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Low-tech education means outsourced opportunity

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm with 2 Comments »
September 21, 2012 2:07 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Washington has a high-tech economy, low-tech students, and way too many graduates frozen out of high-paying jobs that require skills they never learned.

So says a new report from Change the Equation, a presidential initiative aimed at stepping up STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – education in the United States.

Change the Equation, a two-year-old nonprofit led by CEOs, assessed each state’s performance in producing engineers, blue-collar factory technicians, nurses, computer specialists and other professionals in tech-intensive fields.

This kind of survey almost always yields dismal findings, but let’s first hit a couple items of good news.

Since 2003, Washington’s eighth-graders have made some gains in math – modest, but it’s progress. The state has also opted to use the national Common Core standards in math, which promises to provide solid measurements of its students’ performance.

Otherwise, Change the Equation pretty much reaffirms something observers have been saying for years: Washington is not preparing most of its graduates for the 21st-century economy.

A couple of ratios sum it up. In this state, according to the report, there are 2.1 STEM jobs for every one unemployed STEM worker – but only one non-STEM job for every 3.7 unemployed non-STEM worker. Twice as many tech openings as tech-savvy job-seekers; nearly four times as many nontech job-seekers as nontech openings.

This might be excusable if the state of Washington were doing its part to give its youth the intellectual skills they need for the expanding technology sector.

It is not. The state’s voters and lawmakers are too comfortable with a status quo that forces employers to hire talent from out of state while relegating native Washingtonians to low-wage jobs or the unemployment lines.

Professor Edward Lazowska, a University of Washington computer scientist who helped found the UWT’s Institute of Technology, has pointed out that Washington ranks second in the nation in its dependence on workers with scientific skills.

Yet the state also ranks second – behind only California – in importing workers with at least a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field. And Washington is dead last in the rate of students enrolled in science-focused graduate programs.

The problem must be attacked from many angles. Washington’s K-12 establishment must get in step with national education reforms. More math and science teachers need actual degrees in math and science. Standards must be raised. Attitudes that hinder girls, blacks and Latinos must be dumped.

And yes, both the public schools and colleges need more money. To illustrate, the UW’s College of Engineering is turning away half of its qualified applicants, and its distinguished computer science program is turning away three-quarters.

Washington has been outsourcing individual opportunity and giving its own children cheap degrees that often lead nowhere. It doesn’t take a scientist to see the injustice of that.

Leave a comment Comments → 2
  1. Not so man years ago I heard a prominent state university president here in WA answer some questions after speaking at a luncheon. When asked why there are still primarily Liberal Arts being offered at state schools he responded with, “There will always be far greater demand for for Liberal arts than computer programmers.

    Personally I think the structure of our system is deeply flawed. What do you do with the tenured and distinguished, Computer Science Professor of Dead Computer Languages, you know him, ole Professor COBOL. Plus you have to keep upgrading the damn equipment every couple of years. Who has time for that?? The team is playing a home game Sunday. Did I tell you about the new stadium?

    We reward our supposed best and brightest with PhD’s, then pay them to pump out research papers and published works that few outside the medical community ever read. I am not even sure most medical studies get much attention outside of some news about a failed drug trial.

    Then we use part time faculty and graduate students without benefits and in most cases very poor pay to teach your kids.

    Anyone know what percentage of K-12 math teachers are qualified to teach math? I do, and you should. Don’t even dare to dream of Charter Schools in WA, the establishment is dead set against it!

    Sorry, I just don’t buy it that money is the problem.

  2. mahinaokeiki says:

    The answers should not come from the corporations unless they are asked for those answers.

    Top-down (we know better than you) corporate education reformers are best kept at a distance.

    Making corporations happy is low on my TO DO list.

    Let’s educate our students for local businesses and local opportunities. Let’s sustain OUR economy. Let’s secure our place in the global economy without bending over backwards to make the corporations happy.

    Most importantly, here’s what we want to prepare our children for: student loans and enormous amounts of debt. Are we encouraging students to complete college only to find there are no jobs waiting for them? Let’s not mislead our young people by preparing them for something they may not want.

    You may believe the goal is to fill ‘tech openings,’ while I believe that, if they needed to be filled, they could be filled by capable people who haven’t gone into debt and may not have earned earned a few more letters to write next to their names.

    The tech industry (corporate education reformers) create a need, trying to convince you that you have to have that new version of the iPad or the latest release of the Office software. If what you have is working, then they make you believe it isn’t. It is not what is in your best interest or in the student’s best interest. It is what is in THEIR best interest that they care about.

    For example, if it really, truly mattered to the company that a pool of students are ‘frozen’ out of high paying jobs…. then the companies would simply make it possible for the candidates or new hires are trained to take on those jobs to ensure they obtain the necessary skills.

    After all, they are hiring people and hopefully INVESTING in them.

    They would not be hiring “the skills”.

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