About two years ago, the National Bureau of Economic Research proclaimed the recession officially over in the summer of 2009. But today, the US unemployment rate is still at 8.2%. This high unemployment rate again illustrates our fragile economic recovery. It also underscores the importance of closing our educational quality gap with high-performing economies. Our economic troubles are rooted much deeper than just in the housing bubble before 2008. They are also largely attributed to rising global competition and declining US competitiveness, in particular educational quality.
In the middle 20th century, the US used to be the manufacturing center of the world, which created a robust and affluent middle class. Starting in the 1970s, the US started to face global competition from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Mexico, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other emerging economies. Over the last three decades, the US has lost 40%, about 8 million of its manufacturing jobs, partly due to global competition and partly due to productivity gain. Moreover, in the last decade the advancement of telecommunication and information industries has created a borderless service platform. It leads to significant service job outsourcing: call centers, computer troubleshooting, etc., that exacerbate the loss of middle class jobs in the US.
We need to recognize that it is not viable for the US to regain most of these job back in particular those labor intensive ones. The right structural change for the US is to design and produce more products and services with high knowledge contents, such as iPhones, IT systems and engineering services. That is the only way for Americans to sustain and improve our living standard because these types of jobs create more value and are highly paid.
However, our educational problems are holding us back. Our public schools fail to produce students who are ready to compete in this global economy. According to 2011 ACT test results, only one out of four participants (high school graduates) met four key benchmarks and is ready for college. Internationally, U.S. students rank at the bottom of the pack in math when compared to their global peer and towards the middle of the pack in reading and science, far behind education leading countries including Shanghai China, Finland, South Korea and Singapore.
In order to restore the American education leadership, it is essential for our policymakers, teachers and parents to understand and learn from the world’s leading nations in education.
Like many other first generation immigrants who have cross-culture educational experiences, I clearly appreciate strengths of the American education system but also see the urgency with which we need to make improvements in many critical areas. It is imperative to close our educational quality gap with world’s leading nations in order to avoid economic decline.
First posted on June 2, 2012 at studentfirst.org