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 this."
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]."