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totypes into commercial products. National defense-homeland security and new technologies for clean, affordable, and reliable energy are particularly appropriate areas of inquiry for the national laboratory system.


The danger exists that Americans may not know enough about science, technology, or mathematics to significantly contribute to, or fully benefit from, the knowledge-based society that is already taking shape around us. Moreover, most of us do not have enough understanding of the importance of those skills to encourage our children to study those subjects—both for their career opportunities and for their general benefit. Other nations have learned from our history, however, and they are boosting their investments in science and engineering education because doing so pays immense economic and social dividends.

The rise of new international competitors in science and engineering is forcing the United States to ask whether its education system can meet the demands of the 21st century. The nation faces several areas of challenge: K–12 student preparation in science and mathematics, limited undergraduate interest in science and engineering majors, significant student attrition among science and engineering undergraduate and graduate students, and science and engineering education that in some instances inadequately prepares students to work outside universities.

K–12 Performance

Education in science, mathematics, and technology has become a focus of intense concern within the business and academic communities. The domestic and world economies depend more and more on science and engineering. But our primary and secondary schools do not seem able to produce enough students with the interest, motivation, knowledge, and skills they will need to compete and prosper in the emerging world.

Although there was steady improvement in mathematics test scores from 1990 through 2005, only 36% of 4th-grade students and 30% of 8th-grade students who took the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) performed at or above the “proficient” level in mathematics (Figure 3-14). (Proficiency was demonstrated by competence with “challenging subject matter”.)52 The results of the science 2000 NAEP test were


Educational Programs. Available at: Accessed December 20, 2005; J. S. Braswell, G. S. Dion, M. C. Daane, and Y. Jin. The Nation’s Report Card. NCES 2005451. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, 2004. Based on National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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