the war on terrorism has absorbed most of the nation's attention since
September 11. But some other important developments have taken place
in Washington during the past few monthsmost notably President
Bush's January 8 signing of the 1,184-page No Child Left Behind
Act, which makes sweeping changes in the federal approach to education.
policy makers praise the act's emphasis on testing, standards, and accountabilityall
goals promoted by Bush as a cornerstone of his domestic agenda. But
they are less sanguine about other aspects of the new approach, especially
lower levels of spending earmarked to promote science and math education
in kindergarten through 12th grade.
dedicated only $12.5 million to the Education Department's math and
science partnerships program in the department's 2002 budget. This is
a fraction of what Congress authorized and a pittance compared with
the minimum of $250 million reserved for math and science training in
2001. Says Ioannis Miaoulis, dean of engineering and associate provost
at Tufts University: $12.5 million for the nation hardly begins to make
a dent. It cannot do anything at a national level and very little at
a state level. Adds Jodi L. Peterson, director of legislative
affairs for the National Science Teachers Association: Dedication
to math and science took a huge blow. On another front, the National
Science Foundation has been allotted $160 million to fund math and science
partnerships on a peer reviewed basis. And for the first time, engineering
departments can compete for some of the money. The problem, say critics,
is that advocates for math and science training must compete with other
advocates for what was guaranteed a year earlier.
who want to reverse this trend will have to work a lot harder on Capitol
Hill during the next budget cycle. There is, however, some positive
news in assessing the new education law overall. The legislation sets
out to achieve three main goals: set clear academic standards, expand
testing to assess performance, and establish greater accountability
in schools. This won't be a cure-all, but it might do some good. As
is well known in education circles, many American students have very
weak skills in math and science at a time when such skills are not only
needed in everyday life but, more broadly, are a key element in expanding
the crucial tech sector and keeping America competitive around the world.
authorizes the federal government to spend $26.5 billion, up from a
current budget of $18.5 billion, on education programs. Broadening the
federal role in education, the law requires annual state tests in reading
and mathematics for every child in grades three through eight, beginning
in the fall of 2005. Science tests will be added in three grades in
2005. States are currently required to test students in reading and
math much less frequentlyonce in elementary school, once in middle
school, and once in high school.
where scores failed to improve over two consecutive years could receive
more federal aid to improve skills. If scores still did not improve,
low-income students would be eligible for tutoring or transportation
to other public schools. Schools that failed to improve for six years
could be required to change leadership and staff. The No Child
Left Behind Act, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act, addresses an issue of critical importance to the high-tech
communitythe need to better prepare American students for 21st
Century jobs, says William T. Archey, president and CEO of AeA,
the nation's largest high-tech industry association. It is also
good public policy. National and international tests demonstrate that
too many American students are not proficient in math and science, the
core disciplines that drive the technology revolution. This legislation
recognizes that we as a nation need to do more to make sure all students
get the quality education they need to enable them to take advantage
of the new economy's opportunities. The days of unskilled entry-level
jobs have passed.
report, entitled CyberEducation 2002 by AeA and the Nasdaq
Stock Market finds that while K-12 math achievement test scores have
improved since 1990, only 17 percent of 12th graders tested adequately
for proficiency in math in 2000. This was an increase from 12 percent
in 1990, but still a dismal showing. Science proficiency scores fell
from 21 percent in 1996 to 18 percent this year.
creates real issues for the nation as too few students pursue studies
in technically challenging subjects like engineering in college,
says Archey. America's most innovative industries are then left
scrambling for the talent they need to compete.
are other problems with the new law. For one thing, as The Washington
Post has pointed out, the measure provides $900 million annually over
six years to help children improve their reading by using methods proven
effective through scientifically based research. But there
is still considerable debate about what constitutes such research, raising
troublesome questions for parents, teachers, and local officials. Yet
whatever the drawbacks, the new approach seems worth a try.
T. Walsh is Chief White House Correspondent for U.S. News & World
Report. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.