ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Congressional Leaders Agree On Terms For “Fast Track” Authority.

The New York Times  (4/17, Weisman, Subscription Publication) reports that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-PA) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) successfully reached a deal over the “fast track” authority that President Obama has requested as he negotiates the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The Times notes that the deal included “stringent requirements” in order to “win over Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the finance panel.” The Times details the measure, which includes making any “final trade agreement public for 60 days before the president signs it, and up to four months before Congress votes.” However, the Times notes that despite the new agreement, “the fight to get the trade promotion bill to the president’s desk will be difficult.”

According to the AP  (4/17, Kellman), under the terms of the new TPA agreement, “Congress gets an up-or-down vote on any such deals,” but would not be able to make changes to the deals. The AP notes that labor unions have said a trade agreement with the Pacific would hinder American job growth and “encourage other countries to abuse workers and the environment;” however, the White House “rejects those claims,” saying that American “goods and services must have greater access to foreign buyers.” Sens. Wyden and Susan Collins (R-ME) also unveiled a “parallel bill” through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which would help US workers who may be “adversely affected” by the trade legislation.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/17, Mauldin, Subscription Publication) reports that the new deal will help President Obama reach a trade agreement in the Pacific; however, the “fast track” bill has also caused infighting within the Democratic Party, which has recently opposed such trade deals. The Journal notes that the agreement should move the bill through Congress quickly, where the White House’s ability to maintain enough GOP support and sway enough Democrats to pass the bill will be tested.

CNN  (4/16, Bradner) reports that the deal stuck between the committee chairs “sets the stage for debate over the massive Asia-Pacific pact” but will also force President Obama “into a bitter battle” with his fellow Democrats and some of “his traditional allies – particularly labor unions and environmental groups.” The article notes that the NAM and other business groups “have led the lobbying effort for trade promotion authority,” and a number of those groups lauded Thursday’s news.

Reuters  (4/17, Hughes) reports that the US Trade Representative had stated that the trade negotiations in the Pacific are important to US manufacturers and farmers who wish to expand in that part of the world.

Business Groups Praise New Deal. The Washington Examiner  (4/17, Higgins) reports that leading business groups “praised” the new Trade Promotion Authority legislation. According to the Examiner, NAM Vice President for International Economic Policy David Farr stated that “Trade is increasingly critical” to all US businesses, and those businesses “face higher tariffs and more barriers abroad” than most other “major” economies. Farr added, “Manufacturers need TPA to restore U.S. leadership in striking new trade deals that will knock down barriers so that manufacturers can improve their access to the world’s consumers.”

According to the Washington Times  (4/17, Soch), business groups in the US “were quick to hail” the bipartisan agreement on “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority, which would “renew” the President’s ability to “negotiate major new trade deals with Europe and Asia.”

The National Association of Manufacturers  (4/16, Micetich) issued a press release noting that “manufacturers are rallying behind bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority legislation” introduced on Thursday, with NAM Vice Chair for International Economic Policy and Emerson Chairman and CEO David Farr noting, “Manufacturers need TPA and new market-opening trade agreements now more than ever.” The press release stated that the TPA will help the US establish “market-opening trade agreements that will level the playing field abroad and strengthen the global competitiveness of manufacturers across the country.” NAM Vice President of International Economic Affairs Linda Dempsey added that US manufacturers “are succeeding” where level playing fields have been established.

The Shopfloor  (4/16, Monahah) reported that the actions by Sen. Hatch, Sen. Wyden, and Rep. Ryan. had “demonstrated strong bipartisan, bicameral leadership” that will help US manufacturers “compete more successfully” in the exportation of internationally traded goods. The Shopfloor notes that new trade agreements would give US manufacturers “better access to…95 percent of the world’s consumers” and an international trade market in manufactured goods that is “nearly three times” the size of the domestic market. The articles notes that “the NAM will continue to work with key Senate and House offices to communicate strong manufacturing support for TPA.”

The Hill  (4/17, Needham), the Washington (DC) Post  (4/16, Rubin), the Washington (DC) Post  (4/16, Kane, Nakamura), Politico  (4/17, Behsudi), Bloomberg  (4/17, Dougherty), and the Washington Times  (4/17, Dinan) also reported on this story.

Higher Education

DOE Gives Out More Than $5 Million In Nuclear Energy Scholarships, Fellowships.

The Hill  (4/17, Henry) reports that “ninety-one college students” will divide more than $5 million in Department of Energy “scholarships and fellowships to study in nuclear energy fields.” DOE “officials awarded 59 scholarships worth $7,500 each and 32 three-year graduate fellowships worth $50,000 per year to students pursuing ‘nuclear engineering degrees and other nuclear science and engineering programs relevant to nuclear energy,’ the department announced on Thursday.” DOE “said the scholarships are part of the Obama administration’s ‘efforts to expand clean energy innovation.’” Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz stated, “by helping promote cutting-edge nuclear science and engineering, the Department is helping to advance American leadership in the safe, secure and efficient use of nuclear energy here and around the world.”

