Glenn Commission Calls for Public Action on Science and Math Education "In a democracy, the people create real change, not commissions." - Glenn Commission
Astronaut, revered senator, and American hero John Glenn was appointed chair of the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, on no less auspicious a date than the 30th anniversary of the first Moon landing. (See FYI #120 for details of the commission's report). The pertinent question is whether Glenn's appeal with the American people and the publicity surrounding the report's release will be sufficient to generate a groundswell of response, because its recommendations rely on public will and interest to stimulate reforms to the nation's education system.
The report offers a litany of reasons for improving K-12 science and math instruction: New technologies derived from scientific research are the "drivers behind the nation's standard of living." Jobs requiring math and science skills in the health and computer fields alone will increase by 5.6 million by the year 2008, and many American businesses already "have to import the computing talent they need to stay competitive." Businesses also spent $62.5 billion last year on training their employees, resulting in the nation's "paying twice" to educate its workers. Citizens of a democracy must be able to make informed decisions on subjects ranging from cloning and genetic manipulation to global warming and the ozone layer. Math and science support many national security applications, including designing new weapons, developing encryption technologies and using satellite communications. "But teaching our children these subjects is important at a more profound level," the report adds. Science and math "have great explanatory power" and provide humans with analytical tools for understanding nature. "They teach us that our world is not capricious but predictable," the report states, and "that it contains patterns and logic."
Nevertheless, the commission points out, U.S. students are not receiving an adequate education in these disciplines. "Whether we look at comparisons of our young people to those of other nations or look simply at the progress our students are making at home," it says, "the nation keeps getting the same dismal message about mathematics and science achievement: our students are losing ground." The commission presents three goals for reform and outlines strategies to be taken to meet those goals. But it recognizes that public pressure, public outcry, and public initiative are what will ultimately produce results. "So we put this agenda squarely before you," the report declares. "If you don't know how well children in your local schools are performing in mathematics and science on challenging state and district assessments, find out.... If you are unaware of what mathematics and science teachers are paid where your children attend school, find out.... If you want your voice to be heard, call your child's principal, your school board representative, your local school superintendent. Call and write your representatives in state government. Contact the local chapters of the professional teachers' organizations whose members teach your children.... The time to find out what you can do and to whom you should speak is now."
After presenting its case, the report says, "This Commission has done what it can do. It has studied the problem and it here offers the American people three goals.... Whether they are achieved is still to be decided. We know that it is not enough to call for change. In a democracy, the people create real change, not commissions."
Audrey T. Leath