* Tool helps assess education solutions
* Derives from Raytheon’s work developing weapons
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) - 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)