February 4, 2006

The Clintonization of Bush

The State of the Union speech this year demonstrated the downsizing of Bush's political capital. It had a bunch of platitudes about Iraq and the war on terrorism and a bunch of small-program stuff, things that would never have received play in prior years when Bush was feeling his oats. But his oats have become cornfeed, he's in sad shape politically, and he's so desperate that he even mentioned switchgrass and math and science education. At least he didn't mention the ultimate in Clintonization via school uniforms.

I suspect that the minor mention of switchgrass will push up investment in that at least briefly, but I'm just not sure about the math/science initiative. Officials at NSF (and any grant-giving agency) are well aware of the political dynamics: to justify more appropriations, you always have to have some new initiative in the works. So the president didn't need to say anything. What really matters on the ground in terms of research support is what the White House supports in the hard, backroom negotiations with Congressional leaders. With $120 billion more to be sunk shortly into our wars, will there even be an extra $5 or $10 billion for grants? Who knows.

And then there's the educational sideshow here. Will Congressional leaders be interested in K-12 math and science or in rewarding those who major or head to grad school in math and science? Unfortunately, it is a sideshow to everything else in Washington, relatively speaking. Given the political turmoil over NCLB, the elevation of Boehnert to majority leader, and the crippling federal deficit, this looks like the politics of symbolism.

Let me lay the cards on the line: I love calculus (and swoon to the fundamental theorem). I want everyone to adore math and be intrigued by science (and vice versa). But there are serious questions to debate about what math and science education are for (citizenship? economics? aesthetics?), let alone how to tackle the teacher-shortage problem, curriculum issues, and professional development necessary to boost math and science education.

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Posted in Education policy on February 4, 2006 8:50 AM |