A writer in the Christian Science Monitor asks Can Bush make America more competitive in math and science? and other difficult questions about the president’s education plans laid out in his State of the Union address.

In a nation that seems to have a cultural aversion to tackling “hard” subjects like math and science, can those numbers be achieved? And without the stark image of Sputnik – the Soviet satellite whose launch in 1957 caught the US by surprise – to spur a fear of national decline, will the nation rally to the “competitiveness” cause and push Congress to fund the plan?

That phrase “cultural aversion” is a perfect descriptor for the way we as a society approach math and science. For evidence, try telling people in a gathering that you teach math (or science). Then stand back and listen to people tell you either how poor their knowledge of the subject is (sometimes with a hint of pride) or how they don’t like it.

However, even if we did have a Sputnik-like national emergency to spur the improvement in teaching math and science, there is still the matter of the 800-pound gorilla in the mix.

Education experts are also wondering whether Bush’s first-term education initiative – No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which aims to improve the achievement of low performers – will work at cross-purposes with the American Competitiveness Initiative. The FY 2007 budget for the Department of Education took a big hit – a 5.5 percent reduction. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings maintains that the department can do both: raise the bottom and enhance achievement at the top. The budget would boost funding for NCLB by 4.6 percent.

The only problem with Ms. Spellings optimism is that NCLB is only raising the bottom. The net effect is to level everything out at the lowest common denominator. The law is an impediment to raising standards in math and science education by keeping the teaching of these subjects at the level of the standardized test.

math, science, education, nclb