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Business groups unite for education changes

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WASHINGTON, July 25 — Arguing for more urgency, businesses with tens of millions of workers are hoping to prod the nation into improving its math and science education.

Covering every sector of the U.S. economy, the business coalition aims to convince policymakers and the public that America’s place in the world is at stake — “the leadership of our country, our ability to compete on a global basis, and our ability to create jobs for American workers,” said John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable.

Castellani’s group, an association of chief executive officers from major U.S. corporations, will lead a campaign to be launched publicly on Wednesday. Other prominent members of the effort include the U.S Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and TechNet, a network of technology CEOs from leading firms.

Although the United States remains a dominant force in innovation, a series of indicators, from academic scores to flagging interest in science careers, spell trouble. The problem is on the radar of the White House, Congress and state leaders, but business leaders say the nation’s efforts are piecemeal and lacking a compelling sense of attention.

Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the emerging campaign will aim to show people how declining science performance undermines everyone.

“Do you want your kids to get a decent job?” Donohue asked Tuesday in a group interview with The Associated Press. “Do you want them to have a high quality of life and opportunity? Do you want them to live in a good house?”

Without a renewed U.S. commitment in science and math, he said, even successful students may never get those things “because they’re going to be operating in a system that’s falling behind in the global economy.”

The business groups hope their effort will shift attention toward a set of goals they culled from a mounting body of reports on U.S. math and science.

Support for teachers, incentives
The priorities center on improving the nation’s public schools, including more support for teachers and incentives for students to become scientists and engineers. The groups also back more research funding and faster security clearances for foreign scholars.

Another central goal: doubling the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math by 2015, from roughly 200,000 a year to 400,000.

Even creating accurate and timely measures of how students are performing is essential, said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. The country’s data on such matters as graduation rates and enrollment data are often seen as flawed or dated.

The business leaders plan to begin by lobbying lawmakers and governors and by helping their millions of employees understand how they and their kids can access science and math. Other efforts in coming months will be targeted at parents, teachers and students outside their businesses.

The design of the outreach effort has not been completed. The coalition is leaning against advertisements or public service spots, fearing those would be ignored, but will try to learn from whatever model appeals to students — even video games, Castellani said.

The coalition’s report, “Tapping America’s Potential,” differs from previous calls for action because of its scope, said Lezlee Westine, president of TechNet and a former political adviser to President Bush.

“It makes clear that all of us — those of us in industry, the educators, the citizens, the policymakers — have a role to play in this effort,” Westine said.

Published in News