Straight A’s: Public Education Policy and Progress: Volume 10, No. 18
FROM GATHERING STORM TO CATEGORY 5: Five Years After Rising Above the Gathering Storm, U.S. Competitive Position Has Declined Further, Report Finds
Despite efforts made by those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America’s ability to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the last five years and, absent a sustained investment in education and basic research, the United States could continue to slip further. That is the conclusion of the committee that prepared the 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future in response to a request by a bipartisan group of members of Congress.
“The Gathering Storm effort once again finds itself at a tipping point,” said Norman R. Augustine, coauthor of a new report and chair of the original Gathering Storm committee. “Addressing America’s competitiveness challenge is an undertaking that will require many years, if not decades.”
The original report, which was published and prepared by the National Academies, makes four recommendations that federal policymakers could do to enhance science and technology and improve the United States’s ability to successfully compete in the twenty-first century: (1) move the United States K–12 education system in science and mathematics to a leading position by global standards; (2) double the real federal investment in basic research in mathematics, the physical sciences, and engineering over the next seven years; (3) encourage more United States citizens to pursue careers in mathematics, science, and engineering; and (4) rebuild the competitive ecosystem by introducing reforms in the nation’s tax, patent, immigration, and litigation policies.
The new report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, credits Congress for passing the America COMPETES Act, which authorized many recommendations from the original Gathering Storm report, and enacted a stimulus bill that increased funding for K–12 education, provided scholarships for future math and science teachers, and funded research on energy. At the same time, however, the new report notes that the America COMPETES Act was specified to expire in Fiscal Year 2010 and funding from the stimulus bill is almost gone. Additionally, the national debt has grown from $8 trillion to $13 trillion over the last five years, while other nations have continued to improve their standing, affecting America’s ability to compete for new factories, research laboratories, and jobs.
Given this tough fiscal environment, the new report acknowledges that additional investments will be “extremely difficult,” but it also points out that future consequences in terms of unemployment and related costs will likely be even larger. “In the judgment of the National Academies Gathering Storm committee, failure to support a strong competitiveness program will have dire consequences for the nation as a whole as well as for its individual citizens,” the report reads.
Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited notes that the United States has remained relatively strong in the global economy largely because of past investments made in decades past such as the G.I. Bill and post-Sputnik actions to strengthen science and technology. However, it warns that the continued existence of these assets is not guaranteed and, in many cases, these assets are “subject to atrophy.” It adds that most of the nation’s competitiveness measures have trended flat or in a negative direction in recent years.
The report warns of three new factors that have emerged over the last five years that are particularly significant for the United States. First, rapidly rising debt means that the United States has decreased financial wherewithal to address the competitiveness challenge. As the report points out, the funds needed over the long-term to implement and sustain the original Gathering Storm recommendations will now be substantially more difficult to obtain and sustain with the deficit running at 9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and a national debt officially projected to reach $16 trillion by 2020.
Second, not all nations have suffered equally from the recent financial meltdown, especially China, India, and Brazil, where GDP grew at an average rate of 11 percent, 8.6 percent, and 4.5 percent, respectively between 2005 and 2008, the report finds. Consequently, these nations were able to make investments in research and development, as well as higher education, while the United States fell behind. In fact, a recent report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation recently indicates that the United States ranks last of forty countries and regions studied in “making progress on innovation and competitiveness.”
Finally, while America is still blessed with a disproportionate share of the world’s best universities, other nations are quickly catching up, the report notes. At the same time, these other nations are placing an extraordinarily high priority on higher education while universities in the United States are seeing their budgets cut as states struggle with large budget deficits. “Given this demanding environment, a number of other countries are seizing the opportunity to attract United States-educated faculty ‘superstars’ from United States universities where they are now employed,” the report reads. “United States universities, for the first time since World War II, are thus faced with a serious—and increasing—competition for talent from abroad.”
