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FYI Number 57: May 9, 2002

Marburger Discusses Science Teaching

"Teaching is the most important human activity, because so many things essential for survival need to be learned from others." - John Marburger, Presidential Science Advisor

John Marburger, the President's Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke about the teaching of science at the National Science Teachers Association Convention in March. He discussed his own science teaching experiences, compared teaching to his previous role as Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and answered a Q&A from science teachers, in which he addressed the Administration's budget request for programs to improve math and science teaching. Selected portions of his remarks are quoted below:

"In safety management, you decide what you want to do, plan the work, identify the hazards, authorize the work after everyone agrees on the safest way to do it, and then you check to see if the way the work actually got done was what you expected. If it was not, then you change how you do it the next time so you get better each time you do it. The management experts call this a 'continuous cycle of improvement.' There's a slogan that goes with it: Plan, Do, Check, Act.

"Sound familiar? It sounded to me like the way we do science: Hypothesize, conceive and plan an experiment, perform the experiment, check to see if the result matches expectations, if not change the hypothesis and start over. It works! It works for science, and it works for management, and it ought to work for teaching too. But sometimes the steps are difficult to perform. In teaching, they are often very difficult. But we have to do them.

"President Bush cares passionately about teaching and learning, and he is also a businessman and a successful executive. That's why he established the President's Management Agenda to encourage his agencies to adopt good management principles as they conduct the government's - that is, the people's - business. I agree with the concept that every productive activity can be managed in the same general way, and the core elements of that way are summarized in 'Plan, Do, Check, Act.'"

"Any of us could give a lecture, or write a book, about each one of these challenges, but I would like to conclude with a word about the fourth step in the cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act. Action has always been the most difficult, but it is also the most important. It is the step that closes the loop; The step that justifies the enormous investments required for the other three. All four steps are linked together. What good is assessment if we do not use the data it produces to make things better? What good is teaching if we do not take pains to discover if people are learning? What good does it do to invest in the accumulation of knowledge if we do not pass it on?

"In our huge system of education, action requires a culture change vastly greater than anything I was asked to do at Brookhaven. But the ingredients are the same. One of those ingredients is leadership. I joined President Bush's team because I was impressed with his willingness to provide leadership in the big issues confronting our society. And his leadership in the improvement of education is matched only by his leadership and determination to win the war against terrorism. He has established a very high level of expectation for us, and it is up to us to take advantage of the conditions he is creating to effect change in this most difficult and complicated system of education."

Marburger also responded to a series of questions submitted by NSTA members. Below are portions of his responses addressing federal programs for math and science education:

"The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to have a highly- qualified teacher in every public school classroom by the end of the 2005-2006 school year.... While reaching this goal will require reform of pre-service training, which is usually conducted in colleges of Education across the country, it will also require more effective in-service training and professional development for teachers in the classroom already. To help states meet this goal, states, districts and schools will be eligible to receive in 2002 about $3 billion for teacher training, recruiting and hiring. This represents an increase of more than 30 percent over the 2001 levels of funding. President Bush has proposed to sustain this level of funding in his 2003 budget. Although the categorical Eisenhower program has been eliminated, these funds continue to exist in the state teacher training grants, and may result in the expansion of teacher training and professional development opportunities available to math and science teachers."

"In his Education Blueprint, No Child Left Behind, the President proposed a new type of Math and Science Partnership (MSP) that brings together scientists and mathematicians from institutions of higher education with teachers and administrators from our primary and secondary schools to address what needs to be done to revise and strengthen how these subjects are currently taught in our schools.... It builds on the nation's dedication to educational reform through support of partnerships that unite the efforts of local schools districts with science, mathematics, engineering and education faculties of colleges and universities.... In 2002 the National Science Foundation (NSF) received $160 million and the Department of Education (ED) $12.5 million to begin the MSP program. In 2003 the President requests an additional $40 million for this program for NSF ($200 million total) while keeping the ED request at $12.5 million."

Marburger also highlighted other "exciting new or expanded" NSF education programs, including a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program, a new Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, and requested increases for the Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12 Education, Graduate Research fellows, and Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeship programs.

The full text of Marburger's remarks at the March 27 NSTA Convention can be found at and the Q&A at A number of Members of Congress are working to increase the FY 2003 funding for the Education Department Math and Science Partnerships substantially above the FY 2002 level of $12.5 million. A future FYI will address these efforts.

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

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