Bush Proposes Math and Science Initiatives

By Michelle R. Davis — February 07, 2006 7 min read
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President Bush kicked off what is likely to be a yearlong push to improve global competitiveness by bolstering math and science education for American students during his State of the Union address Jan. 31.

Both Mr. Bush and the Department of Education detailed last week plans to enhance math and science education by training thousands of new teachers in those subjects and increasing access to Advanced Placement courses for low-income students. Mr. Bush’s proposed fiscal 2007 budget, expected to be released this week, is set to include $380 million in new federal funding for those efforts.

Among Mr. Bush’s proposals are the addition of 70,000 new math and science teachers for AP and International Baccalaureate classes and a plan to attract 30,000 additional teachers by 2015 for those subjects from other professions through an Adjunct Teacher Corps program.

Nearly three-quarters of the way through his 51-minute speech that touched on the nation’s war against terrorism, the need to reform Social Security, and the fight against AIDS, the president 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.’ ”

According to the White House, which provided additional details following the speech, the initiative would 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.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a Feb. 1 press conference that the 70,000 new Advanced Placement teachers would likely be drawn from the ranks of existing science and math teachers who either are not certified to teach the higher-level classes or by certifying AP math teachers to teach AP science courses and vice versa. Currently, there are about 32,000 teachers certified to teach AP science and math courses, according to a spokeswoman for the New York City-based College Board, which oversees the AP program.

Ms. Spellings said students from low-income areas such as the inner cities have been offered far fewer AP courses than their more affluent peers, and those offerings must be expanded. The president’s competitiveness initiative seeks to drastically increase the number of students taking the AP and IB classes and triple the number of students passing those tests, to some 700,000 by 2012.

“We must do a better job of having these opportunities more widely available to all kids,” Ms. Spellings said.

The 30,000 teachers drawn from other fields would be lured to the classroom by incentives, Ms. Spellings said, though she did not elaborate. She acknowledged that it would take cooperation from state and local education 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.”

In 2004, however, Mr. Bush proposed a $40 million Adjunct Teacher Corps, but Congress rejected the idea.

Reg Weaver, the president of the 2.7-million member National Education Association, said in an interview 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.

“Where are these new teachers coming from?” Mr. Weaver said. “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 Better Chance’

The Education Department released a brochure, entitled “Meeting the Challenge of a Changing World.” It says the department would evaluate federal science, math, and technology programs to “determine which federal education programs are most effective in raising achievement in math and science, which deserve more funding and which should be consolidated to save taxpayer money.”

Even as the administration seeks to promote best practices in math teaching, there have been broad disagreements about what works best in the classroom. In recent years, the “math wars” have pitted those who believe schools should emphasize arithmetic and basic skills against others who say American students lack conceptual and problem-solving abilities.

Linda Gojak, the president of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, which represents K-12 and postsecondary officials, noted that the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency, has been studying effective practices in math for years. National leaders and others have been lamenting students’ poor math skills—and calling for improvements—for a long time, too, she noted. But too often, promising strategies are not sustained, she said.

“We still haven’t made the big changes we need to make across the board. We give it lip service,” Ms. Gojak said.

The Education Department also proposes establishing a National Math Panel, similar to the National Reading Panel, which would be devoted to finding the best ways to teach math and to improve instructional methods for teachers. The National Reading Panel was made up of reading specialists, teachers, doctors, and psychologists who published an influential report in 2000 on the best ways to teach children to read.

Also under the initiative, a Math Now program for elementary and middle school students would promote research-based practices in math instruction, help diagnose middle school students struggling in the subject, and provide intensive instruction to get them up to speed.

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.”

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.”

Budget Priorities

President Bush also mentioned that his proposed fiscal 2007 federal budget, slated for release this week, 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.”

If history is any indication, some of the programs slated for the chopping block are likely to be education-related. The president’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget named 48 programs within the Education Department 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 praised his wife, first lady Laura Bush, for her leadership on the Helping America’s Youth Initiative, a program for young people ages 8 to 17. The program, announced a year ago, 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 said the No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for schools and districts to meet annual educational goals or face penalties, is “raising standards and lifting test scores across our country.”

But in the official Democratic response to the president’s speech, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia, who took office last month, said the law was “wreaking havoc on local school districts across the nation,” and he chided the administration for not financing the law “as promised.”

Mr. Kaine instead cited efforts by governors last year to craft their own high school improvement plan and said some states are working to extend prekindergarten programs to all families.

Staff Writer Sean Cavanagh contributed to this report.


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