A few links I came across recently caught my attention by discussing academic excellence and the education system. First is Are We Failing Our Geniuses? from TIME, which discusses the lack of available programs for advanced students. Second was the discussion of offering free college tuition for Math, Science and Engineering majors as proposed by Montana Senator Max Baucus. The idea there being that our programs are falling behind those in other countries, and therefore the incentive is designed to pull more students into those fields to have better overall programs.
I have to say, I've personally been pretty disappointed with our nation's education system for some time now. The No Child Left Behind act has encouraged schools to act like a union, where those not carrying their weight get promoted anyway due to contract rules and those performing better cannot get ahead. Where's the incentive to work hard? I truly believe this is where most politicians (and people in general) get confused between "equal opportunity" and "equality".
As for the free tuition idea, I believe the senator is just a bit misguided, or just trying to make a name for himself. The root of the problem is not a lack of interest, but a lack of understanding about the need for math, science and engineering in the foundational years of education.
Today, most subjects like to downplay it, but math and science make up the basis for almost everything we do. However, we're now getting business majors who can't do basic calculus (great for observing trends in earnings and markets), computer science majors who can't problem solve (and if you can't do that, then a program can probably be written to replace you), and civil engineers who create aesthetic roads that are absolutely unusable (that goes double for Pittsburgh).
The root of the problem may lie in the fact that most of today's teachers carry a degree in Education, and really don't have a specialty or a passion for one. Unfortunately, it's not years of education in Education that make a great teacher, but a passion for their subject and wanting to pass that passion on to others that makes a great teacher. I was fortunate to have a few of these teachers over the years, and am very thankful that I did.