Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2003 / 18 Tishrei, 5764

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Schools need to re-emphasize math and science | The big buzz in public education these days is the No Child Left Behind Act. The ultimate value of the program is problematic because it is underfunded and most of the teachers and administrators in public schools don't embrace the program.

And, of course, there is the politically charged debate over school vouchers and the issue of whether students and parents should be able to chose other schools when theirs fail. These programs, in my opinion, fail to address a very real danger. Namely, that this entire nation will be left behind if we don't create incentives for students and teachers to focus on two crucial subjects: mathematics and natural science.

Statistics on the performance of American students in math and science are cause for alarm. The results of the Third International Math and Science Study show that American students are lagging far behind their international counterparts. American eighth-graders received lower science and math scores than their peers from 14 other nations. And according to the 2003 ACT college entrance exams, only about 40 percent of high school seniors in the United States are qualified to take college-level algebra.

This crisis in math and science education not only threatens our position as a leading global innovator, but it is also cause for concern regarding our national security.

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Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, says that we should be asking ourselves, "What has allowed the U.S. to be the global leader that it is, and what has allowed the U.S. to have the greatest defense?" The answer, says Jackson, is technological innovation. In order to continue to innovate, we need to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. And that education needs to begin early.

But a study done by the Glenn Commission, a group chaired by John Glenn and designed to study the scientific education crisis in America, found that there will be an enormous shortfall of new science and math teachers for K-12 classrooms over the next decade. And we don't even have enough qualified math and science teachers at the elementary or high school levels now. Less than 40 percent of public-school math teachers majored in the field that they are teaching.

There are other contributing factors at work. American corporations continue to outsource technical jobs to cheaper overseas foreign labor. Hundreds of thousands of high-paying, high-value technology jobs have been lost to foreign markets. But neither the Department of Commerce nor the Department or Labor has any measure of those lost jobs. Both departments should start tracking them now.

Because of this trend, Americans have diminished incentives to pursue careers in math and the natural sciences. Third-quarter data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows alarmingly high unemployment rates in the scientific fields. Computer hardware engineers are experiencing 6.9 percent unemployment, and electrical engineers are at 6.7 percent. By contrast, only about 1 percent of our lawyers are currently unemployed.

"There has been a serious decline in interest among U.S. students in pursuing careers in science and engineering," says Dr. Diana S. Natalicio, vice chair of the National Science Board. "On the demand side for graduates, there hasn't been as much pressure because the potential of moving jobs overseas doesn't create (as much need) in the corporate world."

These trends don't bode well for this country's future prospects in science and technology, which are the foundation of the extraordinary economic growth that Americans have enjoyed for more than half a century. Unless these trends are reversed, the next half-century could be one of national decline.

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Lou Dobbs is the anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Comment by clicking here.

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