"Teachers, Partners, and Prosperity: A Formula for
Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Huntington, West Virginia
November 16, 1999
It's always a pleasure to come to West Virginia. There
is excitement in the air here and a real enthusiasm
about the future.
I've been looking forward to this visit ever since
Senator Rockefeller first mentioned it to my office.
I'm from Massachusetts, so I always look forward to
the cooler weather. I felt that refreshing chill in
the air when I stepped off the plane this morning,
and it reminded me of a story a neighbor told me last
His car had slid off the road in a snowstorm and fallen
into a small ditch.
Fortunately, one of our neighbors drove by with his
4x4 pickup--complete with a towing hook. Just the
kind of vehicle you need in the suburbs....
They hooked a chain around the car's rear bumper and
started pulling. After a few seconds, the car lurched--and
then the bumper flew off, leaving the car in the ditch.
The driver of the truck looked at the chain and the
bumper sitting there together. Then, he shrugged his
shoulders and said: "Bob, if we don't start pulling
out bigger pieces--we're going to be here all day."
This underscores my main point for today. We're not
content with piecemeal approaches at NSF.
We're thinking big--especially when it comes to NSF
and West Virginia and our shared commitment to quality
education and economic growth.
Quality education is first and foremost about quality
development and training for all teachers.
We expect teachers to carry a major part of the responsibility
for what we know and for what we are able to achieve
as a nation.
In order to get the best from our teachers; we must
first offer them the best. We must treat them and
train them as if our national life depends on them--because
it does, in every way.
Teachers have the fundamental responsibility for preparing
students of today for the workplace of tomorrow.
You may have heard people say, "prediction is very
difficult--especially about the future."
At various times, I've heard that attributed to Niels
Bohr, Mark Twain, and Yogi Berra--three names that
rarely go together in the same sentence.
However, unpredictable the future may be, we can say
several things with supreme confidence about what
it will bring.
- The nature of work and the work environment will
be fast-paced--changing and evolving over months
instead of years.
- Knowledge will advance like a constantly rolling
sea. The knowledge in any given field has the
potential to be routinely overturned by new discoveries
- Lifetime learning will become a survival skill.
- Technology will become as integral to each person's
job as a pen and pencil were in the past.
- Tomorrow's workers will not only need to be effective
and engaged, but also adaptable--comfortable and
friendly to change. I recall once hearing that
we don't need a highly trained workforce.
We need a highly trainable workforce.
These are the certainties in an uncertain future. They
are the sure bets.
NSF has a long history and a large stake in teacher
training. Our teacher training programs reach more
than 95 thousand future teachers each year.
The Department of Education projects that we'll need
an estimated 2.2 million new teachers by the year
2006. This figure includes over 200,000 secondary
math and science teachers.
The investment that NSF makes is helping to meet this
national need. It is also catalyzing change in the
way that teachers are taught in all fields.
In a society firmly based on science and technology,
it is inadequate to have science and math instruction
by teachers untrained in those fields.
It is unfair to the students and, in the end, it is
unproductive for the nation.
An excellent example of what we can accomplish together
is the Appalachia Rural Systemic Initiative--or ARSI
West Virginia is an important member, and the initiative
has brought together a diverse set of partners and
They are united by one goal: improving both teacher
training and student achievement in science and mathematics.
ARSI is a galaxy of participants drawn together by
telecommunications and internet connectivity--and
Teacher development is a revered subject at NSF. We
work first with teachers in preparation for their
It is our goal to strengthen the ties between schools
of education and schools of arts and sciences to provide
the best science and math content for prospective
For teachers already established in their careers,
we have long provided summer workshops for content
advancement and career development.
The newest component in our teacher enhancement portfolio
is a program of graduate teaching fellows.
NSF provides fellowship support for science and math
graduate students to teach and to assist teachers
in local school districts.
This new and exciting initiative is building genuine
partnerships between universities and school systems.
