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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Margaret Spellings
Secretary of Education

February 3, 2006

Margaret Spellings
Good afternoon. It's an honor and pleasure to join all of you today.

It's been an exciting week. In the President's State of the Union Address on Tuesday, he reminded us of the successes we've shared as a nation and the challenges that remain. He also announced the American Competitiveness Initiative that will help our students have the skills to succeed in a highly competitive world through promoting more rigor and a focus on math, science and critical languages.

Today, I visited Ramsay High School in Birmingham, Alabama and met students in AP calculus class that are looking forward to a great future. I also spoke with parents and local business people that understand the importance of learning math and science and gaining needed problem-solving skills for any field of interest.

The American Competitiveness Initiative will do for math and science what the No Child Left Behind Act did for reading - namely, train teachers in scientifically proven instructional methods, and provide intensive help so students can pass algebra and other high-level classes. It will also encourage high schools to offer more rigorous and Advanced Placement coursework to all students. The High School Reform Initiative will extend NCLB's high standards and accountability to our high schools. I look forward to visiting parents, teachers, students, and local communities around the country to educate them about these important programs.

Well, that's enough from me. I'm sure you're all ready to ask tough (but fair!) questions. So let's get started.

John, from Pittsburgh writes:
Sen. Kerry said that 53% of American students graduate from high school and that afterschool programs have been cut. Is that right? Also, who's your pick in the Super Bowl this weekend - Steelers or Seahawks?

Margaret Spellings
John, data from the National Center of Education Statistics actually shows that 73.9% of high school students graduate on time. And that figure is higher for minority students. We know that in order to ensure that every student graduates from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in college or the workforce, we need to do more to reform our nation's high schools. That's why the President and I support the High School Reform Initiative, which will provide funding to states and school districts to upgrade the high school curriculum, provide interventions for students who are at risk of dropping out, and assess students early so that we can know where they need help early in their schooling before they fall behind. And that's why the President announced the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) on Tuesday. Under the President's plan, states will also be able to train more high school teachers to teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. These programs upgrade the high school curriculum, provide students with college credit for high school work, and prepare students for college or the workforce. Data shows that students who take Advanced Placement courses are more likely to graduate from college than students who don't.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program provides funding to states for after-school programs, and federal funding for this program has increased from $846 million in 2001 to $981 million in 2006. And the new supplemental service provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act are providing hundreds of thousands of low-income students with the opportunity for after-school tutoring at no cost.

As far as my Super Bowl thing I've learned is to know your audience, and from Pittsburgh, so - go Steelers!

Dave, from Colleyville, Texas writes:
I was happy to hear the President talk about increasing emphasis on math and science education. I am a practicing engineer and work for a company that allows me to work very flexible hours. I would like to get involved in the President's program. How can I do that? Dave

Margaret Spellings
Dave, thanks for your interest in the Adjunct Teacher Corps Program, which President Bush announced in the State of the Union. The President's 2007 budget request will contain $25 million for this program, with the goal of getting 30,000 professionals, especially those with a math and science background like you, into our classrooms to teach by the year 2015. We know that not enough high school math and science teachers have sufficient content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching, and at the same time, we have math and science professionals who would be willing to teach part-time in the classroom. While we need to work with Congress to get this program enacted and funded, we'll keep you in mind as we work out the details of the program. Please keep checking back with the Department on the status of the Adjunct Teacher Corps.

We've also started a program called the Teacher Incentive Fund to get good teachers, especially those in critical subjects like math and science, to teach in our neediest schools. That new program received $99 million last year, so we'll be getting that money out the door to states and school districts immediately.

Mike, from Cairo NY writes:
I am 15 years old and in 10th grade. I would like to know when will the president start this new project by getting 70,000 teachers to be taught to teach AP classes in the subjects of math and science? From Mike

Margaret Spellings
Mike, thanks for your interest in this topic. The Department of Education currently has a broader AP program which received $32 million in 2006, but this additional $90 million will allow us to significantly expand the program over the next several years. President Bush is proposing $90 million in additional funding this year to expand the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Incentive Program in math, science, and critical foreign languages. This funding will increase the number of students taking AP-IB tests to 1.5 million over the next five years. Studies show that Advanced Placement students are more competitive internationally than their peers and are more likely to succeed in college.

I encourage you to take advantage of as many AP classes as you can in your high school career, as you are much more likely to be ready for college in a few years. The hard work is worth it!

Billy, from San Luis Obispo, California writes:
What kind of math will be enhanced for the learning process of children? The more basic math, like fraction, decimals, and algebra, or the higher ups of math like Calculus and Statistics? or both?

Margaret Spellings
Billy, students today need to have both basic math and computation skills and higher-order problem-solving skills. If students don't receive a good foundation in the elementary years in basic math, it makes it more difficult to master higher-level math courses in high school. Employers need workers with problem-solving skills, and we need to make sure that our schools are keeping up with that demand. That's why the President's initiative focuses on the entire K-12 pipeline, and includes programs for elementary, middle, and high schools.

