But the U.S. educational system is failing in precisely those areas that underpin our competitiveness: science, engineering and mathematics. In a recent international test involving mathematical understanding, U.S. students finished 27th among the participating nations. In China and Japan, 59 percent and 66 percent, respectively, of undergraduates receive their degrees in science and engineering, compared with 32 percent in the United States.
I’ve recently had an opportunity to review these trends as chairman of a 20-member committee created by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. Congress asked the committee to examine the threats to America’s future prosperity. The panel was a diverse group that included university presidents, Nobel laureates, heads of companies and former government officials. We agreed unanimously that the United States faces a serious and intensifying economic challenge from abroad — and that we appear to be on a losing path.