White House Official Notes Importance of Competitiveness, Education

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Publication date: 
24 January 2006

The call for the U.S. to take action to maintain its global competitiveness in S&T, voiced frequently by the science community in recent months, has been heard and acknowledged by the White House. Reports such as the National Academies' "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" (see FYIs #155, 156, 157 and 164 at http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/) and events like December's National Summit on Competitiveness (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/172.html) have been making the case that the federal government should be investing more in, and raising the visibility of, R&D in the physical sciences, math, and engineering, and education in these fields at all levels. Earlier this month, the American Institute of Physics signed onto a letter that the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition sent to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. The letter highlighted the importance of STEM education to the U.S.'s ability to compete, and urged the Bush Administration to make it a priority for the coming year. AIP Member Societies also signing onto the letter included the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America.

Card referred to STEM education and the competitiveness issue at a recent speaking engagement. During the question-and-answer period after a January 11 speech to the U.S. Chamber of Congress, he remarked that S&T competitiveness is an important topic, and one that the Bush Administration would be considering how to address in the coming year, within the context of the FY 2007 budget.

Asked to comment on the National Academies report and the issues it raised, Card called the report "compelling" and noted that he had read it in its entirety. "I would encourage you to read this report," he told his audience. "It's about our need to have more engineers and scientists in the United States.... [I]t is dramatic in its exposure to that which is a problem in the United States and how few young people are going into the physical sciences and to math, and how they're not going to college with an expectation that they'll be an engineer, or a mathematician, or a physicist."

The report "outlines a road map toward solving the problem," Card continued. "It's a ten-year road map. And we are taking a very close look at it in the Administration. We are very forward-leaning in believing that it is the right issue to address, and many of the suggestions are appropriate suggestions, but we have to put them in the context of [OMB Director] Josh Bolten's budget, and we'll be doing that." Card added that "we need to train more engineers and mathematicians and physicists," and commented that the right place to inspire them to pursue those fields was in high school, rather than waiting until their college years.

Prior to Card's Chamber of Commerce speech, the STEM Education Coalition sent a letter to Card on January 5, asking the Administration "to take decisive action to strengthen our nation's STEM education system by raising public awareness about the importance of STEM education in ensuring future American prosperity and competitiveness and by increasing federal investments in science, math, engineering and technology education."
A "strong consensus is emerging among leaders in the scientific, business, and education communities that America's future competitiveness in the global marketplace is directly tied to the ability of our education systems to prepare children in mathematics, science, and engineering," the letter says. It refers to the National Academies report, noting that "The number one action item on the panel's list of recommendations was to improve STEM education at our nation's K-12 schools, postsecondary institutions and other educational entities." The letter urges the Administration to highlight the competitiveness and STEM education issues in President Bush's State of the Union address, and to make it "a priority in the FY 2007 budget process."

The complete text of the STEM Education Coalition's January 5 letter is available at http://www.aip.org/gov/stemcardltr06.pdf.