggest participating in the essay contest that the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) sponsors. Of course there is an attractive profit motivation of over $99,000 in prize money, which makes that thousands of students worldwide participate every year.

Rand died almost 40 years ago, but her philosophy still influences and inspires businessmen and academics. In today’s societies Rand’s perspective represents a convenient warning for those governments aiming to destroy businessmen incentives and discourage investment. The release of this movie can be a great opportunity to reflect how entrepreneurs’ profitable activities contribute positively to developed and developing nations.

Paola Ycaza has B.A. in Political Science and graduated with a B.A. in Economics (thesis pending). Currently she is working on her thesis on the Ecuadorian Pension System.

[1] “10 most influential novels of our time.” Associated Content from Yahoo. April 22nd, 2010

STEM Trends that are Driving a Crisis for America

In my last blog post I discussed the growing and accelerating demand for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) talent.   One thing that I did not mention is that if America wants to maintain its historic strong levels of growth, economic prosperity, and national security it is IMPERATIVE that we meet and exceed this STEM demand with a workforce educated in these fields.

We are in a global, flat, interconnected world where this demand for STEM talent can and will easily be supplied by other nations (China, India, Russia…) .  If this future supply of STEM talent comes from outside the U.S. it can put our nation on a downward spiral that produces less talent in this area, gives more economic prosperity to other nations, less prosperity to the U.S., less U.S. tax revenue, less investments in infrastructure and innovation, increasing threats from cyber-terrorism, and so on… as these outside and competing nations gain more momentum and strength in this digital world.

Some discouraging data points that highlight this crisis:

  1. We are falling behind at Elementary and Secondary STEM Education – “Despite our historical record of achievement, the United States now lags behind other nations in STEM education at the elementary and secondary levels. International comparisons of our students’ performance in science and mathematics consistently place the United States in the middle of the pack or lower. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than one-third of U.S. eighth graders show proficiency in mathematics and science.”*
  2. High School Drop-out Rates – The dropout rates in various cities across this country are a travesty.  Some major cities across the US have dropout rates as high as 50%.  Additionally, if one looks deeper within growth populations (i.e., Hispanics) and dropout rates within these growing populations, this trend does not get any better.  (Here is a link to some data from 2008).