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Nov 9, 2010

Sustaining Economic Growth In Israel and America

Guest Post By Dr. Harold Goldmeier
Writer, Consultant on Small Business Development and Public/Social Policy Matter
7505 N. Francisco Ave., Chicago, Il. 60645 773-617-2260 hgoldmeier@aol.com
October, 2010

America needs to learn a lesson from Israel about investing in education, if it is to sustain its economic growth when the economy turns around. While America tries to dig out of the morass, the clean-tech and high-tech industries in Israel are booming and sustaining one of the most successful economies in the world. If current trends continue, America will not be ready to take advantage of the turnaround, because we suffer a talent gap caused by a sorrowful and poorly funded education system. Israel, too, needs to be careful and cognizant that the sustainability of her boom will falter unless greater investment and a concerted commitment to improving education are made.

Debbie Buchwald of INFOCUS QUARTERLY identifies Israel’s base of economic success to its well-educated, scientifically trained talent pool; it is Israel’s Intellectual Capital. “Presently, Israel has more scientists and engineers, proportional to its population, than any other country —145 for every 10,000 people,” Ms. Buchwald wrote in 2008.

If employment numbers were to turn around tomorrow and soar towards full employment, Americans would not be ready to take advantage of the jobs that became available. Our human capital, that is, those with the skills, training and education to fill these jobs, is woefully inept. The jobs and many of the businesses would both move to other countries with a much better trained workforces than American schools can turn out. Wait until you see the new movie release WAITING FOR SUPERMAN if you really want to appreciate and understand the pessimistic view of our workforce’s future.

America invests less than six percent our Gross Domestic Product in the education of our young people, and about one-third of our students do not graduate. Most of this money goes to teacher salaries and administration. The American public school system has little focus and even less a concentration on a core curriculum that will prepare us for what Edward E. Gordon calls “the war for talent.” The U.S. will simply not have enough well-educated, right-skilled talent to meet the demand when the economy turns around.

No one is more of an expert on this matter than Edward E. Gordon, author of 17 books, hundreds of articles, and a sought after public speaker by government and corporate leaders. Dr. Gordon’s work influenced the much-anticipated documentary, WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, on the need for reform of our public schools. It features his prediction, “by the year 2020 there will be 124 million highly skilled, high paying jobs but only 50 million Americans qualified to do them…many new technologies will simply go to other countries, with dire consequences for the middle class and the entire U.S. economy.”

The American public school system relies on property taxes, local boards, and state funding for meeting their budget needs. This convoluted often highly politicized hodgepodge has created severe inequalities from one community to another. The result is almost every school district is under funded for the job fulfillment needs of this country. They are undefended against the whims and vagaries of special interests with cultural and political agendas that sway curricula and teacher preparedness. In his new book, WINNING THE GLOBAL TALENT SHOWDOWN…” Dr. Gordon sees hope for U. S. workers, though they are angry and hurting now. We can turn around our public schools. We can train talented people through supplemental programs like community-based organizations that are bridging the gaps between education and business needs. We can, according to Gordon, then “…enter a new era of expanding talent, new ideas, and free trade that will help to promote higher living standards for more people around the world.”

Israel is spending about 10% of her GDP on education. About 85% of those who receive a matriculation certificate qualify for admission to Israel’s universities, according The Adva Center. The numbers alone are remarkable for a little country. Six of Israel’s universities are in the top 100 schools of Asia, and four of these are in the top 150 universities in the world. They are in the top 100 universities in the world in fields like science and engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, engineering, life sciences, and no less, the social sciences and economics. It is no wonder that Israel’s economy is booming.

There are some new trends in the Israeli education system that suggests a cause for worry. A YNETNEWS.COM special report this past September called for recognition and response to the increase of haredi children and Arab children entering the schools at an earlier age. They may not receive or have the home support for the kind of curriculum that has propelled Israel’s schools to its world-class leadership position. Now, religious, non-religious, and Arab schools, each with its own curriculum with little or no core curriculum. In math, for instance, “38% of Israel’s students must make up at least four hours of math studies outside school. The average figure for OCED countries…is only 15%,” according to the Knesset Research and Information Center study on poverty and scholastic achievement. Israel’s universities are suffering a brain drain and ever decreasing cuts in budgets. Sustaining a workforce that will be able to sustain the economic growth of the country is no small challenge. It demands new investments in the top-to-bottom education system.

Dr. Gordon has studied workforce reports from all over the world and concludes there is no shortage of labor, “but a serious shortfall of appropriately skilled talent.” No country can rest on its laurels, but each must invest heavily in the children responsible to realize sustained economic growth in the future. The only way we can do this is to give the departments of education in government the funding and focus we give to our defense industries, so our economies will have a fighting chance to ensure our homeland security.

Dr. Goldmeier was a Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University and an Assistant Professor at Tufts Medical School. He taught public elementary school, worked in government for three Governors, the U. S. Surgeon General, and in education. He recently sold his retail/wholesale business after nearly three decades. He has been married more than forty years. He has published more than two-dozen articles in professional journals, popular magazines and newspapers, and has been interviewed on programs like ABC’s World News Tonight on health care and business, and most recently for The Wall Street Journal for background on bank lending policies to small businesses. His articles regularly appear on LifeinIsrael.blogspot.com and most recently in comments on Salon.com.

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