Can the United States Be Competitive?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I am personally worried about the long-term competitiveness of the United States on the world stage. This is a topic I posted on in 2006, and from what I have seen, things have not gotten any better in the four years since. While you will find few people any more hopeful for the continued greatness of our nation than I am, I do believe we have reason to be concerned for the future.

In December 2010, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of its 2009 Program for International Assessment (PISA) test. The PISA test is administered to thousands of 15-year-old students in 65 different countries around the world, and results are provided in three areas: science, math, and reading.

Unfortunately, the results were not good for the United States, and they underscore the need for us to pay much greater attention to the education of our young people, particularly in the areas of science and math.

In the area of science, the United States ranked 23rd on the PISA test with a score of 502, well below Finland (554), Hong Kong, China (549), Singapore (542), Japan (539), Korea (538), and New Zealand (532), and just one point above the average score on this subject area of 501. Number 1 on the test? Shanghai, China with a score of 575.

And when it came to math, the United States fared even worse, ranking 32rd on the PISA test with a score of 487. This score was 10 points below the average score of the 65 participating countries (497). Number 1 was again Shanghai, China with a score of 600, followed by Singapore (562), Hong Kong, China (555), Korea (546), Taiwan (543), and Finland (541). Even former Eastern Bloc countries such as Estonia (512), Slovakia (497), and Hungary (490) outscored us in math.

If there was any good news to be had from the PISA test, it was in the area of reading, where the U.S. had its best performance, ranking 17th with a score of 500, which was above the average score of 494. Shanghai, China again captured 1st place with a score of 556, followed by Korea (539), Finland (536), Hong Kong, China (533), Singapore (526), Canada (524), and New Zealand (521).

These results echo the reports I have seen for some time now that we are falling behind much of the world in the areas of math and science. This does not bode well for the future, especially since our economy is moving from relatively low-skilled manufacturing jobs to much higher-skilled knowledge jobs. What if there aren’t enough Americans to fill the future needs of our technology sector? Where will we find these vital employees if our schools and communities aren’t producing them?

Many people are diligently working to devise solutions to this problem, but I don’t see any magic bullets on the horizon. What do you think we should do about it?

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I would like to remind those of you who have Facebook accounts that I am now on Facebook too. Here is the link to my page. My blog posts show up automatically on my Facebook page soon after I post them.

— Bob