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Can the U.S. Education System be Fixed?

I have pointed out on this blog from time-to-time that the U.S. is rapidly falling behind the rest of the world in new technology and new product innovation. Every year it seems that we fall one or two places further behind while other nations are rapidly rising. Why is that?

I have also taken the position that the main reason the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world is because we are not educating our young people.

Why are the school kids in the U.S. only 17th in the world in science proficiency? Or worse yet… why are we only 25th in the world in math proficiency?

Why should this even matter? Well, I believe that, as a result of a dearth of young scientists and engineers, we are no longer technology leaders in the world, and that is impacting our economy, our society, and our standard of living.

So, what can we, as a nation, or especially as a private citizen, do about it?

Here is what one nation has done. Finland decided to change from an agriculture based country to a technology based country, and they started by educating their young people.

That is the reason Finland is now 1st in the world in science, and 1st in the world in math.

For a closer look at this effort by the Finnish people, take a look at a Brian Williams spot on NBC Nightly News that played a while back. It is a real eye opener.

(email subscribers need to view on my blog)

Points to consider about Finland’s education system:

  • Teachers are considered Professionals—the same as doctors and lawyers. Finnish teachers come from the top 10% of their class, while 47% of America’s teachers come from the bottom third.
  • Teachers in Finnish schools must prove they have a strong commitment to the teaching profession. They also must have a Masters Degree.
  • Education is of National importance.
  • Parents are heavily involved in seeing that their children get an education.
  • The national dropout rate in Finland is 2%. In the U.S. it is 25%.
  • The Finnish culture “values” education. The average student speaks 4 languages, including English.

Here’s a couple of things I found to be of special interest from watching this video clip:

1) I watched it several times, but I did not see a single cell phone, or text-messaging student, even though Finland’s mobile phone service is many times better than the U.S.

2) All of this attention on education should be very expensive… right?  Well, the cost of education in Finland is $3,000 dollars per child per year less than in the U.S.

So, what is the answer for America? Should we make education a national priority? Should we  turn the schools back to the teachers?

Do we have too many “administrators?”

Do we have the right structure in place for overseeing our schools?

I have many more questions, but one person’s opinion is not going to make any difference… the important thing is: What does America think about education?

What do you think about education in the U.S.? Many of us would like to know.

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The Dumbing Down of America

In terms of the percentage of young people with college degrees, the U.S. has dropped from number 1 to number 12 among 36 developed nations. We decry the dwindling of the middle class, but ignore the fact that today, education is the foundation of the middle class.

I read recently that in the U.S. a child drops out of high school every 26 seconds. Moreover, a report from the College Board indicates that today’s younger generation will not be as well educated as their parents.

Hard-won excellence is no longer a term being used by younger generations, so I guess it should be no surprise that our cultural heroes of the day are people like Lady Gaga and Snooki.

As the older generations retire and head into the sunset, we have to rely on the younger generations to take over and raise our country’s standing in the world. Of course we have some exceptionally talented young people in America, but they are far too few in number…and becoming the exception instead of the rule.

Unfortunately, we are becoming so inured by an ever-growing army of jobless workers; two exorbitantly expensive wars; a broken public education system; decadent economic inequality; big-money control of government; the deficit; etc.—that our nation is more concerned with the antics of Lindsey Lohan, Tiger Woods, et.al. than we are with the future of our country.

Our society seems to be holding intellectual capabilities in contempt, and is more interested in hip-hop and reality shows than in educating our children.

The U.S. ranks behind Canada, South Korea, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium, and Australia in the percentage of 25 to 35 year-olds with a college degree. If this trend continues, America will become a lesser and lesser player in the fraternity of industrialized nations.

If the U.S. does not get our educational system fixed, and fixed soon, future generations will be living off the handouts from more advanced countries—which will be almost everyone else.

Washington—are you listening?

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The New U.S. Economic Paradigm

In spite of frequent boasting by various economists that Information Technology is replacing manufacturing in the U.S., the numbers seem to tell a different story. For instance, I saw this interesting information on the NBC Nightly News a few days ago:

  • In 1995—Assets of the 6 largest banks equaled 17% of GDP.
  • In 2010—Assets of the 6 largest banks equaled 63% of GDP.

With more and more high-tech and I-tech being created and produced overseas, it appears that “banking” has taken over as the U.S.’s no. 1 industry—and we all know how that ‘s working out.

It also appears that the impending banking “reform” bill now in Congress will do little to help the situation. All the responsibility for regulating the banking system is being left with the Fed, without specifying limits or guidelines. Wasn’t it the Fed that allowed the last banking disaster to develop?

Ah, for the good old days when America actually made things of value, and a bank’s primary job was to loan money to the companies that made those things.

New Customer Service Standard

Does anyone out there remember when stores used to stock their shelves and racks at night when there were few, if any, customers? Those days, customers could push their carts up and down the aisles all day long, unimpeded by the many stocking dollies piled high with goods waiting to be put on shelves.

Not today! Now we customers seem to be in the way of employees trying to stock shelves…and it’s obvious they would rather we were not around while they were working. Of course these are only the employees—management must want customers or they wouldn’t have a job long. I just wonder why they work so hard to make it difficult to shop at their place of business. Is that what they call customer service?

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the store is large or small; making it difficult to shop must be the new norm of customer service. Night shift work must no longer be acceptable I guess. Driving by these places at night, it is obvious that no one is busy stocking shelves for tomorrow’s customers.

Oh well, we’re only the customer.

I wonder what Stew Leonard would say about this issue?

Civility

Civility and thoughtfulness and manners–it was George Washington’s forte and ‘competitive advantage,’ and it’s worked for me in far, far, far more humble settings.

–Tom Peters

Costco publishes a monthly magazine called the “Costco Connection,” and in each issue the editors pose a debate question and asks readers to respond. A recent issue of this magazine asked the question “Is civility dead?” Interestingly, 71% of the respondents answered YES. It appears that the vast majority of people (who read the Costco Connection) believe that civility is indeed dead.

Obviously, this is not a scientific poll and needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But, I think it does say something about our U.S. society. Of course there are many caring, and giving, people all across the nation, but I think what is being considered here is the everyday experience of interacting with our rapidly changing narcissistic culture.

What do you think—is civility dead, or dying, in the U.S.?