I am very pleased that West Virginia University won
one of the first awards. Its graduate students are
now providing subject and instructional support to
middle school teachers here in West Virginia.
Next year--with the help of Senator Rockefeller and
his colleagues--we hope to start a new set of activities
we call Centers for Teaching and Learning.
These are a centerpiece of our 21st Century
Workforce initiative, and they are modeled upon our
highly successful Engineering Research Centers and
Science and Technology Centers.
They will bring together all the pieces of the puzzle--two-and
four-year colleges and universities, K-12 districts,
science museums and other informal centers, and the
The task of teacher training is comprehensive and complex.
With an economy based on knowledge and a growing infrastructure
of IT, teachers will need the most current information
in their fields and constantly updated technology
We've all witnessed the profound impact scientific
breakthroughs and technological advances have had
on our economy and our quality of life.
For me personally, I see this whenever I go back and
visit my home town of Beverly Cove, Massachusetts.
I can't help being struck by how much it's changed.
The four-room school house I went to is now a subdivision
of homes. The rock quarry where I used to find tadpoles
is another subdivision.
New development has changed the landscape. Even more
than that, economic transformation has changed people's
My father made his living in the construction industry.
When I was growing up, the biggest company in town
was called United Shoe.
Everything was built around the concept of a main line
Now, the biggest employers in Beverly are in health
care, scientific and technical instruments, and information
That's just a snapshot from one city in one state,
but it reflects changes in the nature of work and
the economy that are taking place across the nation.
Let me point out two important aspects of these changes:
- First, we are more productive than ever before.
For every hour of work, we Americans produce twice
as much as we did in 1960.
- Second, our fastest-growing job categories are
all in professions with significant educational
requirements: areas like medical technologies,
financial systems, and multimedia. We're moving
into an economy based on knowledge and ideas.
Discovery and innovation have been a driving force
behind our economic gains. They are the key to our
continuing economic leadership in the future.
Robert Solow, the MIT-based economist and a member
of the National Science Board, won the Nobel Prize
for his seminal work on the sources of economic growth.
He showed that labor and capital account for only
around half of the total. The lion's share comes from
In other words, we're twice as productive as we were
forty years ago because of the innovations and discoveries
that we've made in science, engineering, mathematics,
We're also using our resources smarter than
before. The economist Paul Romer reminds us that we
once used sand in an hourglass to tell time.
Today, we use those same grains of sand for the silicon
in computer chips. Same material; more valuable use.
We're seeing the fruits of these insights and advances
in today's Internet and biotechnology companies.
This in turn has led to the productivity improvements
in all forms of manufacturing and services.
We have these opportunities today because of research
that we did years ago--often decades ago.
We will have even more exciting opportunities in the
future because of research that we're doing today.
Let me mention just a few examples:
- Nanotechnology is allowing us to build machines
so small that they are rapidly approaching the
scale of human cells. Consider: a nanometer is
to an inch what an inch is to 400 miles. We are
on the verge of building machines on that scale.
- The genomics revolution is enabling the study
of whole genomes rather than single genes, giving
us a perspective on living systems that we've
never had before.
- New devices based on quantum computing or DNA
computing could make the information revolution
of today look like a paltry beginning.
- And, understanding the social and cultural impacts
of technology could transform the way new technologies
This highlights my central point: NSF's investments
are catalysts. They are like yeast. They shape our
economic future through new knowledge and a skilled
We live in a world where economic value comes from
knowledge. Knowledge comes from people.
So if there's one thing that's as important as research
to our nation's economic future, it's education.
A 21st century workforce must be taught
and trained by teachers with 21st century
skills. Anything less inhibits the nation's ability
to compete and prosper.
Anything less imperils our children and their children.
West Virginia is on the threshold of making a major
investment in teacher training. I can say to you from
the depths of my personal commitment, it's the best
investment that you can make.
From that investment, we can all reap the rewards of
strong leadership and a secure future.