March+April Prism now online (members only)
Cover Story: “Growing Pains.” Ethiopia is pushing engineering education harder than any other country In Africa, creating challenges for its academics.

VIDEOS – Watch the speakers and presentations from the Engineering Research Council meeting, held in March.

VIDEOS – Watch a collection of talks from the Public Policy Colloquium, held in February. (Due to audio problems, not all talks were captured.)

ASEE Perks
Learn about the broad collection of benefits available to ASEE members.


New York Fed Notes Difficulty Finding Needed Skills When Hiring Workers.

Newsday  (4/17, Madore) reports that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey found that “the No. 1 hiring problem” identified by manufacturers was “lack of computer skills,” noting that over 70 percent of “plants reported difficulty in attracting workers with advanced computer skills.”

Business Insider  (4/17, Udland) reports the New York Fed’s manufacturing and business leaders surveys also found that a large number of manufacturers “had difficulty finding punctual workers” and “workers with interpersonal skills.”

Collins: What Manufacturers Must Do To Fix The Skills Gap.

In an article for IndustryWeek  (4/17), Michael Collins notes that the “skilled workforce shortage” detailed in the recent report, “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond,” is not new, as reports as far back as 1990 have noted the issue. Collins recounts some of his personal experiences and argues that the lack of investment in “advanced skill training” prior to the problem developing was largely due to “money and the avoidance of training investment.” According to Collins, there is “big disconnect” between the skilled labor that studies have identified as needs and the “training that is actually being conducted.” Collins outlines what he believes is needed in today’s “automated plants” and details what manufacturers must do to correct the skills gap problem, including investing in training, recalculating the return on investment, ceasing the pursuit of “low-cost labor,” and “demonstrat[ing] that manufacturing jobs are secure.”

Industry News

North Carolina Manufacturing Institute To Launch On Tuesday.

The Salisbury (NC) Post  (4/16) reports on the launch of the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute, which is designed to help solve the “talent recruitment issues” facing North Carolina’s local employers and ensure that they “grow and remain competitive.” One of the partners of the program’s launch, the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, noted that the Institute is “modeled after successful initiatives in Indiana” and are “best practice models” for businesses and business groups such as the NAM.

Engineering and Public Policy

Report Finds Environmental Rules Could Eliminate Nearly 300,000 Jobs.

The Washington Times  (4/17, Wolfgang) reports that “new research shows that” President Obama’s proposed environmental regulations “could cost nearly 300,000 U.S. jobs.” According to the Times, a “report from the center-right American Action Forum says the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan – which would dramatically limit carbon emissions from power plants – could lead to the shuttering of more than 90 coal-fired plants across the country.” The “fallout from those closures could eliminate as many as 296,000 jobs, data show.”

Reuters  (4/17, Gardner) reports that co-author of the report Sam Batkins said, “We can’t expect coal worker jobs to go away and there not be some immediate impacts in the jobs that are supported by that industry.”

Appeals Court Appears To Side With Administration On Greenhouse Gas Rules.

The New York Times  (4/17, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit “appeared inclined on Thursday to dismiss the first legal challenge to President Obama’s most far-reaching regulation to slow climate change,” but in the arguments before the court, attorneys “for the nation’s two largest coal companies, more than two dozen states and the Environmental Protection Agency offered a preview of what is expected to be a protracted battle over a regulation Mr. Obama hopes to leave as his signature environmental achievement.” The Times notes that at stake “is the environmental agency’s proposed rule, issued under the authority of the Clean Air Act, to curb planet-warming carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.” The EPA rule, “which would require all states to draft plans to restructure their electricity sectors and would push them to transition from coal power to cleaner forms of energy, could ultimately shut down hundreds of coal plants.”

The Wall Street Journal  (4/16, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that the appeals court judges appeared to indicate that the legal challenge may be premature, as the rules are not yet final.

However, according to The Hill  (4/17, Cama), “Judge Karen Henderson was more open to the idea, saying that it is clear that the EPA has made a final decision that it can legally use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon from power plants,” despite the fact “the proposal is still in its public comment period.” Henderson said, “I see a closed mind in terms of the legal issue. … That’s not going to change with the comments.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Senate Committee Unanimously Approves Reauthorization Of ESEA.

The Washington Post  (4/17, Brown) reports that the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, unanimously approved a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, suggesting that “federal lawmakers might finally be able to reach a deal to rewrite the law known as No Child Left Behind, which expired in 2007.” The measure would retain testing requirements in math and reading for students in grades 3 to 8 and in high school, but would also “significantly reduce the federal role in public schools.” The measure was developed by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray.

