We must improve America’s education

I received e-mail from an airplane pilot following my recent article on the adverse impact of the lack of adequate education in math and science on the employment opportunities of our young people. The writer forwarded an article from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association warning of another potential future employment crisis for the same reasons.

Chuck Drury
Chuck Drury

The article reported on a presentation that Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services, made at the March 10 International Women in Aviation conference in Dallas, Texas. She said that the aviation industry would be faced with a serious challenge of attracting and training young people to work in the industry.It is estimated that more than 1 million qualified people will be needed as pilots and aircraft maintenance technicians over the next 20 years. Here again, the problem will be a shortage of young people with adequate training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This means that most of our young people will not be able to qualify for these jobs. Also, according to a recent report “U.S. Education Reform and National Security” by the Council on Foreign Relations, the weaknesses in American education may well imperil our future national security.

That report found that we are not producing adults with the necessary language, math and science skills to ensure American leadership in the 21st century. It also concluded that many schools no longer teach the basic civics that prepares students for proper citizenship.

The task force concluded that a strong K-12 education is necessary for individuals to succeed in life, for the United States to defend itself and to thrive in a global environment. Foreign language training is also becoming increasingly important, as we must compete in the world economy. The entire report can be downloaded online for those who are interested.

According to the report, American students rank far below those in Finland, South Korea and Shanghai. Canada, New Zealand and Japan also surpassed our 15 year olds in reading, math and science in 2009 on the Program for International Student Assessment tests. U.S. students ranked 14th in reading, 25th in math and 17th in science among industrialized nations. Top students in the U.S. would not be considered top students elsewhere in the world. Other nations are rapidly advancing as we struggle to catch up.

Sixty-three percent of life science and aerospace firms already report a shortage of qualified workers. Seventy-five percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 are found unfit for the military. This is because they are physically unfit, have criminal records or inadequate education. Thirty percent of high school graduates do not have enough mathematics, science or English to pass the Armed Services Vocation Aptitude Battery test criteria.

Many of our public schools have stopped teaching civics and citizenship. Only about a quarter of our students are proficient in this area. This leaves our students without the knowledge of our national history, values and traditions. Most 12th-graders do not know how laws are passed nor understand the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Only 21 percent of eighth-graders test proficient in civics.

Our K-12 schools are not preparing graduates for college work. A recent report by ACT (American College Testing) stated that only 22 percent of those taking the college entrance exam were “college ready” in mathematics, reading, English and science. The U.S. Department of Education reported that about 40 percent of college students had to take remedial courses to attempt to learn what they failed to get in high school. Students in remedial courses are 41 percent more likely to drop out of college.

The U.S. has had about 40 percent of our population that has graduated from college for several decades. That was the highest percentage for industrialized countries for many years. Data from 2008 shows that we continue to remain at about 40 percent for those who are 25-34 years of age. However, there were now nine other countries with a higher percentage of college graduates in this age bracket. South Korea, Canada and Japan now all lead with well over 50 percent college graduates in their populations.

It may come as a surprise that most employers in surveys and interviews indicate that the same skills that a student was supposed to learn in school 50 or 100 years ago are still those needed for jobs in the 21st century. They must be able to write and speak clearly and persuasively, be able to solve problems and think critically, and have the ability to work independently and in teams. The difference is that far more workers than ever before will be needed with these skills to do the jobs in the future.

Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company. He currently owns a consulting firm in explosives and ammunition research and development, safety, testing and manufacturing.

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