Meanwhile, in the halls of Wadsworth, linoleum is cracked, the
ceilings are stained, and shouting students are shouted down by
louder teachers, in front of a sign that reads prominently, "Quiet
Please!" Many parents don't show up for meetings of the school's
management committee or for teacher conferences, and only a handful
have computers at home. Here among noise and confusion and peeling
paint, the New Economy seems very far away.
The information revolution has passed many U.S. schools by. While
office workers write the smallest of memos onscreen and allow
spreadsheets to calculate their expense accounts, teachers and
students still do much of their work with pencil, pen, and paper.
Math and science education, staples of the so-called New Economy
are still substandard in America, and U.S. engineering schools
produce so few graduates that high-tech companies routinely recruit
in India, Pakistan, and other overseas locations. Businesses are
frustrated with schools, and they don't mind talking about it.
As then-President-elect George W. Bush discovered when he convened
a January summit of high-tech executives to talk about the economy.
What he heard was an earful about education and the tech workforce.
"If we don't fix [the education system], the jobs will move to
where the best-educated workforce is in other countries," Cisco
Systems president John Chambers said after the Austin meeting. "It
won't be jobs in California versus North Caro-lina or Boston. It
will be jobs in the U.S. versus jobs in India, or jobs in Jordan,
or jobs in the U.K. And we believe we've got about a decade to fix
The numbers are daunting. One projection of near-term worker needs,
by Richard Judy of the Hudson Institute, suggests that 60 percent
of future jobs will require training that only 20 percent of
present U.S. workers possess. The fastest-growing occupations
through 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are
projected to be in technology and information management fields. At
the same time, while the number of students graduating from college
increased 24 percent since 1990, the number of graduates with
technology-related degrees declined 2 percent, and the number of
electrical engineering graduates dropped 37 percent. To make up the
shortfall, employer training budgets have risen steadily, topping
out at $62.5 billion in 1999 from $43.2 billion in 1991, according
to the National Alliance of Business.
Math and science education, always a laggard in the U.S., is
growing even more so. The most recent set of statistics from the
U.S. Department of Education shows that more than half of students
in other countries perform better in math and science than U.S.
students - and the numbers frighten Keith Bailey, chairman of the
National Alliance of Business. "American students have to be
competitive in an international setting," Bailey says.
"Globalization is very much a reality. There is no choice for
states and districts but to commit support, time, and resources to
[improving math and science education]."