To train American children as effectively as other nations in the fields of math and science, the United States needs to spend 10 times more money training math and science teachers, according to an education commission headed by John Glenn.
The National Commission on Math and Science Teaching in the 21st Century, also known as the Glenn Commission, echoes concerns of the era when the former senator first orbited the Earth.
When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite, and set off a space race during the Cold War, many Americans worried that the U.S. was behind in learning basic science.
“In an age now driven by the relentless necessity of scientific and technological advance,” the commission reports, “the preparation our students receive in mathematics and science is, in a word, unacceptable.”
Good Jobs Will Go Abroad, Says Glenn
The commission studied issue over the past year to determine why as American children get older, they consistently do poorer than other nations’ children on math and science tests.
More than 25 percent of high school teachers of math and science, the commission reported, lack even a college minor in those areas. It is not only important that these teachers know their subject, urged the commission, but that they are trained to teach those subjects as well.
It proposed a $5 billion budget for making sure teachers earn majors or minors in math and science, teach those courses instead of others, and get incentives to stay in their jobs. The plan would spend two federal dollars for every dollar spent at the state and local level.
“It’s costly,” said Glenn, an Ohio native who made history in 1962 as the first American to orbit Earth and again 36 years later as the oldest person in space. “It’s far, far more costly if we do nothing.”
“Our kids aren’t going to be competitive,” he said. “We’ll see the good jobs in the world go to other countries.”
The panel was also charged with recommending ways to prepare, attract, and keep good math and science teachers. The report stopped short of calling for a pay increase — an issue many educators say keeps schools from luring top teachers from more-lucrative technology jobs.
Tech Jobs Beckon, Not Teaching
In the Seattle public schools, recruiter Michael Jones hears stories of computer companies offering high school students six-figure jobs upon graduation.
“When they start thinking about college majors, it’s not going to math education or physics education,” said Jones, who recruits teachers of all subjects for the 47,000-student system. “This is something bigger than the school district. Pay needs to be better and the profession needs more prestige.”
The commission cites a National Center for Education Statistics study that shows that teachers earn, on average, 29 percent less than other workers with a college degree.
“Young people with an affinity for math and science can earn more money than teachers,” said Linda Rosen, math and science policy adviser for Education Secretary Richard Riley. “But we don’t just want to raise pay across the board until we really have provided an opportunity for teachers to achieve the quality we are looking for.”
The commission, disbanded with the release of this study, included more than two dozen teachers, school superintendents, governors, members of Congress and industry executives.
It also recommended that states and schools boards assess their teachers’ knowledge and needs and increase degree requirements.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.