This is an excellent brief overview of the crucial problems in American education by Ed Lazowska, a computer scientist and engineer at the University of Washington who also served on an advisory committee under GW Bush. From his first hand view, he does not seem kindly disposed towards Republican policies in science.
Presidential scientific advisory committees have been politicized. I have seen this firsthand. The general denigration of science emanating from the White House, and the near completee failure of the President’s Science Advisor, Jack Marburger, to speak out, is poisonous. Right here in Seattle, consider the Discovery Institute and its “intelligent design.” (“Faith-based science” is not what made this nation the world’s leader.) Think about our immigration policy. This nation became the world’s leader by welcoming the best and the brightest from all nations, but today we have a devil of a time getting foreign students into UW, or hiring faculty who are foreign nationals; foreign students who are educated here are “sent back where they came from” upon graduation rather than being retained to grow the technological base of our nation.
We’re rotting from the top down and the bottom up, I fear. We’ve got a fantastic university system that ranks highly in the world community, but we’ve got a political leadership that sees science as something that gets in the way, a K-12 educational system that is being starved, and a populace that is encouraged to wallow in superstition and buy more Big Macs. This is not a stable situation. And here’s one big worry, one that Lazowska is describing from a Washington state perspective, but that applies everywhere.
Obviously, there is a huge pipeline issue. Eighty-five percent of our undergraduates in UW computer science and engineering are from Washington state, and they are mind-blowingly good. But that’s only about 150 students a year. Kids, by and large, don’t come out of K-12 prepared or inspired to pursue careers in science and engineering. Take a guess — what’s the fastest growing undergraduate major in the U.S. today? “Parks, recreation, and leisure” — preparing people for the booming Alaska tour-boat industry. At the higher-ed level, did you know that Washington ranks 49th among the 50 states in the participation rate in public bachelor’s education? God bless Mississippi! At the same time, we rank fifth in community college participation rate. Our higher education system is oriented toward a manufacturing economy.
I don’t entirely understand why parents aren’t screaming bloody murder about an educational system that isn’t preparing their kids appropriately before they get sent off to a public college that’s going to cost them $15-20,000 dollars a year, but they aren’t. We get these bright, enthusiastic students who don’t know basic algebra and suffer in college, and end up struggling their way to some vague, general degree at best. There is so much potential being thrown away, or made to idle in years of poor education directed only at getting the kids to pass some boring NCLB-mandated test, and you can’t help but feel that Americans want it this way.
(via Dave Neiwert)