The AP  (4/16, Freking) reports that Sen. Alexander said that the bill would change current law in order for “the states and local school boards [to] determine what constitutes success.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that he is “glad some committee members recognized the need to strengthen the bill’s accountability measures.” He is quoted saying, “Every family and every community deserve to know that schools are helping all children succeed.”

US News & World Report  (4/16, Bidwell) reports the bill has been named the Every Child Achieves Act. It also notes that the committee approved 29 amendments of 57 proposed. It was also “tentatively endorsed” by both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (4/17, Malloy, Tagami) reports,

The Hill  (4/17, Carney) “Floor Action” blog says that the bill “gives more authority to states and local school districts.” The Huffington Post  (4/17, Klein) reports the measure keeps the No Child Left Behind Act’s reliance on “high-stakes testing,” though it also “would give states flexibility to decide how to hold schools’ accountable for low scores.” It also quotes Secretary Duncan praising the action by the committee, adding, “We join with numerous civil rights and business groups in urging that further significant improvements be made to the bill.”

Michigan Senate Approves STEM Endorsement For High School Diplomas.

The AP  (4/17) reports the Michigan state Senate unanimously approved a measure to grant “a special endorsement” to be put on high school diplomas for students who “earn enough credits in science, technology, engineering and math.” The bill is intended to “help students receive training for in-demand jobs and improve their college resumes.” Michigan would be the first state to adopt such an endorsement. To gain the endorsement, students would have to have “six credits each in math and science, and a half-credit each in courses focusing on technology and engineering.”

Kansas BOE Debates Hiring Uncertified Teachers.

The Wichita (KS) Eagle  (4/17, Lowry) reports that some Kansas BOE representatives “expressed reservations” during a board meeting Thursday about a proposal to allow school districts to hire uncertified teachers. Kansas City, Kansas Superintendent Cynthia Lane attempted to assure the board that that the proposal “was not to allow the hiring of less qualified teachers” but to hire for positions where no teachers are available, such as Spanish classes in rural regions. Board Member Jim Porter said that teachers that have not studied education may not be qualified to run classrooms, while Member Steve Roberts said that there are “some instances where someone can come [to education] from industry or someone just has natural gifts,” and that those people should be welcomed.

Los Angeles Unified Rebukes Apple Over iPads.

The Washington Post  (4/16, Strauss) reports in its Answer Sheet blog on the continued coverage of Los Angeles Unified’s letter to Apple, linking to the letter in its entirety and noting that the plan to provide iPads was created by former superintendent John Deasy, “who resigned last year, in part because this effort turned into a debacle.” Teachers “complained” that they did not receive training on how to use the units, and the letter contends that even after a year, “the vast majority of students are still unable to access the Pearson curriculum on iPads.”

If the complaint cannot be resolved, notes NPR  (4/16, Gilbertson) in its “NprEd” blog, LAUSD “could take Apple to court.” Board Member Monica Ratliff said that “Pearson just wasn’t working out” for teachers and that she believes it’s “imperative that Pearson step up and fix the curriculum, or give us back our money.”

SEC Investigating Finance For iPads Project. The Los Angeles Times  (4/17, Blume) adds that the SEC has begun an inquiry into the project to determine if the district “complied with legal guidelines” over the use of bonds to finance the iPad project, particularly whether the bonds were “properly disclosed.” District officials were “optimistic” that SEC’s concerns were addressed. The district prepared a presentation to show the measures it took to explain bond usage to the public, and the Times notes that California law “permits the spending of school construction bonds on technology” as long as intent is indicated.

Young Students Being Trained On Technology Needed For Standardized Tests.

The AP  (4/17, Leff) reports that young students are being trained on technology they will later have to master in order “to excel on standardized tests.” Tasks required of “even the youngest test-takers” include switching screens, using menus, and shifting words and numbers. Educators also note that the tests use different skills than those children may learn on technology at home. University of Southern California Assistant Education Professor Morgan Polikoff said that it is “wrong or foolish or short-sighted to not provide some kind of instruction” on the technology and that its inclusion in the classroom is important not just for the test but to foster important skills.

Principals Said To Play Key Role In School Improvement.

Will Miller, president of the Wallace Foundation, writes in an op-ed in the New York Times  (4/17, Subscription Publication) on the importance of principals for improving schools. He argues the need for getting great principals into “the schools that need them most — those with poor and minority students.” He also cites a study “covering 180 schools in nine states,” by “researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Toronto” concluding, “We have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.” He argues that this means there should be much greater investment in training and development for principals.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Court To Hear Arguments Against EPA Plan To Cut Carbon Emissions From Power Plants.
University Of Tennessee To Host Women In STEM Symposium.
Ohio Professor Gets NSF Grant For Super-Strong Adhesive Research.
House Republicans Introduce US Research Policy Bill.
Saab, Embraer To Partner On F-X2 Project For Brazilian Air Force.
US Navy Chooses 13 Contractors For $49 Million Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Contract.
Spring ISD Will Convert YMCA Into STEM Center.

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