Last Friday, November 16th, in an address at the National Society of Black Engineers Region VI conference Bill Gates perpetuated the belief that the United States is not graduating enough science and engineering majors and that that the overall performance of high school students in science and math is declining.
Typically, these two myths are used as an excuse to promote the need for more H-1B visas.
High tech industry leaders have dismissed as not true any suggestion that the real reason for wanting an increase is in order to hire cheap labor.
Now a new study, Into the Eye of the Storm: Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education, Quality, and Workforce Demand, by Lindsay Lowell, Georgetown University and Hal Salzman, The Urban Institute refutes those claims.
The Urban Institute describes itself as a "nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance problems facing the nation."
The 51 page report, issued last October, is available here.
The report confronts two major issues, that of a labor shortage and a decline in educational excellence in science and math of U.S. students.
According to the report available data indicates increases "in absolute numbers of secondary school graduates and increases in their math and science performance level."
The report compares performance not only with national test results over a number of years but with test results of student performance from other countries as well.
For example, the study found that in 1982 high school graduates earned 2.6 math credits and 2.2 science credits. By 1998 the average was 3.5 for math and 3.2 for science credits.
In addition, the percentage of 13-year-olds taking algebra increased by 38 percent over that time period.
Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] shows steady improvement in both math and science test scores.
In another part of the report, the authors cites studies that looked at six international tests administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement and the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Devlopment.
The aggregate data concluded:
"U.S. students have generally performed above average in comparisons with students in other industrialized nations."
As far as a shortage in computer science graduates to fill available jobs in the States the study concludes that "the education system produces qualified graduates far in excess of demand."
Finally the reports concludes that, "assessing the claims of labor market shortages is crucial. Purported labor market shortages for scientists and engineers are anectdotal and also not supported by the available evidence."
But this doesn't seem to stop the steady drumbeat from high tech executives who keep saying over and over again that there is a shortage both in qualified computer science graduates now and in the pipeline in our schools to meet future needs.
Read the report. I found it both provocative and enlightening.