NSF & Congress
Summary: House Science Committee Second Hearing
on U.S. Math and Science Education - Programs Aimed
at Grades K-12
April 28 , 1999
On April 28th the House Science Committee held the
second in a series of hearings on math and science
education, focusing on programs aimed at grades K-12.
Witnesses included Dr. Rita Colwell, Director, NSF
; Judith Johnson, Acting Assistant Secretary, DoED;
Daniel Goldin, Administrator, NASA; Gerry Wheeler,
Executive Director ,National Science Teachers Association;
and Gordon Ambach, Executive Director, Council of
Chief State School Officers.
Opening comments by Chairman Sensenbrenner and Rep
Ehlers focused on the dispersion of 63 math and science
programs in 24 agencies and departments, and the need
to provide adequate oversight to the over $2.5 billion
spent annually on these programs.
Dr. Colwell noted that our traditional labor-based
economy is rapidly becoming a "conceptual-based economy"
with increasing importance for the K-12 educational
experience in producing world-class scientists and
engineers. NSF's new Graduate Teaching Fellows program
will place graduate students as information resources
in school districts and is, like all NSF educational
activities, an experiment designed to find more efficient
ways of learning and teaching. Dr. Colwell stressed
the collaborative Interagency Education Research Initiative
(IERI) ongoing between NSF, DoEd and the National
Institute of Children and Human Development to learn
more about the learning process and the efficacy of
educational technology. She concluded with a list
of three critical areas for NSF: Better links between
research programs and K-12 education; new strategies
for teacher preparation, including centers for teacher
education; and increasing research on learning processes
through cross-agency collaboration.
Judith Johnson stressed recent partnerships with NSF
involving the issuance of the six-part "America Counts"
action strategy for K-12 mathematics education. The
Eisenhower Professional Development program provides
$355 million for teacher development, of which $250
million is reserved for math and science teachers.
This program becomes subject to local option in the
current Ed Flex bill, eliminating the math and science
Mr. Goldin addressed NASA hands-on programs that have
had particular success in getting disadvantaged students
enthusiastic about science, math and technology.
Mr. Wheeler emphasized that direct access to real science
by both teachers and students was the single most
important thing NASA and NSF are doing to improve
science education. The ease with which teachers can
access science on the Internet improves on a daily
Mr. Ambach said in middle schools 35% of teachers of
math and science are teaching out of their certified
area. He strongly felt that the Eisenhower Program
funds designated for science and math teacher professional
development would be jeopardized if the Ed Flex bill
was signed into law.
Rep. Ehlers expressed the view that NSF should concentrate
on establishing a national consensus on content as
well as a sequence of topics to be studied in K-12
math and science. He noted that because of the transience
of students in our nation, some have to repeat material
and some are missing material as they move across
Dr. Colwell said the nation has a "mile wide, inch
deep" approach to teaching math and science. NSF is
sharpening its focus and has been working closely
with other agencies, with the IERI as a prime example.
A number of members endorsed "hand-on" learning of
math and science in ways that make topics relevant
to students' daily lives. In addition there was consensus
on the importance of having technology resource personnel
in every school to keep computers working and provide
on-site teacher training in technology. There was
broad agreement on the need to increase teacher pay
and opportunities for in-service training.
Mr. Ambach said that an important federal precedent
was established with the telecommunications act. In
the first year it put $1.6 billion into school libraries
and networking. In the second year this funding increased,
a demand level that exceeded the congressional cap
on this to help schools, both public and private.
Mr. Ehlers broached the desirability of putting the
Eisenhower program in NSF or in some other way consolidating
math and science education at NSF. The witnesses uniformly
expressed their support for maintaining the separate
"experimental" and "implementation" functions of the
two agencies. By involving both agencies you not only
build on their individual strengths but also provide
through NSF a unique connection to the entire research
Mr. Ehlers concluded by stating his personal wish list
for math and science education:
- The development of a consensus on science and
math education content as well as the sequence
of teaching that content, along with recommendations
by science agencies and corporations on how best
to train teachers in the use of computers and
- A central updated list of good web sites and other
auxiliary resources for teachers
- An increase in hands-on science activities and
- A full-time equipment maintenance staff in every
school to keep the software and physical equipment
up-to-date and integrated to help free teachers
to concentrate on teaching.
- Full year pay for teachers with one month a year
devoted to fully funded professional development.