* Tool helps assess education solutions
* Derives from Raytheon's work developing weapons
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, July 8 Defense company Raytheon Co
(RTN.N) on Wednesday unveiled a computer-based modeling tool to
help policymakers and educators study ways to increase the
number of U.S. students graduating with degrees in science,
technology, engineering and math.
Raytheon Chief Executive William Swanson said he asked his
company's systems engineers to begin work on the complex model
several years ago after growing concerned about waning interest
and increasing dropout rates in these fields.
Various studies have warned that the United States risks
losing its competitive edge given declining numbers of graduate
degrees awarded in engineering, computer science and math.
Raytheon, the world's largest missile maker, has long used
modeling and simulation tools to assess the weapons systems it
builds for the U.S. military, but no one had ever developed
such a program for assessing the U.S. educational system.
The model will allow researchers to study how class size,
student-teacher ratios, dropout and graduation rates, teacher
proficiency, gender difference, and other variables affect the
educational system, Swanson told Reuters in an interview.
Using complex algorithms, the model looked at one real-life
example involving California's effort to reduce class sizes, an
initiative that was abandoned after several years because it
had unintended consequence and led to hiring of more teachers
with lower proficiency rates.
"The model predicted all of that in seconds, but it took a
few years for it to play out in real life," he said.
Swanson said Raytheon was giving the model, which includes
more than 200 variables, to the Business Higher Education Forum
to use and adapt. He said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
had expressed interest, as had several universities. There was
also interest in models examining the educational systems of
specific large states such as California, New York and Ohio.
Ultimately, he said he hoped the tool would help the U.S.
government and states implement initiatives to reverse the
current trend and bolster interest in technical fields.
"The model ... isn't the end all for everything. It's
really something that educators, researchers, policymakers and
legislators can use to help them make decisions," he said.
Computer modeling and simulation have already become a
critical tool for the Pentagon in deciding what weapons to buy,
training personnel, and testing newly developed weapons.
Rising budget pressures will strengthen that trend in
coming years, top executives and defense officials say.
Raytheon uses modeling and simulation to develop and assess
the weapons it builds for the military, including a $1 billion
contract to develop a system that uses Global Positioning
System (GPS) data to help aircraft land safely on aircraft
carriers, even in bad weather or hostile environments.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Gary Hill)