Is USA’s Industrial Leadership at Risk?

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on May 25, 2004, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Seattle, Washington by Robert J. Herbold, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, entitled K-12 Establishment is Putting America’s Industrial Leadership at Risk

There are some very worrisome trends in the United States with respect to our global share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics expertise. Our share of this expertise is decreasing significantly, both at the bachelor’s and at the Ph.D. levels. I will provide below the basic data that show those trends, suggest the reasons behind them, explain the attendant risks and offer some solutions. Recently, the National Science Foundation published data demonstrating that our country is producing far fewer engineers than are other parts of the world, particularly Asia. Note in Figure 1 that among 24-year-olds in the year 2001 who had a B.S. or B.A. degree, only five percent in the U.S. were engineers, compared to 39 percent in China and 19 percent or more in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. If you look at the actual number of engineers, Figure 1 shows that China is producing three times more than the United States. Figure 2 shows that the U.S. again comes out very low – even compared to European countries in terms of the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the fields of engineering and science.

Figure 1: BS/BA Degrees Among 24-year olds in 2001

BS/BA (000)

BS Engineering

% Engineering









South Korea












Fig 2: Engineering & Science Degrees as a % of all Bachelor Degrees 
Singapore 68%, China 58%, S Korea 36%, Taiwan 34%, Germany 31%, UK 28%, Sweden 24%, Belguim 22%, USA 17%

Another disturbing trend is in the numbers of individuals receiving a Ph.D. in physical science and engineering. In 1987, 4,700 U.S. citizens received these degrees, compared to 5,600 Asians. In 2001, the U.S. figure had dropped slightly to 4,400 and the number of Asians had risen to 24,900. That is a dramatic shift. We should also note that the percentage of Asians getting science and engineering Ph.D.s at U.S. universities is declining. Indeed, 25 percent fewer Asians got such degrees at U.S. universities in 2001 than in 1996.

This data relating to physical science and engineering Ph.D.s was assembled by Professor R. E. Smalley, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from Rice University. His disturbing conclusion: “By 2010, 90 percent of all Ph.D. physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asian living in Asia.”

Why are these figures important? Traditionally, it has been our technical human talent that has driven our industrial success.Basic science, technology, engineering and mathematics knowledge is vitally important in the business world. For perspective, over 50 percent of the CEOs of our Fortune 100 companies come from a technical background. In addition, physical science and engineering capabilities at the Ph.D. level typically drive the kind of highly prized innovations that lead to the emergence of new industries. With expertise in these fields declining in the U.S. while rising in other parts of the world, we risk seeing our industrial leadership weaken.

One of the main reasons why U.S. production of science and engineering talent in universities is low in comparison to other countries is that U.S. K-12 math and science skill levels are quite weak. Note the data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from the year 2000 provided in Figure 3. The scores of U.S. students across the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels are abysmal. For example, in science, only two percent of our 12th graders are rated advanced and only sixteen percent are rated proficient. (NAEP defines “proficient” as “solid academic performance for the grade assessed.”) Thirty-four percent of our 12th graders are only partially proficient in science, and almost half are below partial proficiency.

Fig 3:  U.S. Students; National Assessment of Ed Progress; Year 2000 Math & Science Proficiency 

4th Grade 8th Grade 12th Grade


Science Math Science Math
Advanced 4%


4% 5% 2% 2%
Proficient 26%


28% 22% 16% 14%
Partial Proficiency 37%


29% 38% 34% 48%
Below Partial Proficiency 34%


39% 34% 47% 35%

In Figure 4, we see the results of the International Math and Science Study. It rates the U.S. versus other countries and provides the percentile our students achieved. For example, in mathematics, our 12th graders rated at the 10th percentile. In other words, 90 percent of the countries did better than the U.S., and only 10 percent performed worse. While we do well in grade 4, we do mediocre in grade 8 and very poorly in grade 12. 

Fig 4: Student Achievement in Math & Science; U.S. Relative Rank (percentile) v Other Countries



4th Grade



8th Grade



12th Grade



12th Grade Advanced Math & Physics



For the past year I have been heading up a group called the Workforce/Education Subcommittee, which is part of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Much of what I am providing here is the work of that subcommittee, which was charged to determine whether we have sufficient science and engineering students to support our workforce needs. Once our subcommittee assembled the necessary data, the key question became: Why are U.S. students so weak in science and mathematics? Many groups have studied this issue over the last ten years, and they have consistently identified two key problems.

