Mathematics Federal File

Crunch Time

By Alyson Klein — March 06, 2006 1 min read

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings put her marketing skills—honed during years of selling Girl Scout cookies—to good use in making a sales pitch last week for the Bush administration’s plan for advancing math and science education.

At a speech to local council executives of the Girl Scouts in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 28, Ms. Spellings announced plans for the Department of Education to hold a major conference later this year on the topic of boosting the number of girls in advanced math and science classes. No date has been set.

Read a transcript of our exclusive online chat on Math and Science Education in the U.S..

In prepared remarks, Ms. Spellings promoted the meeting as a way to close the gender gap in enrollment in Advanced Placement physics, computer science, and other classes that emphasize what she termed the “pocket protector” skills employers increasingly value.

The secretary also promoted the participation of such high-achieving women as astronaut Sally K. Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, and Julie L. Gerberding, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ms. Spellings acknowledged that math and science have not always been major areas of concern for groups such as the Girl Scouts. She noted that when the New York City-based organization was formed in 1912, girls were “working on badges like Matron Housekeeper, which focused on vacuuming and polishing the floor.”

She added that when she was a Girl Scout in the late 1960s, “the most popular badge was called Social Dancer.” But in today’s economy, “girls need more advanced skills to succeed,” the secretary said.

Still, Ms. Spellings acknowledged that her experience selling Girl Scout cookies door to door—Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties (now Tagalongs) were and are her favorites, she added—helped prepare her for her role in communicating President Bush’s education agenda to the nation.

Ms. Spellings recalled that when she and her best friend, Joanne Scofield, went out to sell cookies, they agreed to take turns making the sales pitch. But Ms. Scofield usually “would chicken out and say, ‘I don’t want to talk. You do it.’ ” Ms. Spellings said.

“So I was the one doing all the talking,” the secretary added, “and I’ve been doing all the talking ever since.”

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