Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Investing in our Most Valuable Resource

What are we teaching our kids? Two years ago, the National Academy of Sciences commissioned a blue ribbon task force chaired by the CEO and Chair of Lockheed Martin (and Montgomery County resident), Norm Augustine, to examine the state of the competitiveness of our nation’s workforce.

The findings of this panel are quite distressing: As the rest of the world is making changes to their education policies and curricula to increase their focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (generally known as STEM), the United States is producing fewer college graduates in these fields than before.

In fact, the number of college graduates we have in our nation is quite startling. Even though a person with a bachelor’s degree makes an average of $51,206 while a person with only a high school diploma makes just $27,915, only a quarter of nation’s population -- that’s right, 25% -- have a college degree.

So while Mr. Augustine and the National Academy of Sciences have raised the broader issues of competitiveness at the national level, it is critically important to remember that most of the changes that need to take place will have to happen at the local level.

We are beginning to work on this in Montgomery County. Three weeks ago, I introduced a bill, cosponsored by two of my colleagues, Valerie Ervin and George Leventhal, that would establish a scholarship program for students attending Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove who choose to get a degree in an area that will allow them to be employed in a key job area in our county, such as math and science teacher, health professions like nursing, engineering, and child care. In exchange for the scholarship the recipient would have to agree to work in Montgomery County for a period of four years. This provided an opportunity for our County to invest in our most precious commodity, our people, and then allow our County to see a return on our investment.

Last week, with the support of Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, I introduced the second installment of legislation that will improve our local competitiveness. The bill would do three things:

1) provide matching grants for our teachers to attend summer institutes in science, math and technology in order to update their skills and state of the art knowledge;

2) provide grants to local institutions of higher learning to offer a 2 year, part-time master’s degree program that focuses on science and math, and

3) provide incentives to instructors who teach advanced courses (Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate) and who have students successfully complete these courses.

These bills are just a few small things that we must begin to do in order to ensure that our children have the skills to be successful as they become adults which in turn will ensure that our nation remains competitive in a global marketplace.

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