First, many of our K-12 students are being taught science and math by unqualified teachers. In Sept 2000, the National Commission on Math and Science Teaching for the 21st Century noted that 56 percent of high school students taking physical science were being taught by “out of field” teachers – meaning that the teacher didn’t major or minor in the subject in college. In mathematics, this figure was 27 percent. In January 2003, the Committee for Economic Development reported on the same topic for middle school students and found even more alarming data: 93 percent of science students and 70 percent of math students were taught by “out of field” teachers.

How can we expect a K-12 teacher who has no experience in the field to get a student excited about science or mathematics? It most likely will not happen – and it typically does not! The National Research Council reports that only 30 percent of students who enter a science track in grade 9 are still interested in science as a major when they graduate from high school and enter college.

The second key problem is weak curricula. In 2003, the American Association for the Advancement of Science rated less than ten percent of middle school math books to be acceptable, and no science books. The National Commission on Excellence has recommended that public high schools require three years of mathematics and two of science. But only 45 percent of high schools meet that standard with respect to math, and only 24 percent with respect to science. Weak K-12 results in the U.S. are not a new problem. Twenty years ago, a famous report entitled “A Nation at Risk” was published and highlighted similar findings. Recently, the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University considered the failure of that report to bring about reform. The following is a key paragraph from their report summary:

“A Nation at Risk” underestimated the resistance to change from the organized interest of the K-12 public education system, at the center of which were two big teachers unions as well as school administrators, colleges of education, state bureaucracies, school boards, and many others.  These groups see any changes beyond the most marginal as threats to their own jealously guarded power.

In light of this, we need the K-12 teaching community (the union leaders, the administrators and the teachers themselves) to take responsibility for the poor results they are achieving. We need them to get serious about accountability and teacher qualifications – two core elements of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program. We need them to implement the recommendation of the National Commission on Excellence, requiring three years of math and two years of science at the high school level. We need them to support new routes for teacher certification in order to increase the number of teachers qualified to teach math and science. We need them to ease their opposition to vouchers and charter schools, which will bring about the kind of competition that generates broad improvement. And we need them to stop promoting unprepared students to the next grade level.

Probably most important, the K-12 teaching community needs to implement good management practices, such as performance appraisal systems that identify superior teachers. It should then reward these top teachers with salary increases of 10 percent or more per year, leading to annual wages of over $100,000. Equally as important, it needs to isolate the bottom 5-7 percent of teachers, put them on probation, and – if no progress is made within a reasonable period – terminate them.

In order to accomplish these reforms, the K-12 education community needs to tackle its budgets with gusto and re-allocate funds. The Department of Education points out that only 53 percent of K-12 education funding is currently spent on instruction. That is far, far too low a percentage. We need, for the K-12 teaching community, to take responsibility and implement these reforms in an urgent manner. If they do not, all of us in our individual communities need to hold that community to account. Failure to address our immense shortcomings in science and math education is unacceptable and will inevitably lead to the weakening of our nation.
In part, the above have been abstracted from a reprint from Imprimis, the national speech digest of Hilldale College,

Comments: Arnold Toynbee, a famous historian, said, “Civilizations decline, not so much because of invasions or other external forces, but because of an internal hardening of ideas.” Those existing in state education in California and the majority of the rest of the USA are based on inflexible and rigid ideas. What can only be termed the politicisation of educational ideas is occurring nationwide. For the USA to evolve to meet the demands of future centuries there needs to exist considerable amounts of freedom for teachers and schools. Models already exist where such freedom is basic in education structures. 

The public at large realize that there is a crisis. In a recent survey taken by pollster Mark Mellman 40% of likely California voters named elementary and secondary education as the biggest problem facing the state. That is more than the total for the next four issues – crime and drugs, health care, immigration and taxes. Reports such as the one above indicate the severity of the problem.

Where I would take issue is Herbold’s suggestions of possible solutions. I have over forty years experience in teaching and teacher training on three continents. It is not a case of assertion but of fact that the vast majority of teachers are responsible, committed and dedicated to their students and teaching. Why aren’t they empowered and trusted in the USA as they are in New Zealand and in many other countries?

Considering that teachers in the USA have to accept an enormous amount of political interference I believe the vast majority do a magnificent job. It is an indication of their commitment that despite a lack of freedom that teachers in other countries take for granted, they still show enormous dedication to their students. They deserve better than continual criticism. I believe many will agree with me that the main decisions in education are made by people who have never taught and this needs to change.