Even facing these huge challenges, the United States’s ability to innovate could help maintain or possibly even enhance its citizens’ future standard of living, the report notes. That too, however, is becoming more of a challenge as universities and industrial firms alike are building research facilities outside of the United States because costs are lower, but facilities are excellent and the talent pool is abundant. Therefore, if the nation is to compete, it must preserve an adequate supply of scientists and engineers who can perform creative, imaginative, leading-edge work.
“The Gathering Storm is looking ominously like a Category 5,” the report concludes, “and, as the nation has so vividly observed, rebuilding from such an event is far more difficult than preparing in advance to withstand it.”
The complete report is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12999.html.
PREPARE AND INSPIRE: President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Offers Recommendations on Improving K–12 STEM Education
A new report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) argues that the nation must inspire all students to learn science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and motivate many of these students to pursue STEM careers in order to ensure that America is a leader in STEM education in the coming decades. The report, Prepare and Inspire: K–12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future, offers a strategy for how the federal government can meet these goals and respond to the “tremendous challenges and historic opportunities” that currently face the nation.
“The success of the United States in the 21st century—its wealth and welfare—will depend on the ideas and skills of its population,” the report reads. “These have always been the nation’s most important assets. As the world becomes increasingly technological, the value of these national assets will be determined in no small measure by the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in the United States.”
In examining the nation’s problems with STEM, the report finds both a proficiency problem and an interest problem. The proficiency problem—represented by American students’ lower scores on international tests in science and math and low proficiency rates in math and science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress—is more well-known; the interest problem is not. According to the report, high-achieving African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and women lack interest in and have been gravitating away from science and engineering toward other professions. It argues that the United States must devote considerable attention and resources to all of its highest-achieving and highest-ability students from across all groups, even as it focuses on low-performing students.
Even schools that are generally successful in educating their students often fall short in STEM fields, the report notes. Often these schools lack teachers who know how to teach science and mathematics effectively, and who know and love their subject well enough to inspire their students. Additionally, teachers lack adequate support, including appropriate professional development as well as interesting and intriguing curricula, while school systems lack tools for assessing progress and rewarding success. “As a result, too many American students conclude early in their education that STEM subjects are boring, too difficult, or unwelcoming, leaving them ill-prepared to meet the challenges that will face their generation, their country, and the world,” the report reads.
In addition to its proficiency and interest problems, the nation has historically lacked a coherent strategy and sufficient leadership capacity for K–12 STEM education, the report argues. In addition, it finds that relatively little federal funding has historically been targeted toward “catalytic efforts” with the potential to transform STEM education. At the same time, too little attention has been paid to replication and scale-up to disseminate proven programs widely, and too little capacity at key agencies has been devoted to strategy and coordination.
Even facing these challenges, the nation has great strengths on which it can draw, according to the report. First, the United States has the most vibrant and productive STEM community in the world thanks to its colleges and universities, start-up and large companies, and science-rich institutions such as museums and science centers. Second, a growing body of research has illuminated how children learn about STEM, making it possible to devise more effective instructional materials and teaching strategies. Finally, there is a clear bipartisan consensus that has emerged on the need for education reform in general and the importance of STEM education in particular.
The report also praises the state-led Common Core State Standards Initiative for establishing clear, consistent, and higher standards for mathematics and English language arts education in grades K–12 that can be shared across states. It notes that there is also “considerable interest” in the adoption of similar standards for science, which are essential for improving STEM education. Clear, shared standards for science and math would help all actors in the system set and achieve goals.
To bring its two-pronged strategy of “prepare and inspire” to fruition, the report offers five recommendations:
Improve Federal coordination and leadership on STEM education.
Support the state-led movement to ensure that the nation adopts a common baseline for what students learn in STEM.
Cultivate, recruit, and reward STEM teachers who prepare and inspire students.
Create STEM-related experiences that excite and interest students of all backgrounds.
Support states and school districts in their efforts to transform schools into vibrant STEM learning environments.
