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IT skills gap is really an education gap

Gary Beach | Oct. 16, 2013
Gary Beach suggests that the technology skills gap issue is really due to an education gap. When it comes to math and science education, is the United States a nation at risk?

Introducing this test to the American public, the War Department claimed it was necessary "to minimize the effects of public schooling."

The goal of the Army General Classification Test was to identify intelligent people to fly the new planes, drive the new tanks, command the new ships and operate the new canon. One year after the test's deployment, the Army General Classification Test issued this assessment of the intelligence of the recruits: Nearly 40 percent had the mental capacity of eight-year-olds.

Regardless of their intellectual abilities, these brave men and women fought, and won, World War II. But as they returned home from war, they confronted with weak U.S. public school system that the U.S. War Department sought to "minimize" as the war started. A system where 60 percent of students dropped out of high school before graduation.

And a system that was not prepared for the onslaught of the Baby Boomer Generation, a generation of Americans born from 1946 - 1964. A history-defining generation of Americans who entered the U.S. public school system in 1952 at a staggering pace of two million additional students per year. A generation of Americans that crippled an already ailing school system and infrastructure.

Prior to World War II, the process of teacher certification was arduous. After the war, however, as millions of Baby Boomers created overcrowded classrooms, another huge problem arose. There was not enough teachers to teach these Baby Boomers. In fact, there was a shortage of 132,000 K-12 teachers in America.

To address the situation, many states lowered, or abolished entirely, teacher certification programs. Teachers, who would have never qualified to be a teacher prior to the war, now stood in front of millions of young American students.

Life magazine, in March 1958, ran a four-part series on the state of American education entitled "Crisis In Education" where it compared lives of teenagers in America to those living in Moscow. A comparison that didn't fare well for America.

Just as the Life magazine was being published, the U.S. Government, coming just months after the Soviets launched Sputnik into space, sent two delegations from the U.S. Office of Education to the Soviet Union, our country's cold war adversary, to study how their school system functioned. The delegations conclusion read, "we came back deeply concerned about our poorer schools now suffering neglect with this question: will we Americans work and sacrifice to improve public education in the United States?"

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Baby Boomer students, many of taught by incompetent, unqualified teachers, didn't learn their math lessons well. Here's proof. American high school students generally take their SAT tests when they are 17. Do the math. The first group of Baby Boomers to turn 17 did so in 1963. And how did they do? Not very well. For 14 consecutive years, from 1963 through 1976, SAT math and verbal scores for Baby Boomers declined year-after-year-after year.


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