Building Upon the America COMPETES Act

By Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
July 2010

Science and technology are at the core of America’s ability to compete in an increasingly globalized economy, as well as to solve 21st century challenges like energy independence, biotechnology, communications, and healthcare.

With the U.S. economy still in recovery, the issue of America’s long-term competitiveness is more critical than ever. We must ensure we have sustained economic growth and a strong supply of private sector jobs to employ the next generation of American workers.

According to the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 report, U.S. leadership in research and development (R&D) and technological innovation is declining. If this trend continues, we risk forfeiting our global leadership in technological development to other nations.

In order to compete, the U.S. must not only train the best scientists and engineers in the world, but emphasize math and science in American education so our students are qualified for the high-paying, high-tech jobs of the 21st century. I have been a vocal proponent of encouraging young students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). However, the rates of American students going into STEM fields still remains alarmingly low.

In my home state of Texas, only 41 percent of the high school graduates are ready for college-level math (algebra), and only 24 percent are ready for college-level science (biology). Furthermore, only 2 percent of all U.S. ninth grade boys and 1 percent of girls will attain even an undergraduate science or engineering degree. In contrast to these troubling numbers, 42 percent of all college undergraduates in China earn science or engineering degrees. In 2000, nearly 80 percent of the 114,000 science and engineering doctorates awarded worldwide were from institutions outside the United States. This situation has only worsened in the last decade.

Despite these troubling statistics, we can and must make America even more competitive and innovative than it is today. To grow high-paying, highly skilled American jobs, we must increase investment in research by lowering the corporate tax rate, including a permanent extension of the R&D tax credit. We need to encourage student interest in careers in math, science, and technology. And, we must foster an atmosphere of private-public partnerships between our educational institutions and those companies that need STEM graduates.

We must also build a solid foundation for a scientifically literate workforce, which begins with developing outstanding K-12 teachers in science and mathematics. Unfortunately, today there is such a shortage of highly qualified K-12 teachers that many of the nation’s school districts have been forced to hire uncertified or under-qualified teachers in these subjects.

Statistics demonstrate that a large percentage of middle and high school mathematics and science teachers are teaching outside their own primary fields of study. While a U.S. high school student has a 70 percent likelihood of being taught English by a teacher with a degree in English, that high school student has only about a 40 percent chance of studying chemistry with a teacher who was a chemistry major.

Those statistics are unnecessary and unacceptable. We can and must do better to encourage programs that increase the number of teachers in STEM fields who are certified to teach in those areas.

I am pleased that the University of Texas has been a leader in this area and has a model program that combats this problem by offering a combination of an undergraduate degree in a STEM field with teacher certification through electives. Beginning in 1997, the University of Texas’ UTeach program has produced more high school teachers with degrees in STEM fields and become the national benchmark for teaching excellence. It was recommended in the National Academies’ Rising above the Gathering Storm report.

Soon I will introduce legislation that will create a national program to encourage colleges and universities to adopt the UTeach program to recruit and prepare science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors to become certified as elementary and secondary school teachers.

Three years ago, Congress passed the America COMPETES Act. The legislation focused on improving the academic opportunities available to young Americans, including significant efforts to attract and train teachers qualified to teach courses in science and math and expanding the availability of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Today, the America COMPETES Act is up for reauthorization, and we must continue to build upon the progress started in the original law.

The challenge of educating a 21st century workforce can be daunting, but we should consider it an opportunity to strengthen America as a global leader of innovation. I remain committed to opening the doors of higher education to all Americans and keeping our country competitive in the global marketplace.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is a Republican who was elected in 1993 as the first woman to serve Texas in the U.S. Senate. She is the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Additionally, she serves on the Appropriations Committee, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and the Committee on Rules and Administration. In the 110th Congress, Sen. Hutchison served as the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. Sen. Hutchison is a member of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA) National Advisory Committee and is chairman of the West Point Board of Visitors.

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Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison