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NSF & Congress

Hearing 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 requirement.

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 basis.

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 school districts.

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 community.

Mr. Ehlers concluded by stating his personal wish list for math and science education:

  1. 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 technology.

  2. A central updated list of good web sites and other auxiliary resources for teachers

  3. An increase in hands-on science activities and experiments.

  4. 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.

  5. Full year pay for teachers with one month a year devoted to fully funded professional development.

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