In his State of the Union Address on Jan. 31, President Bush stressed a need for global competitiveness that starts with improved mathematics and science education for American students. He called for adding 70,000 teachers in those subjects to allow more low-income children to have access to Advanced Placement courses, among other specific proposals.
Nearly three-quarters of the way through a speech that touched on the nation’s war against terrorism, the need to reform Social Security, and the fight against AIDS, Mr. Bush said it was imperative that U.S. students receive a “firm grounding in math and science.”
As part of a sweeping new American Competitiveness Initiative, which includes a proposal for new money to increase federal research in the physical sciences over the next decade, the president said students must be encouraged to take more math and science courses and such courses must be “rigorous enough to compete with other nations.’”
His proposal calls for $380 million in new federal money for these education efforts, which include a plan to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses in math and science and expand access to these challenging courses for low-income students; and to bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in the classroom through an Adjunct Teacher Corps program. But Mr. Bush provided few details on how that would be achieved.
According to the White House, which provided some additional details, the initiative will raise student achievement in math and science through testing and accountability, by providing grants for targeted interventions, and by developing curricula based on proven methods of instruction.
Reg Weaver, the president of the 2.7-million member National Education Association, said in an interview that he agreed that a focus by the federal government on math and science is needed, but he raised concerns about Mr. Bush’s plan to bring in thousands of new teachers for those subjects.
“I need more detail … particularly when we’re having a hard time recruiting and retaining teachers now,” Mr. Weaver said. “Where are these new teachers coming from? Are they going to be qualified? Certified? I would venture to say he’s talking about having anybody who wants to, come in and be a teacher.”
‘A Crying Need’
At a press conference the morning after the president’s address, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings appeared alongside the secretaries of labor, commerce, and energy, and said the 30,000 teachers coming from other fields would be lured to the classroom with the use of incentives, though she did not elaborate. She acknowledged that it would take cooperation from state and local educational agencies because of local union contracts and employment restrictions.
“We have a crying need for math and science teachers,” Ms. Spellings said at the event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. “We’re going to have to access additional resources.”
Ms. Spellings also said that as part of this initiative, she intended to establish a “best practices” center for educators in math and science, devoted to offering strategies that work in teaching those subjects. The secretary noted that a similar program already exists in reading, the $1 billion Reading First program.
In his address before Congress, President Bush also pledged to find ways to provide “early help to students who struggle with math so they have a better chance at good, high wage jobs.” The competitiveness initiative also would include a Math Now program for elementary school and middle school students that would promote research-based practices in math instruction, according to the White House.
The initiative also would make permanent a research and development tax credit to encourage bolder research in private industry, Mr. Bush said. “Our greatest advantage has always been our educated, hard-working, ambitious people, and we’re going to keep that edge,” he said.
The initiative contains proposals similar to a package of bills introduced in late January in the Senate. The Protecting America’s Competitive Edge (or PACE) Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators and includes an education component that seeks to provide 10,000 new scholarships for math and science teachers at $20,000 per year and increase the number of students who take Advanced Placement math and science tests.
But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, said after the president’s speech that while he agreed that an increased focus on math and science was needed, Mr. Bush’s actions haven’t backed that goal.
“In his past two budgets, he called for absurd reductions for math and science programs at the National Science Foundation,” Mr. Kennedy said in a statement. “Last year he eliminated funding to support technology in the classroom. Unfortunately, his administration continues to be the administration of broken promises and nowhere is that truer than in education where his No Child Left Behind Act has been starved for funds since he signed it into law in 2002.”
While much of his address focused on international matters, Mr. Bush also mentioned that his proposed fiscal 2007 federal budget, slated for release on Feb. 6, will include cuts to discretionary spending. He noted that it will propose cuts to more than 140 programs “that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities.” Some of those programs slated for the chopping block are likely to be education related.
The president’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget last year named 48 programs within the Department of Education that Mr. Bush thought should be eliminated, though many were retained by Congress by the time the department’s budget finally passed in December.
In his speech, Mr. Bush cited his wife, First lady Laura Bush, for her leadership on the Helping America’s Youth Initiative, a program for at-risk young people ages 8 to 17. The program, announced during his 2005 State of the Union speech, seeks to work with boys at risk of becoming gang members and encourages mentoring by adults.
He also proposed adding resources to encourage young people to stay in school “so more of America’s youth can raise their sights and achieve their dreams.”
“A hopeful society,” he said, “gives special attention to children who lack direction and love.”
Mr. Bush made only a passing reference to his signature education achievement of his first term, the No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for schools and districts to meet annual educational goals or face sanctions, saying it was “raising standards and lifting test scores across our country.”
But in the official Democratic response to the president’s speech, Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who took office last month, said the law “is wreaking havoc on local school districts across the nation,” and chided the administration for not funding the law “as promised.”
Staff Writer Sean Cavanagh contributed to this report.