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High-tech School Prepares Students for Shifting Economy

Paul Solman reports on a high school in California that pushes its students to focus on the future by preparing for jobs in the world of high technology -- while also helping the U.S. stay competitive in a global marketplace.

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  • PAUL SOLMAN, NewsHour Economics Correspondent:

    A high school class where kids are preparing for the global future by learning to innovate and compete in high-tech.

  • WES VETTER, Student:

    We're hoping to create this sort of like training device for people who want to participate in the events, so maybe something like tennis, where they have a limited range of motion.


    Wes Vetter and partner Andrew Fergin (ph) seem about as competitive as you can get, inventing new technology — a device to teach special needs kids to swing a tennis racket — for this year's Special Olympics.


    We're taking these three-point perspective drawings and we're drawing them out just to get an idea of that. And then we're going to transfer them onto this program here called CAD. So we're just practicing that right now.


    And that's computer-assisted design.


    Yes, computer-assisted design.


    For all the studies showing that American students are falling behind the rest of the world in science, it's not happening here.

    At High Tech High in San Diego, one of the most competitive charter schools in the country, everyone goes to college, yet anyone can attend. Admission is strictly by lottery.

    This school is built on competition, making things, like this semi-cyborg for a national robot contest. It's supposed to shoot Nerf basketballs into a goal nine feet off the ground.

    Student science projects are everywhere: a shadow-activated L.E.D. display, an electronic ornament for the holidays.

    The can-make, can-do ethos extends near and far.

    There's an African bushmeat expedition down the hall from engineering class that's sequencing DNA to prepare for a trip to Tanzania, where contraband lion and chimp meat is reportedly sold.


    That's also how HIV may have actually transferred over from animals to humans is because someone just ate a monkey.


    God's work, you might say, while in the process helping close the global gap in science.

    The U.S. now trails almost every country of comparable wealth in high school science tests, Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany. One reason High Tech High was created: to turn the scores around.

    San Diego businessman Irwin Jacobs says U.S. science deficiency was throttling the growth of his high-flying San Diego computer chip company, Qualcomm.

  • DR. IRWIN JACOBS, Chairman, Qualcomm:

    Our problem was that when we'd go to hire, we were just not finding enough properly trained individuals, trained so they could do new kinds of technology, and that's the kind that we specialize in.


    Jacobs could import top talent from abroad, but that didn't exactly address the problem of our decreasing competitiveness and what might happen to Qualcomm and America if the slide persisted.


    Well, over the years, we were very concerned about the fact that such a small percentage of students were really preparing themselves with math, science in the middle schools, in the high schools, and then going on for graduate work in the sciences and in engineering.