As states gear up to implement the changes required by the newly reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a new report from the American Electronics Association (AeA) and the NASDAQ stock market exchange reveals just how much work is needed to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century.

“CyberEducation 2002,” released Jan. 15, examines computer and internet access in schools, achievement scores in math and science, and performance standards for students and teachers. The report highlights the progress that has been made in recent years, but warns that more improvement is needed to make United States students globally competitive.

Although students’ math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are increasing, only 17 percent of 12th graders scored at or above “proficient” in math in 2000, the report says. Meanwhile, 12th grade science proficiency is falling, from 21 percent proficiency in 1996 down to 18 percent proficiency in 2000. In other words, 82 percent of high school seniors are not proficient in science.

And although 49 states have implemented standards in a number of subject areas, these standards vary considerably in terms of their rigor, according to the report.

“There has been a lot of improvement in K-12 [education]. However, there are still not enough high school graduates equipped with the basic skills in science and mathematics to go into engineering programs in college and do well,” said William T. Archey, AeA president and chief executive.

“The high-tech industry is keenly interested in improving education in order to ensure a viable workforce in the future,” Archey continued. “We need skilled workers—most with a college education—in order for our companies to prosper.”

Although the report doesn’t make specific policy recommendations, “it should provoke thoughtful discussion and provide a valuable benchmark as states begin their work to implement the education reform bill recently signed by President Bush,” said Richard Schaar, senior vice president of Texas Instruments and chairman of the AeA Board of Directors’ Workforce Committee.

Using available state-by-state comparisons, CyberEducation 2002 shows great disparities in student performance among the states.

Students in states such as Minnesota, Connecticut, and Massachusetts consistently earn top marks in several areas, such as eighth grade national achievement tests and college entrance exams. Students in Connecticut and Minnesota are also among the top performers in math, science, reading, and writing achievement tests, the report shows. A fundamental shift in primary and secondary education in just the past few years has been the implementation of standards in nearly every state. Today’s educators mostly agree on the use of standards as a means to improve education, but a closer examination reveals that states vary widely on what they require of their students.

Far more high school students are completing higher level math and science courses, the report says, yet many states require students to complete just two math courses. Some states, such as Illinois and Ohio, require high school students to take only one year of science to graduate.

Also disturbing to researchers is the number of states that require student testing of technology skills. Only Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have technology tests, and only North Carolina requires that students pass a technology proficiency exam to graduate.

Likewise, teachers-in-training often are not required to show technology proficiency. Only three states require a technology test for teachers to receive their license: Idaho, Michigan, and Virginia.

One encouraging finding is that the number of teachers who feel prepared to use technology in their teaching is increasing.

“We’ve gone to 27 percent of teachers who say they are very well prepared to use technology,” said Archey. That figure is up from 20 percent in 1998. In 2000, 39 percent of teachers said they were moderately well prepared to use technology, 27 percent said they were somewhat prepared, and only 7 percent said they were not at all prepared to use computers and the internet.

Another encouraging trend is the increased availability of internet-connected computers in schools, researchers say. The ratio of students to computers with internet access improved to 6.8 to 1 in 2001, compared to 19.7 students per internet-ready computer in 1998.

South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota were the nation’s top-ranked states in students to internet-ready computers. Each state had a ratio of fewer than five students to one connected computer.

Paradoxically, the nation’s leading technology state, California, ranked worst by this measure, where 10 students shared one internet-ready computer.

California performed below average in other categories as well. For instance, data consistently show that student math performance is linked to parental education and teacher skill level. Eighth graders whose teachers majored in either math or math education posted higher average scores than those whose teachers did not. Yet as many as 46 percent of California math teachers lacked a math major or minor, the third worst in the nation by this measure.

In 1997 the national average was 28 percent of high school math teachers who had neither a major nor a minor in their field.

“California ranking so low in a number of our findings was a big surprise,” said Archey.

Fewer students are completing engineering and engineering technology degrees, which also concerns the tech industry. Engineers are the heart and soul of the industry, as they innovate and create high-tech products and services, say researchers.

Founded in 1943, AeA is the nation’s largest high-tech trade association, with more than 3,500 member companies that span the technology spectrum—from software, semiconductors, and computers to internet technology, advanced electronics, and telecommunications systems and services.

Links:

American Electronics Association
http://www.aeanet.org