Securing America's competitiveness through education

Just last month a study comparing educational outcomes of students in the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries ranked U.S. teenagers in the middle of the pack in science and in the bottom third in math. What's more alarming, for the first time the study also included China - a non-OECD country - and the results were clear. Chinese students ran away with the best scores across the board.

In short our nation's position on the world stage requires us to focus on the readiness of the next generation. Improving our education system is a critical piece to that puzzle and should be the common ground that surpasses partisan rhetoric.

While he was still a Senator in 2007, President Obama delivered a speech in which he said, "Education is now the currency of the Information Age. It's no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success - it's a pre-requisite." He went on to highlight the growth of the engineering workforce in emerging China and the need for America to compete at a higher level in the global economy.

Now, as the President, Mr. Obama has the platform and the resources to help empower our nation's student body and help them attain the knowledge they need to succeed.

Strengthening primary and secondary education is vital to our securing our nation's competitiveness and for our future prosperity, so it's important that the President and the new Congress find was to expand support of education-particularly in the fundamental areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). STEM education holds the keys to fixing the underlying problems in our economy, as several of the fundamental components of our industrial future require a solid understanding and application of the hard sciences. Success in these core competencies will dictate the ultimate path our country takes, so it's critical that students have access to best education and the educators possible.

One way to ensure the emerging workforce has the skills and aptitude necessary to embolden our nation is to bring leaders in American industry and government together to chart a curriculum for the future.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is already building a STEM bridge between the public and private sectors by engaging brilliant thinkers and private donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Exxon Mobil Corporation, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation in partnership with school districts and universities around the country. NMSI finds programs with quantifiable data proving they work and then makes those programs available to more American students. This can serve as a model to drive the innovation that produces revolutionary technologies.

Washington has a real opportunity to deliver for the next generation by joining hands with the private sector to set a new course for STEM education. One example of where we can make a difference right now is an innovative program that NMSI has launched in partnership with the Military Child Education Coalition - a private sector effort with funding from numerous private donors that expands Advanced Placement courses in public schools with a large military student population.

This highly successful program has already produced outstanding results in six states, with participating schools seeing a 97 percent increase in AP scores in math, science and English in just two years. And the results among African-American and Hispanic students were just as significant.

Now, it's time for steadfast leadership to reinvigorate the U.S.'s educational system and start teaching students the skills that they need to compete - and succeed - in the global economy of the 21st Century.

Tom Luce, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, is a former assistant secretary of Education.

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