Spell "F" for Education


By Samuel Greengard
It takes only a glance at high school graduation rates to see how off-kilter things are in this country. The State of Oregon just reported that one-third of high school students failed to earn a high school diploma. Nationally, many other states are in the ballpark--or worse.

High school dropouts are 50 percent more likely to be unemployed. They earn about $22,000 annually versus $29,000 for high school graduates. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that this costs the economy approximately $240,000 per person over his or her lifetime.

We're not even talking about a college education here. And, let's face it, a university degree is increasingly the currency required to function in today's economy.

At the same time, Towers Watson's 2011/2012 Talent Management and Rewards Survey for North America found that six in ten companies are struggling to attract critical-skill employees, including IT--and those battling to keep critical-skill employees increased by five percentage points in the U.S. since 2010.

Clearly, a number of factors contribute to this problem. But one thing is inescapable: America's educational system is outdated and completely unprepared to deal with today's needs.

The Association for Computing Machinery reports that only nine states in the U.S. count computer-science courses as a core academic subject in high-school graduation requirements What's more, from 2005 to 2009, the percentage of U.S. high schools offering classes in computing sciences declined from 40 percent to 27 percent.

By 2018, a projected 1.4 million new computing jobs will exist and the current pipeline of grads will fill only 52 percent of these slots.

Remarkably, many school districts have cut AP computer science classes and what many describe as computing instruction is merely classes in basic computer literacy, such as using Word and PowerPoint. "The difference is whether you understand how to create computing technology or you are just able to use it, states Debra Richardson, a professor of informatics at University of California, Irvine.

The use of iPads and various other electronic gizmos in schools is great. But, to borrow the cliché, all of this is simply putting lipstick on a pig without fundamental changes. We must find a way to get young people engaged and provide the skills required for working and functioning in the digital age. Otherwise, business and society will pay a very steep price in the years ahead.