Retool, rethink, reshape

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Competiveness opens, closes policy conference

By Harold Morgan

Consideration of competitiveness began and ended the recent Domenici Public Policy Conference in Las Cruces.
Norm Augustine, former Lockheed Martin CEO, began the conference. Since Lockheed manages Sandia National Laboratories, it is reasonable to figure that Augustine knows a bit about New Mexico.
James L. Jones, retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general and former National Security Advisor for President Obama, closed the event.
Reports from news organizations such as the Washington Post indicated that Jones didn’t fit with established Obama advisors, giving Jones added credibility.
First, a note on the conference. In four years it has grown into an event bringing the highest-level national policy players to New Mexico.
There is a student focus; about 400 attended this year, plus around 450 grownups. Only students were allowed to question speakers.
The new Las Cruces Convention Center hosted the conference. Whistles from passing trains could be heard inside the building. The largest event to date in the facility was the Susana Martinez inaugural.  
The well executed conference was among the top four largest events to date. The band played NMSU’s fight song.
Former Gov. and now NMSU business school Dean Carrey Carruthers wore a bolo tie with a huge turquoise slider.
Augustine gave a 40-minute indictment of our “relatively complacent … nation’s failing K-12 education system.”
The awful numbers aren’t new; bits and pieces appear all the time.
Augustine shaped a scary big picture in one place.
Fixing K-12 and increasing “our investment in basic research, particularly energy research” are the top two of 20 recommendations from a group including Augustine that produced a report released in 2005 titled, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which is available from Amazon.com.
Education and research come first, Augustine said, because “the only reasonable answer to the global competitiveness challenge facing America is through leadership in innovation; that is, creating new knowledge through leading-edge research; applying that knowledge through world-class engineering; and being first to market with the resulting new products and services through leading-edge entrepreneurship.”  
Prosperity from producing those products will allow us to do the necessary, such as dealing with health care.
Jones said competitiveness is today’s dominant national security challenge. It is extremely important to retool, rethink, reshape.
“We have no energy strategy that I know of,” he said.
“Energy independence” is not in Jones’ vocabulary. The notion is neither wise nor perhaps possible.
The Department of Energy is really the department of nuclear energy.
In what seemed almost a digression and a shot at the Obama administration, Jones said that pending free trade agreements with Panama, Columbia and South Korea “have been held up for purely political reasons. They have to pass.”
The views of both Augustine and Jones apply within New Mexico, especially with regard to education.
Within the rotten U.S., world rankings — for 15 year olds, 21st in science proficiency and 31st in math — New Mexico is at the bottom of the nation.
Money isn’t the answer. New Mexico’s per capita education spending is high and the U.S. is third in the world. We have a long way to go.
Public school teachers with neither a degree nor even a certificate in math teach 69 percent of the nation’s fifth to eighth graders, Augustine said.
Half the nation’s science teachers haven’t taken a college course in the subject they teach.
Amazing. Some hope exists. The Martinez administration is being bold.
We can look to Los Alamos (obviously), Santa Fe and, surprise, Taos, as models. A recent New Mexico Business Weekly report said Taos ranked third in educational attainment among 19 communities ranked in the state.
Los Alamos and Santa Fe were first and second. What is Taos doing?

Harold Morgan
© New Mexico
News Services 2011