excited about the subject at hand, be knowledgeable enough to answer penetrating questions, and be informed enough to provide interesting, challenging coursework. The evidence along those lines is not encouraging. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported that last year 35% of the future elementary-school instructors who studied at California State University, Northridge, said to be the largest supplier of new teachers to the Los Angeles Unified School District, received Ds or Fs in their first college-level mathematics class. And with today’s inflated grading standards at most colleges and universities, it is not easy to get a D or an F.
Some have suggested opening the K-12 teaching ranks to practicing engineers and scientists who wish to change careers or take early retirement to meet new challenges or who are simply committed to the cause. Ironically, examples are rife wherein such people are denied the opportunity to teach 9th-grade algebra but are permitted to teach in a research university. In my own case, I would be deemed unqualified to teach in virtually any grade school in America, but was welcomed, on taking early retirement from a position in the aerospace industry, to teach both undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science of Princeton University.
The US Department of Education estimates that 60% of the new jobs that will open in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20% of the current workforce. Similarly, industry surveys indicate that 90% of the fastest growing jobs will require at least some post-secondary education. Jobs that demand technical training are growing at 5 times the rate of those requiring non-technical skills. And, as has been widely publicized, a person with a bachelor’s degree will have median lifetime earnings that exceed earnings of those with only a high-school diploma by about $1 million.
Most parents don’t seem to be losing much sleep over all this. One survey found that 70% of the parents of America’s high-school students believe that their children get about the right amount of science and mathematics. A Harris poll reports that 58% of Americans believe that the United States is performing “very well” or “somewhat well” in mathematics and science education compared with other nations. And in another poll, only 15% of the parents surveyed indicated that the most pressing problem facing high schools in their communities was “low academic standards.” In contrast, 73% cited “social problems and kids that misbehave.”
Nor do students themselves seem to be losing much sleep over an issue that will have such a profound impact on their lives. About 83% of students eligible for free tutoring elect to forgo it. The average American youth now spends 66% more time watching television than in school (a number that is beginning to diminish as students devote more