IT CEOs Call for More Rigorous K-12 Education

Published April 1, 2004

The U.S. public education system is not preparing future workers with the education and skills they need to make effective contributions in the workplace, according to the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP), a group of chief executives from the nation’s leading high-technology companies. The U.S. economy is expected to create an estimated 19.3 million new high-skilled jobs by the year 2020.

“[D]espite decades of talk, countless reports, and sweeping policy initiatives, CEOs in the IT industry, and in other industries as well, believe that the U.S. public education system remains the nation’s biggest competitive disadvantage,” declared a new CSPP report released on January 7, titled, “Choose to Compete: How Innovation, Investment and Productivity Can Grow U.S. Jobs and Ensure American Competitiveness in the 21st Century.”

Among the report’s education policy recommendations are specific steps for improving teacher preparation and performance:

  • Ensure that entry-level teachers are well trained in both content and teaching strategies.
  • Provide pay differentials and more flexible certification requirements to draw more and better-trained teachers from the ranks of professionals to new career opportunities.
  • Improve the working environment for all teachers to make the profession more attractive.
  • Provide opportunities and incentives for teachers to pursue intensive, content-based professional development.

“As the world’s literacy rates skyrocket and as other countries compete head-to-head with highly educated and technically skilled workers, tomorrow’s good jobs are up for grabs,” noted the report, while warning many millions of Americans don’t have the skills needed to land those jobs:

  • students who drop out of school with limited skills and no prospects for employment;
  • students who graduate from high school but lack basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills;
  • college graduates without basic competencies in mathematics, science, and engineering.

“Americans who think that foreign workers are no match for U.S. workers in knowledge, skills, and creativity are mistaken,” stated the report, pointing out that students in Asian nations perform much better than U.S. students in international comparisons of math and science ability, such as the Third International Math and Science Study.

Other countries also are producing far more engineers than the United States, which accounts for only about 7 percent of the bachelor-level engineering degrees granted worldwide. For example, the United States awarded about 61,000 bachelor-level engineering degrees in 1999, while Japan awarded more than 103,000, the European Union awarded more than 134,000, and China awarded more than 195,000.

CSPP member Carly Fiorina, chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, has suggested that the greater long-term threat to the U.S. economy was not low-cost unskilled labor in China, India, or Russia, but well-educated labor in those countries.

“As a nation we must renew our investment in competitiveness, just as businesses must do,” she said.

To prepare American students for entry into tomorrow’s high-tech job market, the CSPP report calls for “a rigorous education in core academics and 21st-century skills.” To empower American workers to handle the dislocations that occur in a dynamic job market, the report calls for the development of a training infrastructure where they can acquire new skills and change careers.

As well as the call for improved teacher preparation and performance, the report’s preliminary recommendations for policymakers and business people include the following:

  • Fund federal and state education priorities, focusing on improvements to raise student achievement.
  • Enact a Mathematics and Science Improvement Act of 2004, with a focus on developing more rigorous expectations in math and science.
  • Create an incentive for employers to invest in human capital through training and hiring of highly skilled workers.

“As the U.S. encounters new global realities policy makers face a choice: we can compete in the international arena or we can retreat,” said Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel Corporation and chairman of CSPP. “America can only grow jobs and improve its competitiveness by choosing to compete globally, and that will require renewed focus on innovation, education and investment.”

Founded 15 years ago, CSPP is the information technology industry’s leading advocacy organization. The CSPP CEOs meet with lawmakers in Washington twice annually to discuss issues of importance to the high-tech industry including trade, digital rights management, and privacy. CSPP’s January report calls for establishing new policy priorities to increase U.S. growth and competitiveness, ensure continued technology leadership by the U.S., and help create new American jobs.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The January 2004 report of the Computer Systems Policy Project, “Choose to Compete,” is available online at