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FYI Number 48: April 19, 2006

President Bush Highlights American Competitiveness Initiative

The next few weeks will be important in the determination of FY 2007 physical sciences funding. House appropriators will soon begin the drafting of their bills that will help set the parameters for FY 2007 funding. Yesterday, President George Bush drew renewed attention to his American Competitiveness Initiative (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/017.html) during a visit to a suburban Maryland magnet middle school. Selections of his remarks follow regarding international competition, the importance of R&D to American competitiveness, basic research in physical sciences, the R&D tax credit, education, and the establishment of a National Math Panel.

"[T]he President of China is coming to Washington on Thursday. It's a very important visit. China is a very important strategic friend in many ways, and in many ways they pose competition to us. . . . we can either look at China and say, let's compete with China in a fair way, or say, we can't compete with China and therefore kind of isolate ourselves from the world.

"I've chosen the former route for the United States. I tell our people we shouldn't fear the future. What we ought to do is shape the future. We ought to be in charge of our future. And the best way to do so is to make sure that we're the most innovative country in the world. We have been the most innovative country in the world for the past decades, and that has helped raise our standard of living. We need to always be on the leading edge of technological change. We need to be the center of research and development.

"And so here are two ideas that I intend to work with Congress on to make sure that we're still the technological capital of the world -- for the benefit of our people, by the way, so that the standard of living in America continues to improve for everybody. One is that we must increase federal support for vital basic research.

"I don't know whether you realize this or not, but the Internet began as a Defense Department project to improve military communications. In other words, that was an area where the federal government spent research money, and out of that research and development came the Internet, which has substantially changed the way we live. The iPod, interestingly enough, was built on years of government-funded research in microdrive storage and electrochemistry and signal compression."

"In other words, investment at the federal level in research has led to practical applications which improve the lives of our citizens. And so I proposed to the Congress that we double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in physical sciences over the next 10 years. One way to make sure this country is the economic leader of the world so that our people benefit and can find work is for there to be a federal commitment to research.

"A second thing we can do is recognize that most research and development takes place in the private sector. That's about $200 billion a year is spent in private sector research. In other words, we've got some of the leading companies in our country doing research as to how to develop new products that will make sure that not only their company and their shareholders benefit, but that it ends up in order to the benefit of the United States.

"One way to encourage people to invest corporate funds is through the research and development tax credit. In other words, it's a use of the tax code to say, this is in your interest - by the way it's in our collective interest, as well - but it's in your interest, your corporate interest to invest so that your product line remains modern so that your scientists that work for your company are able to have funds necessary to continue to think anew.

"The problem we have in America is that the research and development tax credit expires on an annual basis. And if you're somebody trying to plan for the next five years, or the next 10 years, which a lot of smart people do, it's difficult to do so if every year you're wondering whether or not the Congress or the President is willing to stand up and support the research and development tax credit. So another way to make sure that this country of ours is competitive, where we don't have to fear the future because we intend to be the leader, is to make sure that the research and development tax credit is permanent, to add permanency to that in through the tax code.

"And thirdly, and one of the reasons we're here, is to make it clear to the American people that in order for us to be competitive, we've got to make sure that our children have got the skill sets necessary to compete for the jobs of the 21st century. We live in a global world, and that creates uncertainty in some. I understand that. There's a sense of, well, the world is so big and so connected that it's -- maybe we're really not in charge of things here.

"In a global economy, for example, if our children do not have the skill sets for the jobs of the 21st century, the jobs are going to go somewhere else. And it's a fact of life. It's a part of the real world we have to deal with. It's a lot different from the 1950s, for example. There wasn't that sense of global competition -- at least there wasn't that sense in Midland, Texas. . . . But there is today. If you're living in Midland, Texas, or living in Montgomery County, Maryland, it's important to understand if children don't have those skill sets needed to compete with a child from India, or a child from China, the new jobs will be going there.

"And so in order to make sure we remain the leader of the world, we have got to continue our focus in education on high standards, accountability, and a new focus -- an intense focus on math and science. . . ."

At this point the President discussed the importance of accountability and the No Child Left Behind Act. He then described other features of the American Competitiveness Initiative, after which he announced the National Math Panel:

"So we also know through measurement that our high school students, by the time they reach high school, have fallen behind most of the developed world in math and science. So there's been some positive results that ought to encourage us, but there's some warning signs. If we want to be a competitive nation, if we want our children to be able to have the jobs of the 21st century, those jobs that are high-paying, high-skilled jobs, we better do something about the fact that we're falling behind in math and science today. Now is the time to act."

"One, one of the great programs that has been proven to work is advanced placement . . . . [W]hat needs to be done to make advanced placement work? Well, one thing, the federal government needs to help train 70,000 high school teachers on how to teach AP and how to administer the program, and how to make sure it's a viable part of school districts all around the country.

"Second, we ought to have 30,000 math and science professionals in our classrooms over the next eight years. . . . there's just something that's important for a child to connect with a role model."

"And so we've got a goal of 70,000 AP teachers, and 30,000 adjunct professors in classrooms. The House of Representatives reauthorized the Higher Education Act, which included the AP program and the adjunct teacher program. And I want to thank them for that."

"I signed an executive order this morning establishing what is called the National Math Panel. Let me describe that to you. It is a part of our strategy to make sure that we achieve the objective of laying that foundation for our children in math and science. By January 31, 2007, the National Math Panel will report their assessments of the best practices for teaching math. Those experts will come together and help advise school districts about what is working and what's not working; what skills students need at what grade to master algebra and higher mathematics. In other words, starting to set those -- help set realistic standards. The standards and accountability that will be needed to ensure students are learning math -- that will be a part of their mandate. They will look at the teaching methods that are most effective for students of different abilities and backgrounds. They will look at the programs and learning materials that work best."

"And I'm also proposing a new program called Math Now, which will be used to apply the recommendations. And here's what Math Now means. Teachers will be able to use the math panel's recommendations to ensure they're using the best techniques. And there will be money to help. Math Now is similar for No Child Left Behind's Reading First Initiative, which uses scientific findings compiled by the National Reading Panel to help local and state districts achieve their objectives."

"Math Now for elementary school students will promote research-based practices. Math Now for middle school students will target students struggling with math."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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