Glenn Commission Issues Report on Science/Math Teaching "The time to act is now," says a widely-anticipated new report on improving science and math education. "An unusual confluence of factors has created an unprecedented - perhaps once-in-a-lifetime - opportunity for making progress." The report, by the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, calls on the American public to take action "before it's too late" to reform math and science instruction.
K-12 science and math education reform has been the topic of several major efforts this year, including three bills by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) (see FYI #41), a recent National Research Academy report (see FYI #107), and now the report of the National Commission, chaired by John Glenn. All three initiatives acknowledge that the most effective way to reform education is to raise the quality of instruction, and thus most of the focus is placed on recruitment, preparation, in-service support and professional development opportunities for teachers. The three efforts agree very much in substance, and vary mainly in areas of emphasis. While Ehlers' legislation is directed toward federal education programs, and the NRC report mainly addresses the education community regarding the education and professional development of teachers, the Glenn report is aimed at a broader audience, and urges the American people to make their views known to their local school boards and administrators.
The Glenn Commission found not only that U.S. high school students are "devastatingly far from" the national goal of being first in the world in science and math, but also that "the basic teaching style in too many mathematics and science classes today remains essentially what it was two generations ago." Yet, on a positive note, the report determined that a number of factors are now coalescing to make this "a particularly opportune time to focus on strengthening mathematics and science education," including public attention to the problem; a national budget surplus; the impending retirement of a significant portion of the teaching force; a generation of education research results; and rising interest in teaching among college graduates. This convergence of factors led to the report's title: "Before It's Too Late."
In addition to better teacher recruitment and preparation, and more support, planning time, and professional development opportunities for in-service teachers, the report places major emphasis on paying teachers a competitive, merit-based salary. "One powerful litmus test of how serious we are about providing high-quality [teaching]," it notes, "is what we are willing to pay good mathematics and science teachers."
The report cites three goals, and then provides a series of specific strategies, targeted at various sectors, to achieve each goal. It estimates that the strategies proposed will cost over $5 billion annually.
GOAL 1: "Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12." To achieve this goal, states must undertake assessments of teachers' needs; Summer Institutes for teacher professional development must be established; local Inquiry Groups must be set up for teachers to work together and share ideas; facilitators must be trained for the Institutes and Inquiry Groups; a dedicated Internet portal must be made available to teachers; a non- governmental Coordinating Council must be established to coordinate and assess these efforts; and states and local districts should implement reward and incentive programs for good teaching.
GOAL 2:"Increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation." The report recommends identifying exemplary models of teacher preparation programs; developing a strategy to attract more qualified candidates to teaching; and the creation of 15 Mathematics and Science Teaching Academies by consortia of existing institutions.
GOAL 3: "Improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers." Recommendations include Induction programs to acclimate new teachers and set up mentoring relationships; district/business partnerships to provide materials, equipment, and other resources; incentives, rewards and recognition for deserving teachers; and improved salaries for all teachers, especially those in science and math.
Ultimately, the Commission lays responsibility for improved math and science education squarely at the feet of the nation's citizens. "We therefore put this challenge directly to the American people," the report says: "if you have found our case persuasive, it is up to you to take responsibility for achieving these goals.... It is this nation's citizens and taxpayers whose priorities and principles should be honored in public policy, including - and in this context especially - in decisions about what teachers are paid." The report contains a section specifying what each individual - from parents, teachers and principals to state policymakers - can do to help achieve the goals. A subsequent FYI will look in more detail at the case for public action made by Glenn's Commission.
Chartered just over a year ago by Education Secretary Richard Riley, the 25-member Commission is made up of educators, industry representatives and policymakers, including Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Connie Morella (R-MD), and Senators James Jeffords (R-VT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Officials from a number of federal science and technology agencies were included as ex officio members. Secretary Riley, accepting the Commission's report at a September 27 press conference, called it "a wonderful starting point, a blueprint for building a program of success that will ensure American children meet the math and science challenges that they face in life."
With its report completed, the Commission is due to terminate within a few months. It is not clear whether the Department of Education, or any other entity, will take over the responsibility for advocating and overseeing its recommendations. While it will certainly have champions in Congress, it will also need to be promoted at the local level, especially to parents, who are advised by the report to question the science achievement levels and teacher salaries of their school districts.
The report, "Before It's Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century," runs just over 40 pages, and is available at http://www.ed.gov/a mericacounts/glenn/
Audrey T. Leath