What's Hurting U.S. Competitiveness and Why It Matters to IT

Dennis Byron

If you've wondered what Lou Gerstner has been doing since 2003 when he retired as CEO and Chairman of IBM, the answer is researching education. (Oh, in his spare time he is on about a dozen for-profit and non-profit boards and a partner in the Carlyle Group.) If you want to spend an absolutely scary hour, listen to Gerstner, Michael Porter of Harvard, Jim McNerney of Boeing, Craig Barrett of Intel, and Deborah Wince-Smith of something called the Council on Competitiveness (compete.org) try to answer the question, "What is hurting U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace?"


The venue is a U.S. Department of Commerce event called 2008 National Summit on American Competitiveness. The segment has replayed on C-Span a few times since it was held on May 22 and supposedly will be archived on the Department of Commerce web site noted above.


The major answer to the question "What is hurting U.S. competitiveness most in the global marketplace?" is not too much illegal and too little H-1B immigration into the U.S., or other countries' allegedly restrictive trade regulations, or even the U.S.'s own litigious nature. The answer, according to Gerstner, is an almost total collapse of the U.S. K-12 education system. For example, 70 percent of high school students in some cities are taught by teachers not certified in the subject they are teaching. It would be like getting open heart surgery from a dermatologist. Gerstner has hundreds of other similar statistics, as well as some solutions. The nut of the problem: Teachers aren't treated as or paid as professionals.


By the way, I have a problem with the basic premise of the conference title, that the U.S. must somehow "beat" the rest of the world. Here on Cape Cod, we are reminded every 12.5 hours (I believe that time period is true on most but not all coasts around the world) that the tide raises my rowboat as much as Bill Koch's 12-meter yacht. But there are a lot of other reasons -- like a truly participatory democratic government and quality of life -- why the problems Gerstner has identified need to be solved.


Sorry for the rant, but as an IT manager, this affects you if you are trying to staff up or keep staffers highly trained and motivated (or even to keep them living in your area so they can work for you). And as an IT staffer, this affects you as you try to keep up your professional credits and stay on the cutting edge of technology.


As always, comments are welcome.

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Jun 9, 2008 8:08 AM Vic Chapa Vic Chapa  says:
The problem is more prevalent, than we might imagine, as it coincides with lack of qualified and appropriately educated American candidate for medical technology search in the USA.I am finding the higher ratio of qualified and educated non citizens to be the rule compared to five years ago.However, it is not the teachers fault, it is ours, as parents, it is our lack of involvement and insistence to our educators and children of the importance of education. We all want to do well for our children, so we are taking the easy road, and allowing them to have fun, vs study Reply
Jun 9, 2008 8:32 AM L. Howell L. Howell  says:
This is so important yet, but collectively our priorities have slipped and the manner to turn around is so complex. For example, it takes tw parents in many case to just keep pace and thus the attention that children need goes wanting and parents over compensate their absence with video games and access to technology, but not necessarily with developing relationships and connecting with people cross-culturally and the like. This is time, because a blog post on this from last week sums it up nicely. http://mindset30.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/us-education-in-a-global-world-is-not-adequate/ Reply
Jun 9, 2008 8:38 AM Angela Parker Angela Parker  says:
Three things:1) I had high school teachers who were not certified in certain subject areas who were great at them, such as speach; and I had teachers who were certified in the subject area who were extremely bad, such as physics and biological science. Certification isn't really the answer; it is having teachers who want to learn and are at least as intelligent in the area they are teachings as some of the students.2) In college, there was someone on my floor in my dorm who was majoring in education. I had to read the information on what classes she had to take to graduate and tell her what they were. That really scares me as to how good of a teacher could she and others like her end up being if she couldn't even figure out what classes she had to take.3) A lot of kids don't have time to study becuase they are over-booked with activities. Some activity is fine and necessary, but, not every day for hours. When are they supposed to study?Education is a big reason why the US is falling behind in all kinds of areas, but, there is no one problem, there are many. One other thing that I have seen with education is when a child transfers between school systems, even in the same state. They end up with some holes in their education and can end up behind in some areas, but, be ahead in others. We really need to rethink how our education systems work from the ground up.But, I also don't think that eduaction is the only reason the US is falling behind other countries in the innovation and technology areas. Reply
Jun 9, 2008 10:13 AM Michael Short Michael Short  says:
So we appear to be faced with several issues. Because our government does not support education we are hiring cheap labor from overseas that may or maynot provide a better solution. Without government support for education for decades we will not in their mind be compeditive. I wonder how compeditive we will be after we have raised the pay scale of evewry 3rd world country to meet ours or more likely lowered our standard of living down to a third world level. As most work required is at a post high school or college level we could support doing specific training instead if the pay scale was not the real issue. Reply
Jun 9, 2008 6:54 PM John Wolf John Wolf  says:
When I gave a presentation to my son's elementary school class and a group of 5th graders regarding IT in Healthcare, I asked the question of the students, "Who thinks computers are smarter than people?" I was stunned at the response - pretty much 25/25 students answered in the affirmative "Computers are smarter than people". I then went on to explain that computers only understand two numbers "0" and "1" and that it is people that make them smart. What floored me, was the response I got from the teacher which was a look and sigh of "Can that really be true?"Lord help our kids in school and our teachers too.J. Wolf Reply
Jun 9, 2008 7:32 PM mjn mjn  says:
Never underestimate the degree of naivety of the classroom teacher only to be topped by the political puppet administrators. I was employed by some school districts when the push was on to computerize the classrooms. The thought that there would have to be change and learning by teachers sent shock waves through the districts. Work? That stopped two days after tenure. I pity our schools and the students that have to endure them. Reply
Jun 9, 2008 7:56 PM Phil Armour Phil Armour  says:
It is getting quite clear that the US has already lost the economic lead it had post WWII in almost all areas of manufacturing. Peter Drucker more or less predicted this in "Post Capitalist Society". The problem is that the US is now losing its place in the knowledge economy that Drucker said will replace (has replaced) the "hard goods" economic systems. The asset basis of the world is moving from raw materials and manufacturing to knowledge production and management. As it does so, software will (has) become the currency basis of the knowledge asset, and the ability to produce software is arguably the most critical wealth creation capability a society can have. I see whole industries abdicating their responsibilities in developing software. Companies are just giving up the struggle and offshoring these tasks and this is terribly dangerous. Ultimately the market will impose its will and the cost in India and China will rise. But the pay and living standards in the US will also have to drop to reach a balance point where work comes back to the US. But if, in the knowledge economy, our schools are not producing people who are smart enough and know enough, that balance point will be very low indeed. Reply

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