by CIO Staff

For the U.S. to Compete in IT, Education Must Change

Mar 01, 20072 mins
IT Skills

Tom Friedman is right. Our world is flat. And it’s getting flatter all the time—especially for us.

“Tough Choices for Tough Times,” a new report from the National Center on Education and the Economy (largely funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education), says that unless America changes how it educates its citizens, our economy will be flattened—KO’d—by more educated ones.

The report claims that “the core problem facing America is that our education and training systems were built for another era.” Like, say, the 19th century.

Those systems built America into the 20th century’s supereconomy but they won’t work in the 21st century, where we will be competing with newer, more nimble, more educated economies that do not have our last-century look and baggage.

One of my favorite vignettes from Friedman’s best-selling The World Is Flat is the one in which he interviewed the mayor of a Chinese city (there are 23 cities with 1 million or more residents in the People’s Republic; there are only nine in the United States) who told him that while Chinese workers are content today to be the “bricklayers” of the global economy, their aspiration is to become its “architects.” With China now producing nearly five times as many science, technology, engineering and math graduates as the United States, it won’t be long before that aspiration is realized. And unless Washington seriously considers the findings of “Tough Choices for Tough Times,” it won’t be long before we become the bricklayers.

The report offers a 10-step program for upgrading America’s education system to 21st-century global standards. One of its more provocative suggestions is this: Train and deploy a teaching force recruited from the top third of the high school students going to college each year, our nation’s best and brightest.

This report is not just another product of Washington’s think tanks, all gloom and doom. It’s important that we invest in changing the way we educate our citizens.

As the report’s title says, these are tough choices for tough times. Write to me at and I’ll send you a copy of the report.