The council believes that many of its recommendations can be carried out with existing federal funding and through existing programs, although it acknowledges that new authorities may be required in certain cases. Fully funding the recommendations could cost up to approximately $1 billion per year—only 2 percent of the total federal spending on K–12 education.
The complete report is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-stemed-report.pdf.
NEW COLLEGE BOARD REPORT SHOWS HOW EDUCATION PAYS IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
A new report from College Board details the personal, financial, and lifetime benefits for students who obtain a higher education degree. Education Pays 2010: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society also looks at the benefits to the community and shows how college graduates are less likely to rely on social support programs and more likely to be active citizens and lead healthy lifestyles.
The release of the report is timely considering the recent headlines that have questioned the value of a college degree. For example, check out stories in the Washington Post, USA Today, and Time magazine. Recognizing this public sentiment, the introduction of the report reads, “Journalists tell compelling stories of students who borrow large sums of money only to find that they are ill-equipped to complete their studies, or who graduate from college and are unable to find appropriate employment. It is no surprise that these stories exist; they are real and they are painful. But frequently, these stories are used to convey the notion that the costs of a postsecondary degree outweigh the benefits, and for most people this simply is not true.”
As the graph to the right illustrates, the median earnings of bachelor degree recipients was $55,700 in 2008, compared to $42,000 for associate degree recipients, $33,800 for high school graduates, and $24,300 for high school dropouts.
The report also finds that individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to have earnings and to work full time and year round. For example, 80 percent of college graduates ages twenty-five and older had earnings in 2008 and 60 percent were full-time, year-round workers. Among high school graduates in the same age range, only 63 percent had earnings and 44 percent worked full time and year round.
Even though a number of students who enroll in college never earn a degree, the report shows that they are still better off than had they never enrolled at all. In 2008, individuals with some college education but no degree still earned 17 percent more than high school graduates did. The report authors are clear that while the median return to each additional year of postsecondary schooling is significant, the payoff for earning a college credential is the highest.
Compared to a decade ago, the financial returns linked to higher levels of educational attainment have steadily increased among men and women. In 1998, the median earnings for women ages twenty-five to thirty-four with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 60 percent higher than the median earnings for women with a high school diploma; in 2008, it was 79 percent higher. For males, the difference in earnings was 54 percent in 1998 and 74 percent ten years later.
The report also looks at the price of higher education relative to earnings premium and finds that over the long run, bachelor degree recipients are much better off financially than are their counterparts without a degree. Compared to a high school graduate, the typical four-year college graduate who enrolled at age eighteen has earned enough by age thirty-three to compensate for being out of the labor force for the four years and for borrowing the full amount required to pay tuition and fees without any grant assistance.
“If it wasn’t clear before, it should be abundantly clear now that a college graduate is far more competitive in today’s workplace,” said College Board President Gaston Caperton. “What’s most disturbing is that noncollege graduates are losing ground on salary and employment, a trend that validates the soundness of an investment in a college education.”
Education Pays 2010 finds that although there were fewer people employed at all levels of education at the beginning of 2009 than there were at the beginning 2008, there was a recovery by early 2010 for four-year college graduates only. In the first quarter of 2010, 82 percent of male and 73 percent of female, four-year college graduates were in the labor force compared with 72 percent of male and 53 percent of female high school graduates.
The report authors also explain the direct and indirect benefits to society when citizens have access to postsecondary education. For example, in 2008, 8 percent of high school graduates ages twenty-five and older lived in households that relied on the Food Stamp Program, compared to just over 1 percent of students with at least a bachelor’s degree. This trend was very similar for the National School Lunch Program. In terms of average lifetime savings in taxpayer spending on social support programs associated with U.S.-born individuals earning a college degree instead of just a high school degree, they range from $32,600 for white women to $108,700 for black males.
