Improving math and science education ranked next to national security and broadband internet access in discussions at a recent White House forum, where President George W. Bush gathered with more than 100 high-tech executives to discuss the future of technology.

John Bailey, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, said the conversation kept coming back to education. “The tech sector was making a call for improved science and math education,” Bailey said.

The consensus was that high-tech companies still can’t find enough qualified employees, he said, partly because math and science too often are not being taught in ways that are enticing to students.

The lack of skilled workers causes national security concerns because of the need to hire foreign employees, executives said. And not having home-grown talent slows economic growth.

The White House has largely focused on improving literacy to date, Bailey said, so it was encouraging to see technology, math, and science education in the spotlight. “It was very, very positive,” he said.

Participants in the 21st Century High Tech Forum included AOL Time Warner Chief Executive Officer Steve Case, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, and AT&T CEO Mike Armstrong.

Before hearing the president speak, attendees participated in three panel sessions: technology and national security; economic recovery and long-term growth; and education and the work force.

The discussion also focused on the deployment of broadband internet access, or lack thereof, and how it is delaying students’ access to high-quality teachers and education that distance learning makes possible, further compounding the math and science education problem.

“We have virtual classrooms in Texas, virtual school districts in Texas, where we’ve hooked up a fairly wealthy school district with rural or poor school districts. It made a huge difference,” Bush said. “It would have been a heck of a lot better if there had been broadband technology, however, to make the process move a lot quicker.”

Bush added, “Hopefully, we’re doing a pretty good job of working to eliminate hurdles and barriers to get broadband implemented.”

Bush said his administration has worked to prevent taxes on internet access, implemented sweeping education reform, and created the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The council is expected to make its recommendations this fall for how to speed the deployment of broadband access to schools and other customers in rural areas.

The new education law, No Child Left Behind, provides $160 million in 2002 for a new program called Mathematics and Science Partnerships, administered by the National Science Foundation. These funds mark the start of a five-year, $1 billion initiative to improve math and science education by encouraging elementary and secondary schools to form partnerships with technology-savvy colleges and universities. The deadline to apply for 2002 was April 30, but a new competition is expected to begin this fall.

Bailey said other grant programs, such as the Teacher Quality Enhancement state grants, also will help improve math and science education. Many teachers—math and science teachers in particular—are not qualified in the subject they’re teaching, he said, and the administration’s $2.85 billion teacher quality initiative aims to fix that.

States had until July 1 to apply for these funds, which will be passed on to school districts through local competitions later this year.

Links:

The White House
http://www.ed.gov

Mathematics and Science Partnerships
http://www.ehr.nsf.gov/msp/mathandsciencepp.asp