Fortune: Can Americans Compete?

From Fortune Magazine, via the FoRK Mailing List



The No. 1 policy prescription, almost regardless of whom you ask, comes down to one word: education. In an economy where technology leadership determines the winners, education trumps everything. That's a problem for America. Our fourth-graders are among the world's best in math and science, but by ninth grade they've fallen way behind (see table). As Bill Gates says, "This isn't an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system."

The good news is that we've overhauled the system before. A century ago, as America changed from an agricultural to an industrial economy, something called the high school movement swept the country...

We responded to a changing world again in 1958, after the USSR orbited Sputnik while our rockets kept blowing up on the launch pad... We went to the moon, science and engineering became cool, even glamorous, and we gained a wide technology lead.

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A prescription urged just as widely is immigration reform. A critical element of America's economic dominance has been its attraction for the world's brightest, most ambitious people, but today's immigration laws favor family reunification far above talent, intelligence, or credentials.

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John Doerr, the legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist, recommends that every foreign student who gets a Ph.D. at a U.S. university should also get a green card (granting permanent residency) stapled to his or her diploma.

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But the greatest challenge will be changing a culture that neither values education nor sacrifices the present for the future as much as it used to--or as much as our competitors do. And you'd better believe that American business has a role to play--after years of dot-com-bust- and scandal-driven reticence, more corporate leaders need to summon the courage to lead.

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