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YEAR OF MATH AND SCIENCE?: Flurry of Congressional Hearings on Economic Competitiveness Focus on High Schools and Math and Science Instruction

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"It's equally important that established workers those already on the career ladder get the additional training and retraining they will need to advance in the marketplace of tomorrow and throughout their lifetimes."

2006 is well on its way to becoming the year of math and science. Last month, in his State of the Union address, President Bush highlighted the need to “encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations.” One week later, the president proposed improving the quality of math, science, and technological education in K 12 schools as part of his American Competitiveness Initiative. In a pair of hearings on Capitol Hill earlier this month, it was Congress’s turn to examine how to better prepare American students for a life of innovation.

In the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on February 9, Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) said that the nation must boost high school graduation rates and promote lifetime learning among established workers if it is to meet global competition for high-paying 21st-century jobs.

“At a time when most jobs will require some postsecondary education, we must focus on how to graduate more students on time, with less need for remediation, and give them a greater likelihood of success in college or the workplace,” he said. “It’s equally important that established workers those already on the career ladder get the additional training and retraining they will need to advance in the marketplace of tomorrow and throughout their lifetimes.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who served as the sole witness at the HELP Committee hearing, promoted the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative. “The president’s American Competitiveness Initiative will double the federal investment in science over the next decade to make sure we continue to lead the world in Nobel Prize winners,” she said. “And it will encourage the private sector to make bold investments in research and innovation to produce the next big breakthrough. But to do all this, we must first give our students the skills to compete and lead in the global economy.”

Spellings cited a need for workers with “pocket protector skills” who can use their strong backgrounds in math and science to solve problems, whether they are fixing an automobile or performing a challenging science experiment. Currently, she noted, “almost half of our 17-year-olds don’t have the math skills to work as a production associate at a modern auto plant.”

To help meet these challenges, Spellings called for more research about successful math interventions and instruction. “We need to do for math what we’ve done for reading by building a scientific-research base of classroom practices that are proven to work,” she said. She also said she wanted to build on the foundations of the No Child Left Behind Act to help prepare students for more rigorous math and science coursework in high school.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the ranking member on the HELP Committee, said that “in totality,” the administration’s efforts in math and science were on the right track, but he sharply criticized the president’s plan to create a new program while eliminating others, particularly those benefiting students from low-income families. The administration’s spending plan looks like a “shell game,” he said.

Earlier that morning, on the other side of the Capitol, the House Committee on Government Reform heard from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez and an assortment of representatives from business and industry. In his testimony, Secretary Gutierrez spoke about competitiveness in terms of open markets, immigration policy, and other elements that affect the nation’s ability to stay competitive. He also stressed that the U.S. must continue its investment in human capital to have the capacity to continually innovate and stay ahead of the competition.

Not surprisingly, most of the witnesses addressed their comments to the need for more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates. However, they also used the opportunity to press for more intervention at the K 12 level.

“With a public education system that consistently falls behind those of other nations in the world, we are failing our children right here at home in the most fundamental way,” said Hector de Jesus Ruiz, chairman and CEO of Advanced Micro Devices. “We have a responsibility to them and to future generations to ensure that America remains the land of greatest opportunity. That begins with making a conscious and considerable investment in improving our K 12 education system. And while math and science education are critically important, especially in this new technology-driven economy, I firmly believe we must focus on improving our entire education system across all subject areas.”

summary of Chairman Enzi’s opening statement is available at http://help.senate.gov/Maj_press/2006_02_09.pdf.

Secretary Spellings’s testimony is available at http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2006/02/02092006.html.

Testimony from the House Government Reform Committee hearing is available athttp://reform.house.gov/GovReform/Hearings/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=39022.

 

Building and Filling the Pipeline: High Schools Key to the Competitiveness Agenda

 

On February 16, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held the “Roundtable on Competitiveness: Building and Filling the Pipeline,” the second in a series of hearings based on the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative. The witnesses at the event included representatives from high schools, colleges, and the business world, who talked about high school as a critical piece in the competitiveness agenda.

In his opening statement, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Mike Enzi spoke about the importance of “building and filling the pipeline” to ensure that America produces enough workers to fill highly skilled jobs. “Unless more students complete high school on time and prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce, we will not have enough people in the pipeline to meet the projected 4.5 million skilled worker shortage by 2010,” he said. “Without an educated workforce we are certain to lose our preeminence in the world to developing nations that are quickly growing, educating their citizens, and innovating at a much faster rate than we are.”

Audio and video from the roundtable, as well as the complete list of witnesses, is available athttp://help.senate.gov/Hearings/2006_02_16/2006_02_16.html.

 

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.