Attract math, science teachers

This editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star.

College graduates with engineering, math and science degrees find jobs more quickly and at higher pay than graduates in most other fields.

But rosy employment prospects haven't enticed enough students to major in science and math curriculums.

Neither have warnings from industry leaders that the United States is falling behind other nations in its ability to provide a skilled work force.

Three years ago, a coalition of business groups won broad approval from governors and Congress for its goal of doubling the number of undergraduate degrees in science, math, engineering and technology fields to 400,000 by 2015.

But progress is stalled. After increasing slightly in the early years of this decade, the number of graduates receiving degrees in science and math has flattened out.

The United States has fallen far behind in the drive to double graduates in those crucial programs.

The nation's ability to remain healthy, develop new products and improve its infrastructure depends on increasing its supply of medical professionals, scientists, inventors and engineers.

Congress acknowledged that reality last year when it passed the America Competes Act. It calls for federal incentives to help improve math and science education, recruit teachers to those fields and fund new research.

After passing the legislation, however, Congress opted not to fund it beyond a modest increase for science and engineering research.

A concerted drive is needed to improve science and math education in the nation's elementary and middle schools.

The problem begins with a shortage of teachers who possess good classroom skills and science or math expertise.

Congress and state governments could help by offering financial incentives for such teachers.

Congress also should follow through on meaningful immigration reform that would make it easier for foreign students who graduate from American universities to remain here and put their skills to work.