From today’s Philadelphia Inquirer article, “Does U.S. need a new Sputnik?”:

Today, amid a fast-shifting global economy, there are cries that once again the United States is behind, as measured by everything from test scores to technological advances. In 1966, one in five U.S. bachelor’s degrees was awarded in math or science, according to federal education data; in 2004, that proportion had dropped to one in six.

There are those who argue we need a jolt to the system. Another Sputnik.

Sputnik led to a surge in spending on education programs such as the one [profiled scientist Lisa] Klein attended, and that continues today. In the 2004 fiscal year, 13 federal agencies spent $2.8 billion to encourage the pursuit of science and math careers, according to the Government Accountability Office. But there is little coordination among programs, and only half have been formally evaluated, the GAO found.

I’m all for a “jolt to the system,” but I wonder whether another one based on federal spending would be just as shortlived. Seems to me that we’d be better off for longer if individual children simply had more opportunities — that is, time — to discover what fascinates them, and then to pursue that.