Intel Corporation

Next generation workforce: Outperformed in math and science

December 8, 2010: 3:41 PM ET

Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett tells Fortune why U.S. students' terrible test scores must rise for the country to remain an economic powerhouse, and how his organizations aim to help.

Interview by Scott Olster, associate editor

Craig Barrett (r) views Intel Science Fair finalist Nitin Egbert's mind-controlled computer

Craig Barrett (r) views Intel Science Fair finalist Nitin Egbert's mind-controlled computer

If you want to get a sense of what's in store for the American workforce, just take a look at how our students match up against the rest of the world in math and science. After all, most of the professions within the U.S. economy that are growing -- healthcare, information technology, and biomedicine -- require extensive training in both subjects.

So how are we doing? Not well, at all.

American 15-year old students scored below average in math and were outperformed by 23 other countries and education systems, according to test results released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment.

And they didn't do much better in science, ranking 19 among the lot of 65 participating countries and education systems (N.B. "educational systems" are individual cities within a country, like Shanghai).

Students who took the exams in Shanghai ranked at the top of the heap on all accounts, dialing up the volume of the talent competition between the U.S. and China in particular, and all developing economies in general.

Fortune recently spoke with Craig Barrett, former chairman and CEO of Intel (INTC) and a major education advocate, to get his perspective on where schools need to go to adequately prepare the next generation American workforce.

Barrett is the chairman of Change the Equation, a nonprofit organization devoted to bringing CEOs together to support education reform; the co-chair of Achieve, Inc., a group that works with state governors to promote the adoption of common curriculum standards; and the president and CEO of BASIS Schools, an Arizona charter school system.

Fortune: Every few years, we read headlines saying that the U.S., in one way or another, is falling behind the competition. So how concerned should we really be about the math and science stats?

Barrett: The average U.S. kid is in the bottom quartile of the OECD countries in math and science. [New statistics published after this interview was conducted say that in OECD countries, U.S. students have managed to climb out of the bottom quartile in science, but not math.] If that doesn't scare the hell out of you, I don't know what would.

What gives? More

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