NRC Doctoral Rankings and Computer Science

On September 28, 2010, in Misc., R&D in the Press, Research, by Peter Harsha

The National Research Council today released its long-awaited, long-delayed evaluations of U.S. doctoral programs in 62 different disciplines. The Computing Research Association released the following statement regarding the evaluation:

As an organization representing more than 200 academic departments of computer science, computer engineering, and related fields, CRA commends the National Research Council for undertaking its extensive and statistically novel evaluation of doctoral programs at U.S. universities and colleges nationwide.

However, CRA has serious concerns about the accuracy and consistency of the data being used in the evaluation of the Computer Science discipline.

CRA has identified a number of instances in which data were reported under different assumptions by institutions, leading to inconsistent interpretation of the associated statistical factors.

CRA has further identified a number of instances where the data is demonstrably incorrect – sometimes very substantially – or incorrectly measures the intended component.

CRA is pleased that the NRC acknowledges there are errors in the data used to evaluate computer science departments and that, in the words of NRC Study Director Charlotte Kuh, “There’s lots more we need to look at for computer science before we really get it right.”

CRA will continue to work closely with its member departments and the NRC to help correct these errors and determine more suitable data sources for the evaluation.

About CRA. The Computing Research Association seeks to strengthen research and advanced education in computing and allied fields. It does this by working to influence policy that impacts computing research, encouraging the development of human resources, contributing to the cohesiveness of the professional community and collecting and disseminating information about the importance and the state of computing research. For more, see http://cra.org.

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The same committee that gathered five years ago to produce the highly-influentialRising Above the Gathering Storm” National Academies study has reassembled to revisit the report and has come to even gloomier conclusions about the state of our innovation ecosystem. They’ve released a new version of the report at a congressional briefing today.

This is good timing by the committee as Congress tries to figure out a strategy to pass the America COMPETES Act reauthorization this session and preserve increases for NSF, NIST and DOE in the approps process. It’s looking increasingly likely that any chance for passage for COMPETES will have to come during the lame-duck session, after the November elections. But even then it’s unclear how it will move forward, especially if the House changes hands (as is looking increasingly likely). We’ll know a little more soon. In any case, the report paints a pretty bleak picture of where we stand now, and hopefully that resonates with Members. I’d recommend at least looking through the executive summary and the list of factoids. Sobering stuff.

Here’s a snippet from the executive summary:

So where does America stand relative to its position of five years ago when the Gathering Storm report was prepared? The unanimous view of the committee members participating in the preparation of this report is that our nation’s outlook has worsened. While progress has been made in certain areas—for example, launching the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy—the latitude to fix the problems being confronted has been severely diminished by the growth of the national debt over this period from $8 trillion to $13 trillion.

Further, in spite of sometimes heroic efforts and occasional very bright spots, our overall public school system—or more accurately 14,000 systems—has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in mathematics and science. Finally, many other nations have been markedly progressing, thereby affecting America’s relative ability to compete effectively for new factories, research laboratories, administrative centers — and jobs. While this progress by other nations is to be both encouraged and welcomed, so too is the notion that Americans wish to continue to be among those peoples who do prosper.

The only promising avenue for achieving this latter outcome, in the view of the Gathering Storm committee and many others, is through innovation. Fortunately, this nation has in the past demonstrated considerable prowess in this regard. Unfortunately, it has increasingly placed shackles on that prowess such that, if not relieved, the nation’s ability to provide financially and personally rewarding jobs for its own citizens can be expected to decline at an accelerating pace. The recommendations made five years ago, the highest priority of which was strengthening the public school system and investing in basic scientific research, appears to be as appropriate today as then.

The Gathering Storm Committee’s overall conclusion is that in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.

The Gathering Storm increasingly appears to be a Category 5.

Here’s the full report: Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited (pdf)

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The White House announced today the creation of Change the Equation, a 501(c)3 organization born from last year’s Educate to Innovate initiative. Change the Equation is a response by 100 CEOs to the Administration’s call to action on STEM education.

Change the Equation will take proven, privately-funded education programs and replicate them at 100 high needs schools around the country. Some of the areas listed in a press statement are “allow more students to engage in robotics competitions, improve professional development for math and science teachers, increase the number of students that take and pass rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) math and science courses, increase the number of teachers who enter the profession with a STEM undergraduate degree and provide new opportunities to traditionally underrepresented students and underserved communities.” It will also “score” each state’s STEM education to help target the areas in need of improvement for member companies.

The CEOs’ effort is in response to President Obama’s speech last year at the National Academy of Science. Specific programs being rolled out under Change the Equation can be found here. More information on the companies involved is available here.