We know that to get a steady, well-paying job in today's economy, not only do you need to read well, but you also need to have a strong foundation in both math and science. It's just a fact of the 21st century global economy. Here's an example: almost half of America's 17 year olds do not have the basic math skills required to apply for a job as a production associate at a modern automobile plant.

John, from Frisco, Texas writes:
If the Bush Administration is so interested in education and "No Child Left Behind", why is the funding for the Pell Grants being cut? The President talked in his State of the Union Address that the United States is losing its competitive edge in the world market. Why does President Bush want to weaken the education system by withdrawing funding and sending it to places outside of the United States?

Margaret Spellings
John, Pell Grant funding, which provides grants to low-income students to attend college, is increasing--in fact, funding for this important program has increased from $8.8 billion in 2001 to $13 billion in 2006. In addition, Congress just recently passed the Deficit Reduction Act, which funds two new college grant programs for Pell-eligible students that we strongly support. Academic Competitiveness grants will provide increased aid to first- and second-year college students who complete a rigorous high school curriculum ($750 for first-year students and $1,300 for second-year students). SMART Grants will provide an additional $4,000 to third- and fourth-year college students who major in math, science, and critical foreign languages. These two new grants will provide $4.5 billion in new grant funding for students over the next five years.

Waris, from Schenectady, New York writes:
Dear Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, First I want to thank you for answering our questions. I am a concerned citizen in New York about increase dropouts of high school students in my state. Could you please explain briefly, how is your administration responding to this specific issue? Thanks again for your time.

Margaret Spellings
Waris, I'm concerned about high school dropouts, too. That's why we've put such a big focus on reading and improving literacy skills in the early years to prevent students from falling behind. Over the past five years, we've allocated over $5 billion for the Reading First program to ensure that all kids are able to read on grade level by the end of third grade. And for those students who didn't have the benefit of Reading First, we started the Striving Readers program to provide funding for research-based reading programs for middle- and high-school students who are reading below grade level. These programs are the basis for the Math Now programs in the President's American Competitiveness Initiative and will ensure that we intervene early with students who are falling behind in math before they drop out. And we've also supported High School Reform to hold high schools accountable for providing a high-quality education to all students.

I also know that we have a truth in advertising problem with high school graduation rates. As I stated in an answer above to John, our best data at the Department of Education shows that only 73.9% of students graduate from high school on time. Good data is essential for us to know where we have problems and which students need more help. Unfortunately, in the past we've not had that kind of data to make good decisions. At the Department, we are providing increased funds for states so that they can have better data systems and provide a more accurate picture of our dropout problem.

Thanks for your question on this really important issue.

Scarlet, from NYC writes:
How does the USA compare to other countries in the world in terms of Math and Science comprehension among elementary- high school students?

Margaret Spellings
Scarlet, when we look at international comparisons of how students do, we see that our students need to run faster to keep up with other countries. Just seven percent of America's fourth- and eighth-graders achieved the "advanced" levels on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test. In Singapore, 38 percent of fourth-graders and 44 percent of eighth-graders did. On another test that measures math literacy and problem-solving among fifteen-year-olds, American students ranked 24th out of 29 developed countries. That's why the American Competitiveness Initiative is so important.

Bruce, from Houston, TX writes:
The President spoke during the State of the Union Address about the need to emphasize science and mathematics in childrens' education. However, at the graduate-level in Universities it is nearly impossible for professors to hire a graduate student that is an American citizen. Why do you think Americans are not choosing to pursue advanced degrees and what can be done to encourage them to do so?

Margaret Spellings
Thanks for the question, Bruce, and greetings to my hometown of Houston! Our educational leadership in the world is being challenged, as evidenced by the fact that America's share of the world's science and engineering doctorates is predicted to fall to 15 percent by 2010. Math and science skills are more essential than ever, and we need to have an innovative education system to keep up. The President's American Competitiveness Initiative will help prepare students with those essential math and science skills in K-12.

And the Academic Competitiveness Grants and SMART Grants, which I discussed in John's answer, will provide financial resources for students who study math, science, and critical foreign languages.

If you'd like more information on all the resources available through the Department of Education for both undergraduate and graduate studies, you can go to our website where a student can find a wealth of information on programs and help in paying for these programs. In a global economy, the value of both an undergraduate and a graduate degree is ever increasing, and as a society must continue to encourage as many students as possible to pursue their education to the highest-levels.

