Although he said in his State of the Union speech that our “free enterprise system is what drives innovation,” in the mysteriously one-track mind of Barack Obama, government spending is his real answer to every problem.
Despite the desperate need for strength in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), a tiny 1 percent of the $50 billion in Federal education “discretionary spending” was proposed for STEM in Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget.
Our nation’s global share of activity in STEM-focused industries is in decline, jeopardizing our status as a world leader in innovation. According to the Programme For International Student Assessment, our 15 year-old students now trail their counterparts in Shanghai by 56 points, with even larger gaps in science (73 points) and mathematics (113 points)—the subjects which form the basis of our nation’s innovative capacity. Howard Rich, chairman of Americans for Limited Government, pointed this out in a Feb. 3 column.
The fiscal 2011 budget for federal education was called “one of the largest increases” ever. The $50 billion in discretionary spending was on top of $100 billion in the 2009 “stimulus package” for education—mainly teacher jobs (read: teacher union valentines). But is spending the key to innovation? Since 1985, federal spending on K-12 education has spurted ahead by 138 percent, but academic achievement and graduation rates have remained pancake-flat.
This stand-still condition, which Obama hopes to change with more funding, will only widen the innovation gap between the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world. According to the non-partisan Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), America ranked sixth among the world’s top 40 industrialized countries in “innovative competitiveness” but last in its “rate of change in innovative capacity.”
In its instructive 2010 report, the ITIF lays out in detail how to give more American students stronger STEM skills and get them into STEM jobs. In spite of the proliferation of reports raising the same alarm and continuing to call for the same solutions, “what are needed are fresh approaches,” the organization said.
Virtually every call to action recommends a “some STEM for all” approach. For example, Obama has called for recruiting 10,000 teachers to teach all students in the areas of STEM. Mary Frances Taymans, board member of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has called for “a strong science education for all students,” according to the Washington Times. Obama has asked for $2.3 million for women and girls to close the gender gap in STEM students. It matters not whether they have the interest or capacity.
The “prevailing view is that the way to ensure that more Americans have needed STEM skills is to make sure” that every step of the way from kindergarten through graduate school all students get as much STEM education as possible, including teacher training and new curriculum, with the fragile “hope that this will increase the likelihood that at least some of them will go into STEM jobs.”
But it’s not that simple, the Foundation’s discerning study says. Policies emerging from this ‘some STEM for all’ approach “are actually not very effective.” Very few workers need extensive STEM skills. “In fact, STEM jobs constitute at most 5 percent of all jobs.