NSF & Congress
Hearing Summary: House of Representatives, Committee on Science Hearing on Encouraging Science, Math, Engineering and Technology Education in Kindergarten
through 12th Grade and H.R. 4273, The National Science Education Incentive Act
July 19, 2000
On July 19, 2000, the Science Committee held a hearing
on the "National Science Education Incentive Act"
(H.R. 4273), introduced by Representative Vernon J.
Ehlers (R-MI). Witnesses included Dr. Judith Sunley,
Assistant Director, Education and Human Resources,
National Science Foundation; Mr. Alfred R. Berkeley
III, President, The NASDAQ Stock Market; Dr. Cozette
Buckney, Chief Educational Officer, Chicago Public
Schools; and Mr. Ted Gardella, K-12 Mathematics and
Science Coordinator, Battle Creek (MI) Public Schools.
In his opening remarks, Rep. Ehlers commented on the
poor state of science, math, engineering and technology
(SMET) education in the United States, and on the
importance of making improvements in these areas.
Rep. Ehlers noted that H.R. 4273, the third of three
bills he has introduced on National Science Education,
provides several tax mechanisms that will aide in
SMET education improvement, including means of creating
and maintaining properly trained and qualified teachers,
and improving student access to cutting-edge, research-based
learning materials and curricula.
Witnesses and Members alike stressed the importance
of beginning basic science education early. They also
emphasized the importance of having elementary educators
teach within their area of expertise. In addition,
long-term planning, high-quality programs, quality
curricula and commitment were noted as high priorities
in the improvement of SMET education. The importance
of national application of the best curricula was
emphasized as well.
Dr. Sunley described the National Science Foundation's
goals as focusing on teachers and the tools available
to them for effective instruction. Programs for developing
teacher leadership as well as systemic reform activities
have proven most effective when embedded in a context
that allows for their continuation over the long term
without federal funding.
Mr. Berkeley drew from his Wall Street background to
support the bill's tax credit approach to attracting
more students into the teaching profession. He suggested
that the education system be "transparent," so that
students, educators, and parents would have access
to information about how each individual stood according
to world standards. He said that basic research is,
after all, responsible for the United State's long
period of economic growth, and by improving SMET education,
continuing growth can be assured. He also emphasized
the need for long-term studies of the effectiveness
of certain curricula before they are widely introduced,
just as drugs we give children are thoroughly tested.
Dr. Buckney stated that the key to our preeminence
in science and technology in the future lies in our
classrooms today. A first-rate education for our nation's
students today will ensure our nation's continued
expansion of knowledge of the world and the universe.
Mr. Gardella commented on the critical state of SMET
education and the critical role of teachers in improving
the state of SMET education. He also supported the
National Science Education Acts of 2000 as potential
catalysts for new national initiatives on improvement
in these areas.
Rep. Smith questioned the panel on the role of industry
and the private sector in SMET education. Mr. Berkeley
stated that "R&D" (Research and Development) should
be changed to "R & E" (Research and Education), and
that the business community feels strongly that K-12
education needs help. Dr. Buckney noted that while
computers have been donated by the private sector
in the past, more incentives-like better teacher training
and proper education materials- will help to keep
Rep. Morella repeated Mr. Gardella's observation that
of the nation's top 20 SMET curricula, only 3, all
NSF-funded, had been demonstrated to be effective.
She then asked the panel what could be taken from
this information. Mr. Berkeley replied that too much
dabbling was going on with curricula producers, and
kids spend 8-12 years of K-12 education on a system
that doesn't work. Mr. Gardella added that while NSF-funded
curricula are better tested, they usually take longer
to carry out and promise more and harder work. Dr.
Buckney warned that strict regulation of specific
curricula could still be a bad thing, especially in
large school districts. In districts where students'
abilities cover an extremely large range, flexibility
is needed to apply what works best for each student.
Rep. Ehlers inquired if there is a way to work around
the fast turnover of superintendents and school boards.
Dr. Buckney pointed out that many school districts
are reluctant to invest too much authority in one
person but school councils should provide some stability.
Mr. Gardella commented that school board members in
his district attend workshops concerning these issues,
and progress has been made. Dr. Sunley reinforced
the importance of parent involvement and interaction
as well. By helping the parents understand long-term
plans and the differences in their child's and their
own education, the process will be eased considerably.
Mr. Berkeley stated that transparency, accountability,
and choice needs to be given to the "customers," who
happen to be students and parents in this scenario.