President Bush continued his campaign to get schools to focus more on mathematics and science education with a visit here last week to a middle school where students study robotics and work with NASA scientists.
At Parkland Magnet Middle School for Aerospace Technology on April 18, Mr. Bush watched a 6th grade class use robotic arms to pick up balls, saw students using technology to trace sunspots, and observed scientists from the space agency guiding students’ studies.
“When I was in the 7th grade, I don’t think we spent much time on robotics,” the president said against a backdrop of posters that featured astronauts and space shuttles. “Science is not only cool, it’s really important for the future of this country.”
Mr. Bush toured the school with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings as part of his initiative to emphasize math and science education to prepare students to compete in the global job market. Parkland is one of three schools that make up the Middle School Magnet Consortium in the 139,000-student Montgomery County, Md., school district. The consortium is financed by a $7.2 million grant from the Department of Education.
Mr. Bush said the goal of his initiative is to keep America “a bold and innovative country.” He noted the impending visit to the United States by President Hu Jintao of China, who arrived in Washington on April 20, as a way to call attention to the global pressure to excel in math and science.
“We can either look at China and say, ‘Let’s compete with China in a fair way,’ or say ‘We can’t compete with China,’ and therefore kind of isolate ourselves from the world,” the president said. “I’ve chosen the former route for the United States.”
During the speech in the school’s gymnasium before several hundred students, teachers, and guests, Mr. Bush highlighted proposals he unveiled in his Jan. 31 State of the Union Address to train 70,000 high school teachers to teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, and to push for 30,000 more math and science professionals to serve in schools as adjunct teachers, like those from NASA who work with Parkland’s students.
In his fiscal 2007 budget proposal, the president has called for $25 million for the adjunct-teacher program and $90 million for the AP and IB teacher plan, though he proposed to cut 42 other education programs for a savings of $3.5 billion. (“President’s Budget Would Cut Education Spending,” Feb. 15, 2006)
“In order for us to be competitive, we’ve got to make sure that our children have got the skill sets necessary to compete for the jobs of the 21st century,” he said last week.
The next day, Mr. Bush and Secretary Spellings met with students researching nanotechnology at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala. During that visit, Ms. Spellings unveiled a checklist to help parents make sure their children are prepared for the 21stCentury, which includes encouraging students to take AP courses.
‘Warmer and Fuzzier’
The visits to a middle school and a historically black college came during a week of upheaval in the White House, as Press Secretary Scott McClellan resigned and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove relinquished his policy duties to focus on the mid-term congressional elections. Also last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 47 percent of those polled strongly disapprove of Mr. Bush’s job performance.
The president’s appearance at the Parkland magnet school, and a focus generally on math and science education last week, may have been calculated to shift public attention away from those distractions, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who attended the speech in his district and said he supported proposals to emphasize math and science education.
“He is trying to focus on an issue from his first term that is one of his signature issues that got him broad support and appeal,” the congressman said, citing the No Child Left Behind Act, which passed with bipartisan support in President Bush’s first year in office. But Rep. Van Hollen noted that while the president has called for new money for math and science, he has proposed taking money away from other education programs.
“People will like what he’s saying, but when they realize the gap, they’re going to be disenchanted,” Mr. Van Hollen said.
Matthew A. Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said Mr. Bush needed to be cautious.
“It does sort of give him a warmer and fuzzier image to be hanging out with kids, but his education policies are causing increasing dissatisfaction around the country,” Mr. Crenson said. “Things have really changed a lot since he first attached himself to education.”