U.S. Chamber report gives schools a failing grade

March 8, 2007
In response to the report's call for partnerships between the private sector and educators, the OSA has launched the OSA Student Chapter Education Outreach Library.

Science & Technology Education
Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists & business leaders


Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently discussed the findings of "Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness," a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Center for American Progress. (To view the report, visit www.uschamber.com/icw/reportcard/default .)

"Our study found that when it comes to education, states aren't making the grade," said Donohue. "In fact, they are failing our children miserably and threatening America's economic future. Despite decades of reform efforts and many trillions of dollars in public investment, U.S. schools are not equipping our children with the skills and knowledge they--and the nation--so badly need."

He noted that most fourth- and eighth-grade students are not proficient in either reading or math; approximately 67% of ninth-graders graduate from high school within four years, and only about half of minority students do so; and at least 40% of students enrolling in college have to take at least one remedial course.

The report underscores the critical need for dramatic improvements in our kindergarten through twelfth-grade educational systems. Donohue noted that improvements are needed in every state, and that inaction is not only a disservice to children, but will also put at risk America's economic and technology leadership.

He also highlighted three areas in which business practices can be used to improve education: sound management, good data collection, and increased innovation. He also described how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is focusing its attention on education and training, and is forming strategic partnerships with state and local chambers and community colleges to better coordinate the relationship between the education system and employer community.

Reports such as these are essential to our building awareness of the huge challenges we face and the immediacy with which action must be taken. The report's recommendations are practical and realistic. Most important, it encourages the private sector to work in partnership with educators and politicians.

Providing resource materials for formal as well as informal educational environments is a key priority of many professional organizations. These nonprofits fill an important need in that they make teaching resources available to teachers and for those in the field who are ready to step up and help students achieve their potential. Membership organizations are particularly well suited to this task because many were founded for the purpose of sharing knowledge. By way of example, the mission of the Optical Society of America is "To promote the generation, application and archiving of knowledge in optics and photonics and to disseminate this knowledge worldwide. The purposes of the Society are scientific, technical and educational."

Professional organizations and their volunteers need to be creative and flexible if they are to make inroads with young students. One recent activity hosted by the OSA is a great example of how the science and technology community can work together and make a lasting difference. OSA has more than 100 student chapters at leading universities around the world. Although the members of these chapters are busy working on their advanced degrees, they also devote time to community outreach. Working with youngsters is a priority for most chapters and they regularly provide classroom science demonstrations and host extracurricular activities.

Chapter members have expressed a strong interest in sharing their lesson plans and demonstrations so that peers could benefit from each other's work and first-hand experiences. In answer to that need, the "OSA Student Chapter Education Outreach Library" was launched in the second half of 2006. The library is an online platform that enables chapter members to share feedback, presentations, experiments and other educational tools.

After a little more than six months of operation, the library already contains about 100 educational resources for elementary through high school outreach. The content continues to grow, and selected materials are being utilized for other OSA-hosted online and printed materials. Established at relatively low cost, this library it is an ideal tool for helping to extend the reach and effectiveness of the chapter programs. Each year hundreds of youngsters benefit from the chapter activities, and while that might seem like a small contribution to an overwhelming and dire situation, this sort of volunteer activity is one of the most important ways that those with technical expertise can become involved. If you are interested in learning more about volunteer activities on an individual or corporate level, please feel free to contact me.

Grace Klonoski is the senior director of OSA Foundation and Member & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; e-mail [email protected]; www.osa.org.

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