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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 teachers.

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.

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