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Archive for December, 2010

Misinterpreting PISA Scores

The results of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) generated their usual ration of hand-wringing.  They deserve a second look.

Differences in how the tests are given complicate interpretation of PISA scores, and some countries have in the past done things to give their scores an upward nudge.  This time, PISA decided to provide scores for China-Shanghai rather than for all of China.  This is like only using scores from high income suburbs in the US.

The US scored 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, but if we remove countries with small populations or extraneous slices like Shanghai, the US is better seen as ranking in the top five.  Of the tested countries with more than 100 million in population, the US ranks second, behind only Japan.  Of the countries that are likely to shape international relations in the future – Brazil, China, India, the U.S., only the US  and Brazil participated, and the US scored significantly higher than Brazil in every category.  The correlation between PISA and economic performance deserves a second look as well.  Japan, whose economy flatlined in 1990 and has

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The Road to Clean Energy Leadership: Baby Steps or Bold Leaps

Pursuit of global leadership in clean energy innovation is intensifying.  A new analysis  of where clean energy technologies are being invented provides a good “gut check” of where the U.S. ranks and what other countries are doing to leapfrog forward.  And it tells a very tenuous story.

For much of the past decade, countries like Japan, China, and Germany have made significant strides in clean energy, recognizing it as central to global competitiveness, energy security, and mitigating climate change.  Using the European Union’s World Patent Statistical Database, the study found that between 2000 and 2005, twelve countries invented almost 90% of clean energy technologies.  Three of those countries – Japan, the United States, and Germany – accounted for 60% of all clean energy patents. And even since the stimulus, the number of patents granted for clean energy in the U.S. has grown. 

For the United States, this should be good news, but it’s only half the story.  The U.S. is having some successes in clean energy, but policy inaction threatens any gains made in the last decade.  Other countries like Japan,

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A New Approach for STEM Education

Most Americans appreciate the fact that the world is a very competitive place.  Policy makers and parents have long known that our kids, from grade school through college, need to step up their skills and understanding of science, technology, engineering and math – know in education circles as STEM studies – if they are going to compete successfully with their counterparts in China, India, Korea, and many European countries.  For this reason, for nearly 40 years there has been a lot of interest in improving STEM education.  While it is laudable that we are focusing on STEM education, we are running the risk of tethering ourselves to assumptions that might be a little faulty and outdated.  We can’t be truly innovative as a nation if we are not innovative in our thinking about STEM education.

The current assumption driving STEM education is that all students should get at least some STEM education at every step of their educational journey.  Supply students with high standards, great teachers and get as many kids excited about STEM as possible.  Call this the “some STEM for all” approach.  It sounds appealing, right?  Universal tech

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How Innovation Plays Second Fiddle

The United States is falling behind in international economic competitiveness, according to recent research by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. While our 2009 Atlantic Century report ranked the United States sixth of 40 nations in “innovation-based competitiveness,” we are dead last in the rate of progress over the last decade. That poor performance is finally leading to action. Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and George LeMieux of Florida this year introduced legislation requiring the White House to develop a “national competitiveness strategy”—and now CAP has released an important report urging the federal government to rethink how it develops and coordinates competitiveness policy.

These are important steps. At the end of the day, however, any innovation and competitiveness strategy will be shaped and implemented by the administration in power. Economic policy today is the purview of the Treasury Department and its allies at the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers and Office of Management and Budget. Dominated in both Democratic and Republican administrations by financially oriented neoclassical economists, these organizations largely ignore the real economy in favor of the financial one and believe that in the

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For Car Country, Could the Mourning Become Electric?

(Cross-posted to The Avenue at and UpFront Blog at
The New York Times recently reported that in Hamamatsu, the heart of Japan’s auto parts-making region, people are worried about what they call “electric vehicle shock.” Their concern is that if electric cars begin to replace gasoline-powered cars in large numbers, they could put the makers of such components as exhaust pipes and spark plugs out of business–and deliver a fatal shock to the region’s auto parts manufacturing economy.

No one has expressed similar worries about the future of America’s auto-based manufacturing regions, which specialize heavily in components that are tied to the internal combustion engine. But anyone who cares about the future of the Great Lakes region should start worrying about electric vehicle shock. The same problem that the far-sighted manufacturers and local governments in Hamamatsu have identified could loom large for a host of mostly small and medium-sized industrial metropolitan areas in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

To see this, let’s look at the extent to which auto-based Great Lakes metropolitan areas specialize in mechanical technologies–the core technologies of conventional cars and trucks–versus electrical technologies. We

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