Education reform: Investing in ‘human capital’

President Obama knows the value of a good education. (AP Photo)

vBy Roger Shan

It’s becoming more apparent that the U.S. needs a shot in the arm. Unemployment remains stubbornly high near 10 percent. Manufacturing continues to move overseas. Once hallowed icons of American industrial might — GM and Chrysler — are still recovering from near-death. States are moribund, with budget deficits in billions of dollars, and the national deficit and export gap keeps growing. How to solve these problems? Invest in human capital.

According to Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw, human capital is the “accumulation of investments in people.” It is no surprise that the most important such investment is education.

As the world’s largest economy, the United States needs an intelligent, talented, well-educated workforce to compete with increasingly competitive global rivals. So much of this country’s success depends on a well-educated populace. Case in point: the “Space Race” of the 1960’s sparked a resurgence in American math and science education, creating a generation of engineers, scientists and mathematicians who lay the groundwork for a host of innovations we take for granted today. Use the Internet? Thank a scientist.

Lately, the American education system has been getting squeezed from all sides. Budget cuts, higher tuition at colleges, and the lingering effects of the recession are dampening the education of an upcoming generation, just when global competition is getting tougher than ever.

According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, “The outlook for America’s ability to compete for quality jobs in the global economy has continued to deteriorate in the last five years, and the nation needs a sustained investment in education and basic research to keep from slipping further.”

The report lists some sobering statistics, including this: “Sixty-nine percent of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without a degree or certificate in mathematics.”

At a time when students in China and India — two of our principal competitors — are scrambling to get the best education possible, the state of the American education system is in clear need of an overhaul. In order to get out of our current funk and build a brighter future, we must initiate, motivate and innovate. We must find ways to improve our schools, with well-qualified teachers and motivated students. We must find ways to ensure students obtain a world-class education and that they are able to compete with their global counterparts. By encouraging investment in our human capital, we can take a critical step in ensuring the long-term stability and prosperity of our nation.