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I remember Richard Nixon, in some speech, somewhere, calling himself “The Education President”. I can remember George W. Bush making near the same claim while passing the Teddy Kennedy authored “No Child Left Behind” bill. There’s Jimmy Carter’s Education Department, because nothing says “Education President” like a cabinet level bureaucracy. It would seem that everyone wants to be the ‘Education President,’ or ‘The Education Governor’.

Meanwhile, of every 108 elementary school enrollees, America now enrolls only 25 students in graduate studies.  Guess which colleges are the top two providers of students entering graduate level Engineering and Mathematics programs? Stanford? MIT? Big Twelve? Eastern Ivy League – actually, you’d need to look to a little further east, as in the Far East – two Chinese universities rank #1 and #2 enrolling Engineering grad students in US college programs.And what of our best and brightest?  The top 10 percentile of US college grads test in the lower 50% of worldwide college educated students.

The point is, according to Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, that while our politicians speak of improving education, none really have the political will to take on the endemic problems plaguing our educational systems.

And while I was expecting to hear that we needed more tax dollars in K-12 Education, Mr. Barrett actually highlighted how charter schools currently deliver greater results with far fewer resources – and his three part solutions consist of 1) High Expectations, 2) Tension, and 3) Shame.

High Expectations regarding what we expect of our students. Tension from quantitative measurement of teachers/students/outcomes with short loop feedback systems and Shame our current educational establishment into better performance compared to charter school successes.

The Arizona Technology Council’s Keynote series kicked off last night with a discussion on global competitiveness – something we’re all becoming more concerned with due to economic and political conditions in the country.

But last night’s speech turned on three points that Mr. Barrett says are critical – Smart People (Education) Smart Ideas (R&D) and Smart Environments (government/taxation/economy).  Having studied education, his take on our modern school system (or the antiquated system used by today’s K-12) is eye opening and somewhat alarming.

He also brought to light several systemic problems – for example, R&D spending. When Intel’s R&D budget for a single company exceeds the National Science Foundation’s R&D grants for an entire nation – how are we to come up with the Smart Ideas to stay competitive in a global economy?  He pointed out that most of the ROI in research and development is realized in about a 5-year period. And most of our politicians work on a 2-year ROI in order to get re-elected.

We also create perfect filters to wash kids out of math.  Math is a serial subject – meaning as a student, what you learn this year is the building block for next year’s classes. Recent surveys have shown that 60-70% of public school math teachers are qualified or degreed in the subject. Which seems pretty good – especially using public school math – it sounds like most math teachers are pretty qualified. But when you factor the probability that a child will progress through 12 years of the system enrolled with only qualified math teachers – there’s less than a 1% chance that child will make it all the way through without hitting at least one PE teacher doing his best to struggle through teaching pre-calc when he’d rather be coaching the football team. (Kidding – that’s a highly unlikely scenario that insults professional teachers and I’m sure it doesn’t affect other math students the way it did when it happened to me in high school.)

Craig’s List

Wrapping up, Mr. Barrett offered his wish list of changes he’d make if only he were King for a Day. They included: Doubling R&D spending to research universities for peer reviewed programs leading to company spinoffs. Making the R&D tax credit permanent. Bringing the US corporate tax rate to competitive levels with the rest of the developed countries. Eliminating all government subsidies to food, energy, – everything. Rational legal immigration policies – he’s especially keen on issuing a green card to every graduate school diploma – so we keep the best and brightest here.

In summary, you come across so many blustery, ego-driven, type-A managers in the business world. But it always seems that when you find a true leader and visionary like Craig Barrett, you find a humble, intelligent, wise, gentleman who seems more disposed to listening and learning rather than dictating and dominating.  Funny how that works.

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