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Where Is the Next Generation of America’s Mathematicians and Scientists?

By John B. Wood •  March 20, 2013

I had become optimistic that as a nation we had finally woken up to the fact that we have a dire need for people skilled in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.  But I stumbled on two articles last week that made me shake my head and wonder — does our nation really get it?

Honors math?

Did you know that many ‘honors’ math courses in high school are in name only?  A recent USA Today article explains:

Researchers were trying to find out why more students were taking “advanced” classes in 2005 than in 1990 but weren’t turning in better results on nationally administered 12th-grade math and science tests.

Tuesday’s findings suggest that their course offerings were often “advanced” in name only: Fewer than one in five high school graduates who took an “honors” Algebra I class in high school got “rigorous” work in the course. A full 73% got what researchers called “intermediate” level work, while 9% in honors classes got “beginner” level work. In fact, a greater proportion of students enrolled in regular algebra classes got advanced work, the study found — 34% vs. 18% in “honors” courses.

We are doing our children a disservice by mislabeling advanced coursework.  But more importantly, we are doing our nation a disservice by not properly educating the much-needed pool of tomorrow’s skilled mathematicians and scientists.

Graduates we can hire

Did you know that a majority of computer science post-graduate degrees in America are earned by foreign students?  A recent Computerworld article explains:

The majority of students in computer science department graduate programs are from overseas, and the percentage is rising, according to the latest data from the Computing Research Association (CRA). Of all the students enrolled in computer science Ph.D. programs in the 2011-12 academic year, 60% were nonresident aliens, a new high, the CRA said.

Students from other nations are taking advantage of the superior post-graduate computer science program that we have in America, and returning to their countries once they’ve obtained the knowledge and higher degrees.  Is it possible that these computer science PhDs earned on American soil are being turned against us?

If the majority of computer science PhDs are foreign nationals, that means that the majority of computer science PhDs are unable to obtain the security clearance needed to operate in our industry.  The federal government and companies like Telos cannot hire a majority of the highly educated computer scientists coming out of our higher education institutions, because they cannot obtain a security clearance. This is a real problem if our country is serious about remaining competitive in the cyber domain.

And many students who obtain bachelor’s degrees in computer science are not pursuing higher degrees. Why?  I suppose there are many variables.  Is college too expensive?  Are students burdened with too much student loan debt from their undergraduate degrees?  Or maybe their high school advanced placement math courses didn’t adequately prepare them for college, and the challenge of a collegiate level math course sways them to change their career paths.

Our nation has a serious deficit of skilled STEM professionals.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step – and we’ve done that.  Hopefully our nation will soon take the next step, and move beyond talking about STEM education, and begin making the substantive changes necessary to increase the number of qualified computer scientists and cyber professionals needed to defend our country.

John B. Wood

John B. Wood

John B. Wood is the chairman and CEO of Telos Corporation. Follow him on Twitter: @john_b_wood See full bio...

Telos CEO John Wood blogs about business, education, and the values that guide us.


  • Avatar Mindy Carlin says:

    Thanks for the post. I shared it with my contacts and hope they appreciate it as much as I did.
    As the mother of a 14-year-old who likely (hopefully) has a life ahead in the technology arena, I have been very disappointed by the public school system, despite it being considered among the best in the nation, Fairfax County Public Schools. I have found myself needing to find opportunities to challenge him because the school system and teachers within it simply aren’t cutting it. He gets all As in all honors classes and is bored stiff. If that’s what we’re getting from the best of the best in school systems, imagine what’s happening in other areas.
    I couldn’t agree with your post more. The nation needs to recognize that all children don’t learn in the same way; we need greater innovation and flexibility in education, and a stronger connection to the “real world” as we educate our kids to even come close to being able to compete in the global economy.
    I hope that is where we are headed and am doing all I can in the small ways I can to do my part to support this. Thanks for your leadership on this issue and so many others that make our community better.

  • Avatar John Wood says:

    Thanks for the note Mindy! Keep doing what you can to reform our education system at the local level. peace, jbw

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