Ensuring the Bottom Line is Higher Achievement

by Carlos Contreras  | December 29, 2010

CarlosContreras U.S. Education Director, Intel Corporation

(Post originally featured on EdReformer)


This week, I joined a discussion that included some of the people that care most about education in the United States. As the person responsible for education programs in Washington, DC for Intel Corporation, I am constantly trying to find those who will help shape policy that drives change. I was reminded, however, that this road to change is bumpy and uphill.


Intel in conjunction with PBS News Hour, the Aspen Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) hosted a digital town hall discussion on Education for Innovation. The event coincided with release of international assessment test (PISA) and a new U.S. STEM report from ITIF. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Secretary General Angel Gurria and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman participated in the discussion.


Looking at the Numbers


Out of 33 OECD countries, the U.S. came in 17th in science and 25th in math. It is clear we are stuck in 2nd gear while the rest of the OECD countries are accelerating. New to this year’s survey was Shanghai-China. And Shanghai-China beat everyone. As I scanned the various articles before the digital town hall, I was actually surprised. I was surprised that some of the experts were shocked that Shanghai did so well and by the comments about sampling and “non-representative” results. Talk about denial. Can we move on and take responsibility. Finishing in the lower half is not acceptable.


I was impressed to hear Secretary Duncan accepting the facts and calling a spade a spade. We can and must do better. And what must be by now, ground hog day discussions that I am sure have occurred over the past 25 years, is the call for higher standards, attracting and retain teachers, turning around low performing schools and developing great principals. Can we learn from other counties like Canada whose students tend to perform well regardless of their own background or the school they attend? Can we empower replicating our most successful schools nationwide?


Models that Work


One of the recommendations that came out of the ITIF report is to create 400 new STEM specialized schools. We had two examples of such schools at the digital town hall with the participation of the Olin College of Engineering (Needham, MA.) and the School of Science and Engineering Magnet (Dallas, TX). The students, teachers and faculty were very energizing and provided a glimpse of what is possible. You can also see a sense of teamwork, collaboration and energy. These are not factory models; these are student driven schools where the teachers are the key enablers. According to the ITIF report, 10% of Olin College Graduates have started a company right after graduation. Secretary Duncan said that creativity, innovation and entrepreneurs are the future. I’d like to add mentoring and community support to the roadmap of achievement.


After the event, I had an opportunity to congratulate the President of Olin College, Richard Miller. He told me that he and his wife have had every single student to their home for dinner. I went to an engineering school. It was pure cold steel and with a sink or swim approach. While talking with Dr. Miller it hit me. At the end of day, it is local leadership and communities that make education work. And quite possibly our policies will have a more limited impact than I once thought.


At the town hall, Secretary Duncan outlined a vision that I support more than ever. He said his vision is that schools need to be community centers, with a whole host of activities, particularly in disadvantaged communities.


Exposure to Quality Math and Science for All


At Intel, our view is that all students need to acquire the skills necessary for personal and professional success in the 21st-century. Some will decide to go on to colleges like Olin and into careers in technology and engineering. Some will decide they want to pursue other interests. The bottom line is that we need to expose them to a level of math and science that allows them to make an informed decision.


If we don’t, we are at risk of failing to educate the next generation of great innovators in the current U.S. school system. I took the theme of the town hall – Education for Innovation – to mean just that. We want to figure out how American students are best equip to compete with students around the world as we strive to discover life-change, society lifting innovations of the future.


Carlos Contreras is U.S. Education Director for Intel Corporation.


Categories: Education