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U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Delivers Remarks on Math, Science and Global Competitiveness at National Academies Convocation in Washington, DC


U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today joined U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to discuss global competitiveness and the importance of math and science at the National Academies Convocation on “Rising Above the Gathering Storm Two Years Later: Accelerating Progress Toward a Brighter Economic Future” in Washington, DC.

Following are the Secretary’s prepared remarks:

Thank you, Tom Luce for that kind introduction. Tom and I go way back, and he continues to do great work to promote math and science education. He’s the main reason I got involved in education.

It’s an honor to share a panel with my friends and fellow Secretaries Bodman and Gutierrez. We’re the “3 musketeers” for the President’s Competitiveness Agenda.

Chuck Vest, President of National Academy of Engineering

Norm Augustine, Convocation Chairman and CEO Emeritus of Lockheed Martin

I appreciate this opportunity to talk about how we can continue working together to help our students, and our country, excel.

As you know, we’re marking the 25th anniversary of the landmark report, A Nation at Risk.

The report warned that, quote, “if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it happens, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

In 2005, with Norm Augustine’s Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, the National Academies issued a similar call to action. As Norm Augustine noted in a recent op ed, it has yielded significant progress. For instance:

Next year, over 200,000 students will study abroad, mostly in the fields of science and engineering, often under government-provided scholarships.

The government is set to increase its non-defense R&D spending by 25% over the next few years.

And, a multi-year initiative is underway to make the country a nanotechnology hub.

The only problem? These actions were taken not by the U.S., but by China, the U.K., and India.

As you know, President Bush echoed many of the Gathering Storm report’s recommendations in his 2006 State of the Union address. Last year, he signed into law the America COMPETES Act, which moved many of these recommendations forward.

You’ll hear more from Secretaries Bodman and Gutierrez on energy and commerce implications in just a moment.

In the education world, there are some fronts on which we have not acted adequately: successful math strategies, rigorous high school coursework, and promoting foreign languages.

So, where are we—and what must we do now? One thing we know is that we must start early.

Thanks to No Child Left Behind, we are now holding schools accountable for the achievement of every single child, beginning in elementary school. Just as you use data to guide improvement in business, science, and medicine, we’re now beginning to use it to improve education and to close the untenable achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

And, by the way, just yesterday, a Federal District Court in Connecticut rendered a final judgment in the Department’s favor on issues around implementation of NCLB. This represents a significant legal victory for civil rights law.

Recently, I was proud to receive the final report of the National Math Panel, which the President created by executive order as part of his American Competitiveness Initiative.

The Panel included some of the finest minds in our nation, who spent more than two years at work. They reviewed more then 16,000 research publications on what students must learn, by when, in order to develop solid math skills.

It was chaired by my good friend, Larry Faulkner.

I’m glad to see my friend, Skip Fennell, from the Math Panel here today.

The next step is to make sure that teachers have access to this information—the research that helps them work more effectively.

The COMPETES Act authorized the President’s Math Now program to do just that.

Now we must fund it. This year’s budget request includes 95 million dollars for Math Now. I hope you will join me in speaking out on behalf of the need for this program.

Kids won’t show up in Ph.D. programs if they don’t understand grade school math.

And teachers without a solid foundation cannot engender the love of math in their students.

Thanks to NCLB and the Math Panel, a child enrolling in elementary school has a much better likelihood of entering middle school and high school ready to learn the skills he or she will need for college. That’s a good start.

Now we must make sure that when they reach those later grades, our students are not only inspired, but challenged.

Given the choice, most kids I know would rather be engaged and challenged than bored.

In fact, 3 out of 4 high school students say that they don’t feel challenged.

And a Gates Foundation study found that lack of challenging coursework is one of the top reasons students drop out of high school.

When we stop setting the bar high for our kids, they often stop trying.

AP courses are one great way of challenging American high school students—and they also prepare students for college.

A high school student who passes AP exams is 3 times more likely to earn a college degree than others who do not.

And if the student is African American, just taking and passing AP exams makes it 4 times more likely that he or she will earn a college degree.

Our AP/IB program aims to help more students access these courses by training more teachers to teach them.

Budget includes $70 million for AP/IB, an increase of $26 million

I also want to thank Tom for supporting this work at the state and local level through the National Math and Science Initiative.

Their AP Training and Incentive programs are getting great results: For example, in 10 Dallas schools, the number of minority students who pass AP math, science, and English exams has multiplied by a factor of 20 over the last 12 years.

The UTeach program at the University of Texas is also doing a fantastic job of preparing undergraduate math, science, and computer science majors to be high school teachers. And this model is spreading across the country.

Half of the program’s graduates teach in schools where the majority of students are from low-income families.

And four years later, 82 percent are still teaching.

We also need to get more expertise like yours into our classrooms at every level of the system.

In 2006, the President proposed an Adjunct Teacher Corps to encourage math and science professionals to serve as high school teachers. But Congress has yet to authorize it.

We need your expertise and insight to help align K-12 curriculum with college and workforce needs.

Only about 1/3 of eligible students are accessing the new Academic Competitiveness and SMART grants which provide additional financial aid to students who have taken a rigorous course of study or study in the STEM fields. They often don’t qualify because they haven’t taken or had access to rigorous courses.

The America COMPETES Act called for programs in critical foreign languages that would start in kindergarten and continue through high school and college.

Congress did not fund the foreign language partnerships in 2008.

FY 2009 budget request is $24 million.

To achieve real results, we need to coordinate efforts.

While there’s a lot of support and energy for these initiatives, we often take the “thousand flowers blooming” approach. In other words, we often work in silos instead of as a team with a plan.

At the federal level, there are over 100 programs in 12 federal agencies which received over $3.1 billion in funding. The problem is, almost half of the STEM programs received about $1 million or less. It’s hard to implement sustainable, scalable programs in this way.

Earlier today you heard from my friend Craig Barrett, Chairman of Intel. We recently saw each other to honor the high school students who won the Intel Talent Search Awards for math and science. About 7 out of 10 of those students will go on to get an M.D. or Ph.D.

These are the talented and knowledgeable young people who will help our nation succeed in our global economy. The challenge is to encourage and support more of them—so that they grow into people like you ... from Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, to Nobel Prize winner, Steve Chu, to Fortune 500 CEOs like Norm Augustine and Craig Barrett.

I look forward to continuing our work together to do just that.

Thank you.


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