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Panel Urges U.S. Push to Raise Math, Science Achievement

By Debra Viadero — October 18, 2005 3 min read
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Warning that the United States stands to lose its economic, scientific, and technological edge over the rest of the world, a panel convened by the National Academies has issued a call for federal initiatives costing $10 billion a year to reverse the situation—including many aimed at K-12 schooling.

Among the education recommendations in the report issued last week by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy were calls for:

• Using scholarships to entice 10,000 of America’s brightest students to become mathematics and science teachers;

• Beefing up the science and math skills of 250,000 teachers already on the job;

• Doubling the number of students who take Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses in those subjects; and

• Tripling the numbers of students passing those AP and IB tests.

“I can’t guarantee that there will be more jobs if we adopt these recommendations,” said panel member Craig R. Barrett, who is the chairman of the board of the Intel Corp., based in Santa Clara, Calif., “but I believe there won’t be more jobs if we don’t do these things.”

The National Academies, a congressionally created advisory organization, commissioned the 20-member panel earlier this year at the request of Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

“Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” is available from the National Academies.

Norman H. Augustine, the retired chief executive officer and chairman of the Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., headed the group. It included three university presidents and three Nobel laureates, as well as current and retired CEOs. Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland’s state superintendent of schools, was the lone K-12 educator in the group.

To support its call to action, the report lists economic and educational indicators that it says flag potential trouble for the U.S. economy. It notes, for example, that the United States is now a net importer of high-technology products, that chemical companies are closing plants by the dozens, and that American 12th graders score below the international average on math and science tests.

“Suddenly, Americans find themselves in competition for their jobs—not just from their neighbors—but from other countries as well,” said Mr. Augustine. “It’s not Pearl Harbor, Sputnik, or 9/11. It’s something much more akin to the proverbial frog being slowly boiled.”

Attracting Talent

In precollegiate education, panel members say, a major problem is that math and science teachers lack solid educational backgrounds in those subjects.

The scholarship program the report outlines would offer four-year scholarships, worth up to $20,000 a year, to 10,000 promising students who committed to teaching in public schools for five years. Participants working in underserved inner-city and rural schools could qualify for $10,000 bonuses.

The panelists also want to use scholarships to persuade 25,000 students to earn undergraduate degrees in the physical sciences, life sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

Outside of education, the report recommends: increasing federal spending on long-term scientific research by 10 percent a year over seven years; offering $500,000 grants to early-career researchers; and establishing new national offices to manage a centralized national research infrastructure and to develop programs to meet future energy challenges.

Other proposals include tax credits for employers that make continuing education available to practicing scientists and engineers and measures that would make the United States more welcoming to international students and scholars who want to stay and work here.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2005 edition of Education Week as Panel Urges U.S. Push to Raise Math, Science Achievement

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