Adding math needs

Yet additional evidence has surfaced of the serious American need for increased emphasis on math and the sciences, computer-related areas excepted. Meeting this requirement demands commitment by American schools and universities , government at all levels, and individual taxpayers. It is too important an issue to let slide.

The new information is the report that over the past 15 years there has been an ''extreme'' decrease in the money and new staff available for mathematics research; it was prepared by a committee of the National Research Council.

The committee said it is important to reverse both the financial and staff declines to prevent adverse effects on national defense and the American economy.

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Evidence of the challenge is abundant. Only half as many people received doctorates in math in 1982 as in 1968. Only one-third as many students today as 12 years ago are preparing to teach math or science. And 1.16 million teachers of those subjects are not qualified.

A number of actions should be considered to meet the challenge; in some parts of the United States one or more of these approaches are being tried.

Most obvious is the need to upgrade those current science and math teachers who are substandard.

Communities should consider the National Science Foundation's recommendation that higher pay be offered to teachers of math and science than to others.

Taxpayers should be willing to support sound plans for improved math and science teaching in their local schools, even though it would mean higher taxes.

Some universities, state governments, and foundations are providing special scholarships to students who agree to teach math or science after graduation.

The National Research Committee has proposed an increase in the annual federal support of basic mathematics research, from the present $80 million to $ 180 million. This appears reasonable, given a federal budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Many other ideas also ought to be considered, including devoting more of each school day to math and science, establishing special magnet schools with top-quality teaching in both areas, and having the federal government - perhaps through the National Science Foundation - draw up model standards and curricula.

Facing educational challenge is hardly new to the United States. It's been done successfully numerous times, including in the post-Sputnik area of the late 1950s and 1960s when US science education was dramatically improved. It's time to move forward again.

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