An innovation nation once more
To compete globally, the US workforce needs presidential leadership to bolster math, science, and engineering education.
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What should presidential leadership on these issues look like?Skip to next paragraph
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Both candidates should be articulating a clear direction – excellence in math, science, and engineering education at all levels – and specifying the resources they will dedicate to that goal. They do not need to design specific programs; they do need to show strong support for others who come up with such programs. Unfortunately, with vast military spending, entitlements, infrastructure investments, and corporate bailouts looming, neither Senator Obama nor Senator McCain is sticking up for serious money to repair our intangible but critical infrastructure of math, science, and engineering education.
Great achievements are usually founded on great examples. For instance, in the State University of New York, Stony Brook University has pioneered a model in which the university serves as a hub for local science education. Through its Center for Science and Mathematics Education, thousands of middle and high-school students participate in science and technology programs – summer biotechnology sleepover camps, forensic camps, science competitions, independent research projects, and more – at a critical moment in their schooling years. Community programs reach out to adults, too, to increase scientific literacy.
Efforts such as this aren't just about boosting US test scores. They're an investment in sound science and sound policies. The stakes are high. These days, making sure we have an electorate that can understand the science – or lack of it – behind various positions on, say, global warming is a matter of life and death.
To help others achieve greatness, our candidates should be shining spotlights on programs that are already getting good results. Both candidates should seek out programs such as Stony Brook's (there are many and they will be happy to be found), talk them up while the whole country is watching, and make specific pledges of support for a range of promising programs. As president, the winner must make good on his pledges and support the successes that follow.
Our bad dream can end, but only if our leaders – and we – wake up and face reality.