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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
News Conference Via "Access" Grid
NSF-Funded Report On Urban Systemic Initiatives
Arlington, Virginia

June 28, 2001

Good afternoon, and thanks to Curt Suplee for opening this "21st century-style" interactive meeting. I'm delighted to welcome you to one of NSF's first electronic events.

We intend to use this format again if your response to this avenue of communication is enthusiastically received.

I want to reinforce Curt's expression of gratitude and appreciation to the people at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications for their time, effort, and support, and notably for allowing us to use this state-of-the-art center.

We recognize that it took an extraordinary effort to create the links to school officials across the country, and to provide communications with journalists through the Web and e-mail. We look forward to their comments.

Let me begin with an old Chinese proverb and then an update of that proverb. The ancient version says:

If you are planning for a year, plant rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant a tree. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate someone.

That is wise advice but I believe it needs an update.

If you are planning for the 21st century, educate with a focus on science and math. And that is why we are all here today.

Our society is knowledge driven and deeply rooted in science and technology.

It is critical to inform and impress upon the public the need for every child to have solid background in science and math in order to flourish in this new century.

The improvement of mathematics and science education in our urban schools has been a priority concern for the National Science Foundation.

Eight years ago we embarked on a bold initiative to invest in system-wide reform of science and math in urban school systems. We targeted some of the largest cities with underserved student populations. Twenty-two cities were included in this study based on the resulting awards for Urban Systemic Initiatives.

As the Urban Systemic Initiative approaches a decade milestone, an external evaluation team has reported substantial payoffs on this national investment in America's future.

At today's event you will hear comment and assessment from around the country and from the various participants in the project.

It was Aristotle who said, "Well begun is only half done." These results do not represent a complete analysis but they do indicate a good beginning and the promise of continuing opportunities for progress.

The two major components of any form of learning are the student and the teacher. You cannot hope to advance student learning without also improving teacher training and support.

The participating school systems are reforming their science and math curricula, providing state-of-the-art materials for teachers and students, and expanding opportunities for teacher professional development.

A solid grounding in math and science education is more important now than ever before for all young people. They need these skills to succeed in the 21st century workforce.

And the fundamental need is to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers whose discoveries and innovations will help sustain our social and economic prosperity, and make the world a better place.

Today you will also hear about the important contributions that university, corporate, and non-profit partners are making to school reform efforts.

Through its urban K-12 programs, the National Science Foundation has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to help school systems in our largest cities provide high quality math and science education.

Together with all of our partners, we have made substantial progress toward the goal we've set ourselves: to be the world's leading nation in math and science.

In that process we need continuing expertise and assistance from experienced leaders in education. I have the distinct pleasure of introducing such a leader as our next speaker.

Dr. Floretta McKenzie understands student learning, teacher development, and school system reform. She has been a DC school system superintendent. She has been a leader of reform. And she has been a consultant with her own company that is called upon for organizational and leadership support.

Her knowledge of NSF's programs is significant, and her knowledge of ongoing urban reform is even greater. Dr. McKenzie is here with us to present some of the key findings in NSF's evaluative study, Academic Excellence for All Urban Students. Please welcome Dr. McKenzie.



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