Capitol Hill Events Target K-12 Education Hardly a week has gone by this summer in which K-12 science and math education has not received attention on Capitol Hill. The American Chemical Society, through its "Science and the Congress" project, has played a role in keeping the K-12 education topic visible to Members of Congress through a series of briefings. A July 25 discussion, co-hosted by Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), examined the problems of teacher recruitment and retention, while a July 13 roundtable before the Senate Science and Technology Caucus addressed innovative private-sector approaches to improving math and science education. Ehlers' trio of bills to improve science education has also continued to garner attention, at a July 19 hearing on H.R. 4273 and the House Science Committee's mark-up of H.R. 4271 on July 26.
HOUSE BRIEFING: At the July 25 luncheon briefing, education experts Emily Feistritzer, founder and president of the National Center for Education Information, and Richard Ingersoll, of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, discussed issues surrounding the shortage of qualified teachers. Ingersoll argued that the topic is "widely misunderstood" as a problem of teacher recruitment. Instead, he said, the larger concern is retention: nearly 40 percent of teachers leave the field in their first five years of teaching. He urged more attention to making the classroom a better environment for teachers, and giving them more say in decisions that affect them. "What does this men for the [teacher shortage] conventional wisdom?" Ingersoll asked. The issue is not "too few teachers out there, but too many qualified teachers leaving," he concluded.
Feistritzer pointed out that many school districts have so few students that expecting all science teachers to have degrees in their subject matter is "economically not feasible." Instead, she urged creative solutions such as sharing of teachers among school districts, and allowing private sector employees to teach science classes. Feistritzer advocated high-quality alternative certification programs that target areas where there is a need, help teachers find a position, and then ensure that beginning teachers receive continued support. Asked about a federal role, Ingersoll praised Ehlers' science education legislation for a provision that would authorize mentoring for new teachers, and also suggested classroom size reduction initiatives. Feistritzer said the federal government should encourage flexibility and creativity in seeking solutions.
SENATE ROUNDTABLE: At the Senate Science and Technology Caucus roundtable, co-chaired by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Bill Frist (R-TN), representatives from Intel, DuPont and Verizon described their contributions and programs for K-12 students and teachers. As might be expected from high-tech companies, much of their emphasis was on training children and their teachers in uses of educational technologies and providing such resources for the classroom. Another focus was on real-world applications of math and science. Verizon has a program to give teachers laboratory experience and encourage them to collaborate and share experiences. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the RMS Titanic and founder of the non-profit JASON Project, described how his program involves students and teachers in actual scientific research and discovery. "So much of teaching is motivation," Ballard noted. In the same spirit, Intel sponsors science competitions, and afterschool clubhouses to provide underprivileged students with access to technology. A common theme among the speakers was the importance of reaching students at the middle school level, when so many children are turned off of science.
HEARING ON H.R. 4273: A July 19 House Science Committee hearing focused on H.R. 4273, the third of Ehlers' science education bills, which would expand provisions in the tax code to provide tax credits for future teachers' college tuition and externships for in-service teachers, and to companies for including teachers in workforce training programs and contributing equipment, technology, and other resources to K-12 education. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, which has jurisdiction over tax code issues. Alfred Berkeley, president of the NASDAQ Stock Market, testified in support of the bill: "In order for [the nation's] economic growth to continue into the future, we must continue to fund basic research, and we must build a workforce that is capable and interested in careers in science and mathematics.... [P]ublic policies targeting the education of our future workforce - such as those proposed in H.R. 4273 - must be adopted if we hope to have the capable human resources necessary to fill the jobs being created."
MARK-UP OF H.R. 4271: On July 26, the Science Committee marked up Ehlers' first education bill, H.R. 4271, which would authorize programs within NSF to improve science and math education. In an overwhelming show of support, the bill was approved unanimously. A number of amendments were added during the mark-up. While the full text of the revised bill is not yet available, these amendments included a provision to authorize NSF grants to improve the undergraduate education of future teachers, and encourage collaboration between schools of education and science departments. Additional provisions would make it easier for science graduates to pursue teaching credentials, would encourage women and minorities to go into S&T fields, and would direct OSTP to lead the coordination of federal efforts in K-12 science and math education across all agencies. (See FYI #41 for details on all three of Ehlers' bills as originally introduced).
Audrey T. Leath