As far as the USA’s industrial leadership is concerned it is clear that remedial steps need to be implemented as a matter of urgency and radical surgery is needed. What needs to be done? Firstly, empower teachers and parents and remover as much state and national control as possible. Who knows the children best? Of course, it is the parents who brought the child into the world. Parents gift their child to the state to be educated. Who knows the child best after the parents? It is their teachers and they need to be empowered so that they can fulfil their responsibilities to optimize not only learning but also the child’s wellbeing.

Explicitly, the following gives some indications of the types of practices that need to be implemented. For example:
a) teachers need to be empowered;
b) education to become a cooperative venture between parent and teacher;
c) schools become community based;
d) the elimination of tests particularly for pre-high school students;
remove school districts and layers of bureaucracy;
f) invest in music and art.

These are the ingredients for achievement and for well balanced and attaining adults. Please appreciate this is not about money. Education spending per capita on school age children is as follows: Finland $4800; New Zealand $2806; UK $3329; USA $6043. Project fifty years in the future and which countries will be in ascendancy and which in decline? The evidence speaks for itself.

Perhaps the main reason why fewer and fewer people are studying science is, firstly, the boring, insipid and uninspiring science and mathematics curricula and, secondly, something needs to be done about the way we test children. If we inspire children they will grow up with a love of learning. We do exactly the opposite in the USA. The curricula is test driven, teachers and schools are disempowered and we consider that by finding out what an elementary childrens’ short term memory capabilities are we can accurately evaluate where children are academically or even their future prospects. There is a place for monitoring a childrens’ progress but it is not the present obsessive current testing.

You can negotiate to information on student achievement amongst countries in the developed world from this page (see OECD study: Knowledge and Skills for Life PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment). The information is made available in different formats. For example, in a Special Report (detailed information); in a Newsletter that contains a lesson; in an article (for publication in newspapers and magazines etc.); and in a letter that can be sent to interested parties.


Mission Statement

The Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) exists for the benefit of teachers, parents and educators who wish to bring about the best possible education for our children. There are two main objectives of the MLA.

The first is to give teachers, based on the latest research, free detailed lesson plans so that they can devote their time in customizing content and methodology so that it relates in the most efficient way to the students’ progress and wellbeing. As well as providing free lessons MLA will produce a Quarterly Newsletter (Click here for latest copy). Part of the contents of the Newsletter will be information on countries that have different administrative educational systems and whose students out-perform those of the USA. Click here to go to the page providing the links to this information or click on any Links button.

In the latest issue of the Newsletter we examine a OECD study: Knowledge and Skills for Life PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) published on Tuesday 6 April 2004. We find two countries whose students out-perform those of the USA possess quite different education administrative structures to those of the USA. In fact, we find that nationally and state-wide the USA has been moving for some considerable time in the opposite direction to those of Finland and New Zealand.

The second is to bring change to the education administrative structure. 

The objective of MLA is to give students, based on the latest research:
1. content and lessons in different subject areas;
2. methodology that is relevant to any given age at elementary level;
3. a sensitive but thorough monitoring of progress;
4. education that relates to their experience of life;
5. the enhancement and the development of all different skills;
6. an environment in which they enjoy learning.

Provide teachers with necessary resources and material, based on the latest research, to enable students to:
1. develop literacy through different content areas;
2. reach their unique potential;
3. remember their schooling with affection;
4. desire the same type of schooling for their children.

Why you should fund this project.

1. Because children and their minds are our most precious possessions.

2. Any parent or teacher will tell you that their child/children has unique faculties and attributes that they bring to this world.

3. Education helps or hinders each child’s “destiny”. This project, based on research and experience, will create lessons and classroom structure to accentuate and develop each child’s unique potential.

4. Research validates the lesson structures used for this project.

5. Education should consist of two elements. Firstly, the drawing out from the child’s experience. The USA educational system largely ignores this dynamic. Secondly, the teaching of our accumulated knowledge that relates to the mindset of children. The system only relates to this mindset in a haphazard and fragmented way.

6. Therefore what should education be based on? Proven research indicates that education can be divided into three.
a) How children develop. Teachers need a theory of child development to practice their craft efficiently – “Why is it taught?” State education provides a simplistic answer to this question and the human mind is not simple.
b) Content or curriculum – “What is taught?” Mainstream education obsession with testing children results in teaching that revolves around the content that is going to be in the tests; this is particularly harmful to young children.
c) Interaction between teachers and children or Methodology of Teaching – “How is it taught?” Mainstream education does not examine this area. To examine a model for teaching click here

7. Information and lessons can be made available to teachers on a worldwide basis by way of the internet. They will be free and relate to existing frameworks. Appropriate acknowledgment to sponsors will be included.

