Monday, April 14, 2008

The Alleged Engineering Shortfall

This morning's Wall Street Journal op-ed page Notable & Quotable section contained an interesting excerpt from education reporter Jay Matthews' current Wilson Quarterly article on US schools and the US economy.

It's no secret that American schools are not producing as many top-rated engineers, mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists and the like as our economy requires. However, Matthews points out that perhaps our statistics on the engineering gap are, dare I say it, more evidence of our problem with math.

Article after article (and the US Dept of Education) has noted that China turns out 600,000 engineers a year, and India 350,000. The US? Just 70,000. However, the China numbers come from the China Statistical Yearbook, a government publication which seems to be exaggerating. As Matthews notes, a later McKinsey Global Institute report found that about half of those engineers would be considered mere technicians in the US. The 350,000 in India figure -- originally calculated by Fortune magazine -- has not been reproduced, and the NSF claims it's likely lower.

A 2005 Duke report, apparently, found that the US graduates 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor's degree a year. India cranks out 112,000, and China 351,537. Yes, that Chinese number is higher, but China's population is well over three times that of the US. A Washington Post article quoted educational psychologist Gerald W. Bracey as saying that "That's more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation."

The point is not that the US shouldn't be concerned about our supply of engineers. My guess is that American colleges are cranking out more "recreation" or "leisure" studies majors than top-notch engineering graduates.

But those of us who write about education should be careful not to use hyperbole when we don't need to. The truth is, a lot of the talk about losing our scientific edge amounts to concerns about how immigration has changed. These days, top scientists may come to the US for a while, get a green card, and then move around between the US and their home countries in a more circular fashion. This is a trend in the internationalization of science, and needs to be discussed in its own right, rather than relying too much on national numbers (though they do look good in op-eds!)


Joel McIntosh said...

Just six months ago, BusinessWeek ran this article, "The Science Education Myth
Forget the Conventional Wisdom. U.S. Schools are Turning Out More Capable Science and Engineering Grads Than the Job Market Can Support"
. The article reviews the results of a study that comes to the opposite conclusion. In the study's abstract the authors state, "available data indicate increases in the absolute numbers of secondary school graduates and increases in their math and science performance levels. Domestic and international trends suggest that that U.S. schools show steady improvement in math and science, the U.S. is not at any particular disadvantage compared with most nations, and the supply of S&E-qualified graduates is large and ranks among the best internationally."

The conventional wisdom is that there is a "crisis" in science and math education in this country, but the realities are much less dire.

Anonymous said...

This is just anecdotal, but based on what my brother (project manager, mechanical engineering, food production in the Midwest) recently told me - US trained engineers are holding their own. He mentioned that his company does have trouble finding enough Americans to hire. He also mentioned that in general Americans still have the edge in training/education compared to the foreign-trained engineers he works with on his intl jobs. Yet he also said he has run into some kids who have the formal training but don't have the mindset of an engineer (eg one of his interview questions is something along the lines of "so what did you rebuild/like to tinker with..." and some grads don't have an answer for that one.

Ruth Karpinski said...

One does not usually become a scientist or engineer unless their IQ is capable of inspiring and supporting the endeavor.

The notion that superior science or math classes largely contribute to the number of science or engineering grads coming out of a particular country, is seriously flawed. That is, unless one subscribes to the erroneous notion that a superior intellect isn't inherited genetically, but rather can actually be attained by the proper conditioning.

So then, our "competition" is really not our competition at all. Hong Kong, Singapore, North and South Korea, Japan, China and Tiawan are the top seven IQ scorers in the world (average 105-108) with the US being ranked 33rd (average 98). So the numbers just don't add up. The study doesn't even touch upon the ranking of superior and genius intellect across the globe. I suspect that the top seven would remain as such.

I believe we must stop trying to compete with those who are, on the whole, outside of our intellectual league. The United States' IQ scores are simply not going to "catch up" with the leaders of the world despite our best efforts.

Instead, we must focus our attention on providing enriching opportunities for the gifted students we do have in our country. The ones that are currently being stifled in most academic areas due to lack of proper identification, substandard funding for and creation of gifted programs and hasty overdiagnosis of "disorders," such as ADD/ADHD, that distract and mislead parents and teachers.

These intellectually advanced, our future scientists and engineers are, in many cases, checking out of school altogether due to frustration with a system that is failing them miserably.

This fact is largely what will lead our nation to its academic demise.

Anonymous said...

"checking out" is what we are going to do.
1.Speech delay at 2.
2.Asperger's diagnose at 3.
3.Good progress, absolutely no problems at home just before 4.
4.Child did not speak English last fall (excellent verbal level in native language) .
5.Public school in Park Slope, PreK attempt.
6. First day at school, first half an hour. Child did not follow directions. We got suggestion to put her in special school from school psychologist. Outright. First half hour in PreK. No violence, no tantrums on this day (in case you ask).
7.Struggle to fit for 3 weeks. No help from teacher or anybody from school for that matter. Only burning desire to get rid of her.
8.Moved to private PreK.
9.Tested into G&T at 4 ( no preparation whatsoever, we focus only on social development ).
10.Call from above mentioned Park Slope school psychologist. She had to do an evaluation for K( her words).
11. Went to see her. First 10 minutes. I am speaking,my child is drawing and flapping hands in the process (she does this when she gets exited and she loves to draw and paint). 10 minutes later psychologist says that from what she observes my child can not be in general education class.
12. Why? ( my question ).
13. Well, she is stimming and she does not speak English. ( her answer).
14. End of 10 minutes evaluation.
15. End of the story.

We did not tell that our child tested into G&T program. Our child accumulating English very fast. If couple of months ago she was asking "what is the English for..." now she is asking "how to say in English ...", sometimes it could be pretty abstract things, not related to a particular situation.

When I read about aspies vs just gifted I feel that my daughter belongs more to the later.

We are willing to work on all possible issues and always were.

But seeing the level of rejection from this public school now I have my doubts if US public school is designed to be something else then free daycare where higher degrees of conformity and submissiveness comes with higher priority than education itself.

Hans Asperger said: "you have to be a bit autistic to succeed in art or science". Currently this part of US youngest population ( a bit autistic ) is cargoed into special ed world. System that was created to help is used to help...teachers and schools.It is easier to have calm and submissive class from the very beginning then to work to create such a class.

P.S. My speak bad english :) Sorry for my spelling other shortcomings.