“Education pays out more than dollars,” said Sandy Baum, an independent policy analyst for College Board and coauthor of the report. “If you have a college degree, you are more likely to exercise, volunteer, vote, and read to your kids, and less likely to be obese or smoke. According to the data, people’s level of education profoundly affects both the financial and non-financial aspects of their lives.”
To read the full report, visit http://trends.collegeboard.org/files/Education_Pays_2010.pdf.
“College Grads Expand Lead in Job Security”
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal profiles two former high school classmates, who, fifteen years later, are facing two very different working lives. The first classmate, Tremell Sinclair, was laid off from his forklift-driving job last year and only just found a new one—at a 46 percent lower salary. The second, Phyllis Sellars, kept her white-collar job, recently landing a pay raise. The difference? Sellars went to college; Sinclair did not.
As the article points out, individuals with college degrees not only earn more than those without degrees do, they are also far more likely to keep their jobs when times get tough. It notes that the unemployment rate for workers ages twenty-five and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.6 percent in August, compared to 10.3 percent for those with just a high-school diploma. The current 5.7 percentage-point gap is more than double the 2.6 percentage-point gap from December 2007 when the recession began.
Even when college graduates are laid off, they tend to find work faster than their noncollege educated peers. According to the article, the median duration of unemployment for college graduates was 18.4 weeks as of August, compared with 27.5 weeks for high school graduates. Three years ago, the article notes, that figure was roughly the same for both groups—9.5 weeks and 9.6 weeks, respectively. Among the worst-off workers ages twenty-five and older, of the 5.2 million who have been out of work six months or more, only 19 percent are those who graduated from college, even though that group makes up one third of the work force.
CROSSING THE BRIDGE: New Report Studies Postsecondary Outcomes of GED Recipients
A new report from GED Testing Service® reveals that individuals who take and pass the GED test are twice as likely to enroll in postsecondary education as individuals who fail the GED test. However, the report, Crossing the Bridge: GED Credentials and Postsecondary Educational Outcomes, also finds that only 12 percent of those who pass the test ultimately graduate from a postsecondary program.
“Crossing the Bridge provides crucial insight into the extended path GED graduates follow to enroll in and complete postsecondary credentials,” said Daphne Atkinson, deputy executive director for GED Testing Service. “Although there is much work to be done to increase the number of GED test passers who successfully earn postsecondary credentials, this research is an indicator of the capacity of adults to pass the GED test and attain the postsecondary credentials necessary to earn a sustainable living wage.”
The report is the first from a three-year longitudinal study by the American Council on Education (ACE) to understand the effects of a GED credential on postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion. Crossing the Bridge includes the latest data available from a group of GED candidates who took the test in 2003.
According to the report, 43 percent of individuals who took and passed the GED in 2003 had enrolled in postsecondary education by September 2009. While that number is twice the enrollment rate for individuals who fail the GED, it still trails high school graduates, approximately 64 percent of whom enrolled in postsecondary education.
When choosing colleges, GED passers prefer two-year colleges, with 77 percent enrolling in a two-year college, compared to 22 percent who enroll in a four-year college. Among high school graduates, the percentages of those enrolling in two- and four-year colleges is more equal, with 48 percent enrolling in four-year colleges and 44 percent enrolling in two-year colleges.
Once enrolled in a postsecondary program, most GED test passers struggle to stay in the program and very few ultimately complete the program. According to the report, only half of GED passers who enrolled in a postsecondary program returned for a second semester, and only 12 percent had graduated from a postsecondary program by September 2009.
The complete report is available at http://bit.ly/cuz0cA.
Straight A’s: Public Education Policy and Progress is a biweekly newsletter that focuses on education news and events in Washington, DC and around the country. The format makes information on federal education policy accessible to everyone from elected officials and policymakers to parents and community leaders. The Alliance for Excellent Education is a national policy and advocacy organization that works to improve national and federal policy so that all students can achieve at high academic levels and graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship in the twenty-first century. To receive a free subscription to Straight A's, visit http://www.all4ed.org/what_you_can_do and add your name to our mailing list.