Jennifer, from Granada Hills, California writes:
I am currently the Science Department chair for one of LAUSD's high schools. My question is, with the NCLB, how are we planning on recruiting physical science teachers from the fields of Physics and Chemistry. Right now there is a tremendous shortage, so much so, that I believe our district has 46 floating sub because of the NCLB (which of course means that bc of the NCLB, teachers who have taught for years and know the material but not credentialed are being replaced weekly with subs who know nothing about the content). There ARE no teachers, and not even any up and coming in these fields, believe me, I've been searching in places such as UCLA and USC. What incentifs are we going to offer if we want students to become excited in these fields to become leaders in nanotechnology, new sources of energy?

Most of these fields make MUCH more money in the private sector and so we will never get the quality of teachers that our nation needs unless they have some incentif. Love of teaching doesn't pay the bills. Thank you for your time in answering this question, Respectfully, Jennifer

Margaret Spellings
Jennifer, thanks for teaching. You are absolutely right that we need more science teachers and that we need to get kids more excited about the sciences. Studies show that two-thirds of our math and science teachers are expected to retire by 2010. We support several initiatives to bring new teachers into the classroom, to make sure that teachers have the training they need to be successful in the classroom, and to reward them for their hard work. Under President Bush's leadership, we have increased loan forgiveness from $5,000 to $17,500 for highly qualified math, science and special education teachers serving in high need schools. And, as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative that was announced in the State of the Union, President Bush is proposing an Adjunct Teacher Corps to bring 30,000 qualified math and science professionals to teach part time in our high schools by 2015.

We've also begun to fund the Teacher Incentive Fund, which I discussed earlier, and which provides financial awards to teachers who get results in the classroom and teach in low-income schools. I hope your school district participates!

Rose, from chicago writes:
During the state of the union speech Bush spoke very littel of education, however one of the main things he did say he did say was that he wanted both math and science to be excentuated in the school curiculum. I am a student thus I am very intrested in both the president's and prestigious men women's views on how this should go. It must be handled with care as to not insinuate that both math and science are above all other topics or is that the exact opinon you want children to have. Also what do you want the newly educated youth to do whith a higher understanding in math and science.What plans do you have for those fields entierly. Sincerly, ROSE

Margaret Spellings
Rose, thanks for your questions. Math and science are important components of every child's education. But we also know that reading is an essential still for everyone. The No Child Left Behind Act put into place the principles of effective reading programs from the years of research we had conducted on reading. And because of the Reading First program in NCLB, which has provided billions of dollars since 2001 for research-based reading programs, we have seeded those programs in schools across the country. However, we have more work to do in math and science.

The American Competitiveness Initiative will do for math what the Reading First program did for reading. The President's initiative includes the creation of a National Math Panel, a group of experts who would evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching math and lay the groundwork for the Math Now program to prepare every student to take and pass algebra. Math Now for Elementary School students would be modeled after the current Reading First program and would promote research-based math instruction in the early grades. Math Now for Middle School Students would provide programs for students who have fallen behind in math. And the Advanced Placement Incentive program would train 70,000 additional teachers over the next five years to teach AP math and science courses.

Leslie, from Thousand Oaks, CA writes:
During the State of the Union President Bush stated that we would be focused on science education in secondary schools. Are there any plans to bring some of this funding into primary schools so that students can begin to understand science concepts before reaching high school?

Margaret Spellings
Leslie, President Bush and I both believe that science education is an essential part of a solid education, especially in the 21st century. That is why, as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, we are proposing that science assessments be added to the No Child Left Behind accountability system. This will make clear that we expect all children to be on grade level in science, in addition to math and reading.

Also part of the American Competitiveness Initiative is the Math Now program for Elementary and Middle School Students. A strong math base for our students will help prepare them to take challenging math and science courses in high school, because biology, chemistry and physics all require you to know how to do math.

brian, from fort worth, texas writes:
What is the Administration's position on controlling higher education costs andor improving the ability of students and their families to pay for college?

Margaret Spellings
Brian, thanks for writing. A college education is more important today than ever before, and that is why both the President and I believe that if you work hard, you should be able to go to college--regardless of how much money you or your parents make. Last September I created the Commission on the Future of Higher Education to look at the challenges facing America's higher education system, including cost issues. This new commission is charged with developing a comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education that will meet the needs of America's diverse population and also address the economic and workforce needs of the country's future.

In addition, in 2006, the Department expects to make over $77 billion in federal student aid grants and loans to more than 10 million students. Our primary goal is simple - to ensure that students who need the help are getting the maximum benefit from these funds. In addition, above I referenced the Academic Competitiveness Grants and SMART Grants that will provide increased aid to students who take a rigorous high school curriculum or study math, science, or foreign language in college.

As our world grows more competitive, a college degree is the "competitive edge" many students need if they are to succeed and prosper in the 21st century and this Administration is committed to making sure that higher education is a reachable reality for every student who chooses to pursue that course.

Margaret Spellings
Thank you, everyone, for all of your thoughtful questions. I'm glad to see so many folks interested in education. I hope to be back soon updating you on our progress. Have a great weekend!

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