Science, Math Education Receives Attention on Capitol Hill "Expanding the number of individuals prepared to use a greater proportion of their intellectual capacity means, among other things, that our elementary and secondary students must broaden their skills in mathematics and related sciences." -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan
As the November election draws closer and Congress finds ways to wrap up the 13 spending bills, many other bills are destined to fall by the wayside. One of these will almost certainly be reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the Department of Education, which will have to be reintroduced next year. This may also end up being the case for the trio of bills (H.R. 4271-4273) introduced by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) to improve science education (see FYI #41 for details.)
Yet education, and science and math education in particular, continue to receive attention on Capitol Hill. Congress is interested in science education largely because of its implications for a skilled workforce in a high-tech economy, as demonstrated by the presence of Federal Reserve System Chairman Alan Greenspan to discuss science and math education at a Sept. 21 House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing. Another event sure to receive congressional attention is this week's release of a report by the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, known as the "Glenn Commission" for chairman John Glenn. Its recommendations will be covered in a future FYI.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd, Greenspan discussed the "rising demand for skilled workers" to keep the economy growing. Competency in math and science, he said, "enhances a person's ability to handle the more ambiguous and qualitative relationships that dominate our day-to-day decisionmaking." Even as Congress considers expanding the number of H-1B visas for foreign high-tech workers, committee members agreed with Greenspan that such a move was only a short-term solution, and the long-term answer had to be a more scientifically educated domestic workforce. One of America's strengths, Greenspan said, has always been technical know-how and the ability to "put things back together." He also highlighted the benefits of a science and math education in helping citizens understand how technology fits into and functions in society. Greenspan was hesitant to offer advice on specific education issues, although he encouraged retired and late career scientists to consider teaching, and foresaw an expanded role for community colleges as education becomes a lifelong pursuit. "Particularly because you aren't a professional educator, your remarks are especially meaningful to the committee," Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) said, assuring him that he was "right on target."
Industry representatives William Haseltine of Human Genome Sciences, Inc., and Craig Barrett of Intel Corporation, seconded Greenspan's comments on the need for an educated workforce. Diane Bunce of the American Chemical Society and Diane Briars of the Pittsburgh Public Schools discussed specifics of improving science and math education. "Teachers are key," said Briars, and praised both NSF and Education Department funding for providing the support to make Pittsburgh's reforms successful.
Committee Chairman William Goodling, (R-PA) pointed out that the relatively small amounts of federal funding for education reform are intended for many purposes, and complained that "Congress keeps enacting new programs, but the pot of money stays the same." He explained that his committee's Teacher Empowerment Act (passed by the House but not the Senate) would combine funding from many federal education programs into a single pot to give local educators more flexibility to use on their most pressing needs. While he began the hearing by commending Ehlers' efforts to improve science education, it is of note that Ehlers' bills would enhance and create more federal programs -- counter to Goodling's expressed intent. Goodling did not reveal whether he would support Ehlers' legislation or not. Given the amount of time left in this session, it seems that action on Ehlers' bills may have to wait until next year.
Audrey T. Leath