Changing the United States’ public education system is no small task. Yet a tiny, beach ball-sized, metallic ball tore through the tightly-woven fabric of the system by spewing a few faint beeps over the airwaves in 1957.
Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, was a magnificent technological achievement that caught the United States by surprise.
Its simple existence in the night sky carried a solemn message: the Soviet Union’s technology was superior to that of the United States.
Rectifying the situation became the U.S.’s top priority.
Clearly, to be competitive with the Soviets (and to maintain its superpower status), the nation needed more scientists. As a result, Congress enacted the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in 1958.
The NDEA was extremely successful; increasing the number of college students in the U.S. from 3.6 million to 7.5 million!
As Sputnik I’s effects waned, the United States had its eyes set on a new focal point: sending astronauts to the Moon. When the crew of Apollo 11 landed on the Moon excitement reverberated around the world.
Humankind had dared to go further than ever before with the U.S. at the helm of the ship!
At long last, America was great again! Astronauts achieved instant stardom. Every kid wanted to be an astronaut. School was “cool”!
In subsequent decades, human spaceflight, and the United States’ education system, began a downward spiral.
The Apollo program ended; the Space Shuttle program came and went; and interest (and proficiency) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faded.
Lack of interest and proficiency in STEM subjects has not gone unnoticed in the United States.
Government officials have worked to remedy the situation by implementing new policies including the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 1992; the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2009; and, more recently, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015.
Success of the CCSS and ESSA has yet to be determined, but if assessment results are any indication, NCLB clearly failed.
As renowned physicist Michio Kaku notes, “the United States has the worst educational system known to science.”
While Kaku’s assessment isn’t entirely factual, it isn’t too far off base either.
A 2012 study, conducted by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), of countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) paints a dire picture of America’s students.
Twenty-six countries outrank the United States in mathematics performance!
To further add insult to injury, America’s students are unhappy in school. Students in twenty-three OECD countries are more satisfied with their education experience.
According to the U.S. Department of Education only 16% of the country’s high school seniors are both proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.
The agency also estimates that STEM-related jobs will increase 14% by the year 2020.
In our technology-based, global economy, the United States must act now to remain competitive!
So, what can we do?
In the words of former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “Get your ass to Mars!”
NASA plans to send humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s.
The buzz surrounding this incredible feat could be enough to fuel yet another reform of the United States’ public education system.
To get NASAs “Journey to Mars” off the ground, the nation will need a new generation of engineers and scientists who are capable of developing the next wave of technology.
Astronauts are about to regain their star-status; maybe kids will once again want to be astronauts instead of star athletes. Perhaps school will be “cool” again.
Maybe, just maybe, America can be great again!