"Continued innovation and growth in our economy depend substantially
on the quality and size of the professional technical labor force,"
say the authors of a new report from the Committee for Economic Development
(CED). "The increasing complexity of daily life also requires a
citizenry that is scientifically literate," they continue. "Improving
the quality of math and science education in America is a critical first
step toward both of those goals." Their report proposes ways of
changing the culture of science and math education to encourage greater
interest and motivation on the part of both students and teachers.
The Committee for Economic Development is a non-profit, non-partisan
organization of over 200 business leaders and university presidents.
The report, "Learning for the Future: Changing the Culture of Math
and Science Education to Ensure a Competitive Workforce," is a
policy statement by the CED's Research and Policy Committee. It frames
the improvement of science and math education as an issue of importance
to the nation's labor market, economic growth, and national security.
Its recommendations are aimed at the private sector, educators, and
state and local governments. In his keynote speech for the report's
release, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) commented, "The business leaders
at CED understand first hand how deteriorating math and science education
and steep decreases in qualified science and math professionals can
not only hurt business. It can undermine our nation's long-term economic
performance, security, and global position."
The report acknowledges that many efforts are currently underway to
enhance science and math education, and it cites a number of previous
reports on this subject. "Our mission, in large part," the
report states, "is to support these experiments, help to scale
them up, and to encourage the business community to be a fully-fledged
partner in these efforts." While many previous reports have focused
on "supply side"issues such as resources, this report says,
"CED also believes that improving the nation's math and science
education will require change on the demand side as well, that is, the
way our nation's young people regard these disciplines. Too often, they
are dismissed as too hard, too inaccessible, too elitist, too boring,
or too unfashionable." An important element of the report's recommendations
is encouraging more women and traditionally underrepresented minorities
to pursue S&T careers.
The report "strongly supports the nationwide movement towards
standards and accountability" and urges that those states that
have adopted such programs "be considered models." Because
federally-mandated math and reading assessments are to begin this year,
while assessments in science are not required until the 2007-8 school
year, the report warns that "increased attention and resources
focused on math and reading could come at the expense of science teaching
and learning." It encourages states to "work proactively to
ensure that science education is not neglected," and urges "the
federal government to provide grants to states that seek to develop
and/or revise science standards and assessments."
The report contains a number of useful statistics on K-12 student science
and math achievement, age and qualifications of teachers, production
of science and engineering degrees, and expected job growth in S&T
fields. It lays out three main challenges to be addressed: Increasing
Student Interest in Math and Science to Sustain the Pipeline; Demonstrating
the Wonder of Discovery While Helping Students to Master Rigorous Content;
and Acknowledging the Professionalism of Teachers. Specific recommendations
are then provided for each challenge. Some of those recommendations
are summarized below:
CHALLENGE ONE: Increasing Student Interest in Math and Science
to Sustain the Pipeline:
School districts should ensure that their curricula engage
students, promote active learning, and align with state and local
standards. Schools should also replicate programs proven to effectively
support high science and math achievement among underrepresented groups.
Businesses should support, and encourage employee support of, extracurricular
science and math activities, contribute to enhancements of the school
district's curricula "that integrate state-of-the-art applications,"
and highlight job opportunities available to S&T professionals.
Colleges and universities should consider the quality of teaching
in their introductory science and engineering classes, ensure that
grading in these fields is fair and aligned with other departments
and courses, and increase their communication with K-12 education
"to better prepare students for the rigors of higher education."