8. Teachers will want these lessons. In a pilot program of ten e-newsletters with lessons, 2,100 teachers subscribed within six weeks and without any advertising. Demand was too great to satisfy.

9. Demand can be satisfied on an ongoing basis by finding appropriate donors. Initial task to provide around 300 free e-lessons that can be downloaded together with video clips showing rational behind and supporting content. 

10. Please see business plan at for outline ov various stages of development.

11. Commitment by Dr. David L Mollet to this unique project will be full-time. His children are adults and “gone” and he wishes to make a further contribution to education however challenging this may be. He would prefer appropriate remuneration but he is willing to administer the project gratis if necessary. His main difficulty has been to find support, monetary and social, for his analysis of what needs improving or changing in education particularly in  the countries that he has lived and worked in, namely UK, USA and New Zealand. The people he has met in the last 23 years, and who agree with him, have usually left education. Those who are still in education say it is impossible to bring about the necessary changes. However, he still believes it is possible to bring about these changes even if it takes many years and the bottom line, he believes, is that we are selling our children short if we do not make every effort to do so.

Arnold Toynbee, a famous historian, said, “Civilizations decline, not so much because of invasions or other external forces, but because of an internal hardening of ideas.” Those existing in state education in California and the majority of the rest of the USA are based on inflexible and rigid ideas. What can only be termed the socialization of educational ideas is occurring nationwide.

A few years ago in a survey taken by pollster Mark Mellman  40% of likely California voters named elementary and secondary education as the biggest problem facing the state. That is more than the total for the next four issues – crime and drugs, health care, immigration and taxes. Evidence on the preceding pages indicate a real problem and the people who are really hurting are our children. Tragically it need not be happening but the consequences of politicising education are disastrous. It is obvious that one of the main determinants, if not the main one, is the extent to which the workforce has been educated.

The UK and USA are now both in steep decline and it isn’t rocket science to work out why! We shall not succeed in our task in our lifetimes but we do seek to sow the seeds for future generations. Initially, we aim to make available gratis to teachers hundreds of e-lessons. A study of these lessons will indicate that they are in many ways unique.

What do we believe in? 

1. The MLA approach to education believes in developing the creative and imaginative side of the student in harmony with the intellectual and cognitive. To achieve this, MLA Teaching Packs make stories and drama an integral part of the lessons and involve students through storytelling, art, simulations, drama, craft, discussion and creation of a personal record.

There are MLA Teaching Packs for teaching a) Ancient Civilizations/World History, b) History of California and c) Mathematics (Fractions and Multiplication Tables)

2. Click on any of these links ChinaEgyptGreece, IndiaIsraelitesKushMesopotamiaPrehistory or Rome to take you to the appropriate WER Unit.

3. Click here if you wish to access free lesson on papyrus (enter Papyrus in Subject line – any information you supply is treated in complete confidence).

4. Click here for Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) Teaching Packs.

5. Click here to find out about Kush. Kush is Africa’s oldest interior civilization. Do your students, particularly African-American, have the opportunity to study this part of their cultural heritage?

6. Click here for articles and research reports.

7. Click here to check out evaluations of pilots carried out in schools in San Diego and to read what teachers think about our lessons/newsletters.

“These resource packs contain unbound, ready-to-use reproducible masters, that are varied, simple, and appealing to students. The interactive strategies suggested are suitable for independent, small-group, and whole-class assignments.”
(Grade 6 Course Models – California State Department of Education)

8. Click here to check out evaluation of WER Unit Kush by USA leading authority.

9. Information on workshops/presentations for introducing the MLA approach into public schools available at

10. For an explanation of the philosophy behind the writing of these packs click

11. Click for details of on-line courses accredited by San Diego State University.

Dr. David Mollet
NZ: h 09-555-2021 m 022-101-1741, 41 Hilling St, Titirangi, Auckland 0604 
USA: 619-463-1270, 6656 Reservoir Lane, San Diego, CA 92115 (Skype waldorfedu)

1) The material was initially written for New Zealand teachers but on request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added. To view this material please visit
WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) Waldorf Education Resources (WER)
2) MLA is also involved in researching on an international basis, what works and what doesn’t work. Most of the research results can be seen at while a draft of a book The Task for New Zealand Education is at
3) Blogs at
4) Business Plan at
5) Papyrus

If you wish to subscribe to MLA Newsletter please do so at Thanks and take care, David


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s