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FYI Number 43: April 10, 2002

Update on Science Education Bills; Committee Hears from Teachers

"Congress talks constantly about education, but it rarely listens, and it listens least of all to the most important experts - actual classroom teachers, the folks at the front lines..." -- House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert

President Bush's decision to make education reform a top priority and Congress's need to reauthorize the Department of Education's elementary and secondary education programs raised the visibility of education last year, and the topic seems destined to remain in the spotlight this year. While the Department's elementary and secondary programs have now been reauthorized in H.R. 1, the "No Child Left Behind Act," the process of implementing that legislation has just begun, and FY 2003 funding for those programs must be determined. Additionally, the House Science Committee plans to work on a reauthorization of the National Science Foundation, which also houses a number of programs designed to improve science and math education.

As reported in earlier FYIs, H.R. 1 eliminated the Department's Eisenhower Professional Development program, which had an annual set-aside of $250 million in recent years for science and math teaching. Instead, it established a program of Math and Science Partnerships between universities science and math departments, states, and school districts, funded at $12.5 million, as the only program in the Department dedicated specifically to improve math and science instruction. For FY 2003, the President's request for this Education Department Partnership program is again $12.5 million, which is far from sufficient to reach all states and have the intended nationwide impact on math and science instruction. AIP has joined with 20 other societies, including APS, AGU, AAPT and AAS, to endorse a statement calling on Labor-HHS-Education appropriators to fund these Math and Science Partnerships in FY 2003 at $450 million, the level authorized for the program in H.R. 1.

A Math and Science Partnership program was also funded last year within NSF. This program, which will award competitive, peer- reviewed grants, received $160 million in FY 2002, and $200 million has been requested for FY 2003. (For FY 2002 at least, because of its minimal funding, the Education Department's Partnership program will be run as a subset of the NSF Partnership program.) The House Science Committee and its Subcommittee on Research have already held several hearings on science and math education issues, and several science education bills from last year await further action. H.R. 1858, the National Mathematics and Science Partnerships Act, would authorize, within NSF, not only the already-begun Partnership program but also scholarships to encourage more people to go into math or science teaching, stipends to provide teachers with research experience, centers for education research, and expanded funding for the National Digital Library; this bill was passed by the House last year. H.R. 100 would authorize an NSF grant program for universities to train master teachers for K-9 science and math, and was passed by the Science Committee last year. Companion legislation for both bills is pending in the Senate. If the Science Committee produces an NSF reauthorization bill, it is possible that these separate education bills could be incorporated as provisions of that larger bill. It is not apparent whether there is interest in the Senate for passing these education bills or a full NSF reauthorization.

At a March 20 House Science Committee hearing spotlighting the 2001 Presidential Math and Science Teaching Awardees, teachers had an opportunity to comment on what the federal government can do to help improve K-12 science and math education. Almost unanimously, over a dozen educators emphasized federal support for mentoring and professional development programs. Without assistance for the first three to five years, and ongoing training in the latest teaching methods and curricula, they said, teachers often end up teaching as they were taught, and history has shown that this has failed the majority of students in math and science.

Teacher after teacher reiterated that they, now receiving recognition as the nation's best educators, had achieved that level of success through the professional development opportunities made available by Education Department and NSF funding. The message was that good teachers are made, not born. "Professional development is unanimously one of the most powerful things we can do to [help] teachers touch children's lives," testified one teacher. "We are your successes," said another; professional development opportunities and partnerships with universities "made me what I am today." A third declared, "staff development is absolutely, hands-down, 110 percent, the most important thing that should be looked at" for federal funding. Several pointed out that, although federal funds have supported development of new and better curricular materials and teaching methods, a great many teachers, especially those in rural areas and those who have not specialized in science and math teaching, are not aware of those resources or are hesitant to try them. Many decried the loss of the Eisenhower funding and wished to see the program reestablished.

Another common theme was concern over the current emphasis on annual standardized tests. While well-crafted continuing assessment linked to the curriculum can provide effective feedback on teaching, one witness said, standardized testing often reflects student socio-economic factors instead. "Testing doesn't show the whole story;" another stated; it must be "put in perspective." Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI), whose subcommittee will draft the NSF reauthorization, noted that he was carefully recording the witnesses' comments.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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