MONTGOMERY PRESIDENTIAL VISIT

Bush Promotes Math, Science Education As Crucial for Jobs

President Bush greets students at Parkland Magnet School for Aerospace Technology after his speech. At right, Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, background, watch as students demonstrate use of a robotic arm.
President Bush greets students at Parkland Magnet School for Aerospace Technology after his speech. At right, Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, background, watch as students demonstrate use of a robotic arm. (By Roger L. Wollenberg -- Getty Images)
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

President Bush told Montgomery County students yesterday that math and science are "cool subjects" and warned that the country would lose jobs overseas unless more funding is devoted to the disciplines.

"It's important to understand, if children don't have those skill sets needed to compete with a child from India or a child from China, the new jobs will be going there," he said.

Speaking at the Parkland Magnet School for Aerospace Technology in Rockville, Bush renewed his push for what the White House is calling the "American Competitiveness Initiative," a 10-year, $136 billion plan to improve instruction and research in math and science that was introduced during his State of the Union address.

The initiative includes a program to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced placement math and science courses and would boost federal funding for scientific research. The biggest cost of the plan next year would be a $4.6 billion research and development tax credit for private industry, making permanent one that expired last year.

"We better do something about the fact that we're falling behind in math and science today," he said. "Now is the time to act."

After signing an executive order earlier yesterday creating a national math advisory panel, Bush arrived in the afternoon at the middle school, one of three magnet programs in Montgomery that were funded by a $7.2 million federal grant.

"Welcome to the future!" teacher Bob Jones said as Bush entered his sixth-grade class, Introduction to Robotic Systems, which was filled with various robotic arms perched on wooden tables.

"Sure looks like it," Bush replied before watching students use hydraulic-powered arms to pick up orange and white balls fitted with magnets.

Later, in the school gym, Bush said: "People would say, well, you know, science isn't cool. Science is not only cool, it's really important for the future of this country."

But Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said Bush's speech ignored the many cuts the president has made to science and math programs. Bush cut funding for the National Institutes of Health, and he has proposed a reduction for school programs in the National Science Foundation's budget, Lierman said.

Kelsey Grain, 13, a seventh-grader at the school, said the talk of academic competition with China and India made her more committed to studying math and science.

"I'm scared that if I don't do well, I'll end up with a job at McDonald's," she said.

Bush, who is scheduled to meet this week with Chinese President Hu Jintao, said he understood that many Americans were nervous about competition in the increasingly global economy. But he said the country should not be "fearful of competition from around the world."

"We can either look at China and say, 'Let's compete with China in a fair way,' or say, 'We can't compete with China,' and therefore kind of isolate ourselves from the world," he said. "I've chosen the former route for the United States."


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