Thursday, February 02, 2006

Smoke and Mirrors

So, interesting science bits in the State of the Union:

Grauniad provides a good summary here

Let us look at the pieces: first the "doubling of funds" and "American Competitiveness Initiative.''
The former seems to be limited to the "critical areas" of supercomputing, nanotech and quantum information.

These have interesting medium term applications, sounds like someone is keen on data mining and signal processing...
A big question, which the Cosmic Variance folks are discussing, is whether this is new money or reprogramming from other areas. In which case physics research will decline, these are areas of research heavy on hardware and engineering staff. At best there will be a neutral shift from Big Iron particle physics to the nano and quantum stuff, with more big purchases of Big Iron computers (and the cycle is shifting on that back to central facilities with >> 104 CPU tight clusters taking over the bleeding edge from the < 1000 CPU loose beowulf architectures that were so cost effective a year or three ago. So it turns.

I would not hold my breath on the doubling of funding for agencies supporting basic research. Ain't going to happen.
There may be a one off ~ 5% hike for some NSF directorates (mine, please...) or a sub-sub department of the DoE. Then it will go away.

Rest of the stuff is counting renewal of the industrial R&D credit as "new funding". Pah. Almost all of that is short term development, not long term research.

So.. what about this teaching iniative. 100,000 new teachers in 5 years. (Up from 33,000 or so currently around).

Well, they ain't going to be fresh blood. The BSc pipeline is already there. It creates 4,000 physics BScs and ~ 10,000 math BScs each year and that will only change incrementally and slowly.
To get 70,000 new qualified teachers in 5 years all of the new math and physics BScs would have to become high school teachers.
Currently less than 20% do so, if I read the statistics correctly.

So, convert existing BSc workers to teachers? Over the last 20 years some 300,000 were produced, we'd only need 20% of that production. Which coincidentally is about the fraction of BScs working in software. Maybe that's where they will come from. If there are massive layoff by US software companies the right number of physics trained (albeit slightly rusty) personnel would come on the market just in time.

You could convert existing teachers to this, but I don't think you can in significant numbers. You would basically need to take teachers several years out of their BEds and teach them a full math/physics BSc curriculum. We're not talking a 3 credit summer class here, they'd need a minum of 24 semester hours, which would give them the absolute minimum basic intro to the first two years of math and physics, enough to teach high school effectively if they are good and have the pedagogic training.
Are there 70,000 existing teachers willing to take the time and make the effort? For what reward? We're talking ~ $20,000 investment in tuition per teacher plus opportunity cost. So they'd need a large pay rise guaranteed at the end of the program to make it worth their while.

It is however possible that the 30,000 math and science professionals they want to convert to teaching would become available.
Given actual budget trends there may be "shitloads" of researchers willing to get "emergency teacher qualifications" and supplement their income or early retirement by teaching high school. For a price...

What you can not do is get 30,000 researchers to go into high school teaching and simultaneously double the research budget (although the per capita increase implied for the surviving researchers sounds rather tasty).

So, this is impossible.
Er, unless you want to import 10,000-20,000 foreign teachers each year. And they might have trouble getting certified.
High school physics classes taught in Cantonese, anyone? That'd be fun, but might reverse recent enrollment trends.

PS: $380 million sounds like a lot of urging, but that's $12,000 per "science professional" to become a high school teacher...

Would you switch to teaching high school physics at a salary similar to or little higher than current high school salaries for a $12,000 "sign-on" bonus? Under what circumstances? Median salay is about $45,000, I think a good physics teacher in a well paid district might go for $60,000.

(cf PA teacher situation - already offering $4,500 signing bonuses...


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