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FYI Number 9: January 22, 2007

A Flurry of Science Education Bills

The 110th Congress is only a few weeks old, but senators and representatives are already busy introducing bills to improve science and math education in the nation's classrooms. Several factors are at play this year. The thrust last year to take steps to improve U.S. competitiveness, prompted by documents such as the National Academies' "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," led the Administration to propose its American Competitiveness Initiative, and Congress to introduce a plethora of competitiveness bills, many of which included science and math education provisions. Additionally, the upcoming (2007-2008) school year is the first in which the No Child Left Behind law requires states to test students in science, although unlike math and reading, the science results have no bearing on measures of the states' accountability. The No Child Left Behind law itself is due for reauthorization this year, but there are indications that disagreements between the Bush Administration and the Democratic Congress may result in the reauthorization being delayed until next year.

Below are summaries, according to the most recent available information, of key science and math education-related bills that either have already been introduced or are expected to be introduced soon.

1. EHLERS AND DODD "SPEAK" ACT: On January 8, Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) unveiled legislation that would mandate the creation of voluntary core content standards for K-12 science and math. Already this year, Ehlers has introduced such a bill in the House (H.R. 325). Language in the bill notes that "with more than 50 different sets of academic content standards, 50 State academic assessments, and 50 definitions of proficiency…there is great variability in the measures, standards, and benchmarks for academic achievement in math and science," making it "difficult for parents and teachers to meaningfully gauge how well their children are learning mathematics and science in comparison to their peers internationally or here at home." This bill, the "Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids," or "SPEAK" Act, would task the National Assessment Governing Board with creating voluntary standards in science and math that reflect a common core of what U.S. students should know and be able to do to compete in a global economy, and to be qualified to enter an institution of higher education or the civilian or military workforce. The board's assessments of student proficiency (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) would then be benchmarked against those standards. The bill would authorize competitive grants to state educational agencies to adopt the standards, align their state assessments, teacher certification, and professional development programs with the standards, and ensure assistance to local schools and educational agencies in adopting the standards.

2. KENNEDY STANDARDS BILL: Another academic standards bill (S. 164) has been introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA). This legislation, entitled the "States Using Collaboration and Cooperation to Enhance Standards for Students" or "SUCCESS" Act, had previously been a part of Kennedy's proposed National Defense Education Act. It would provide support to states which, on a voluntary basis, chose to upgrade their science and math standards, and would provide incentives for development of common standards and assessments.

3. EHLERS PACKAGE OF SCIENCE AND MATH EDUCATION BILLS: In addition to the SPEAK Act, Rep. Ehlers has also introduced a package of four bills targeted at different aspects of the science and math education continuum. H.R. 35, the Science Accountability Act, would amend No Child Left Behind to require that states' accountability metrics incorporate the results of the science assessments as well as reading and math. H.R. 36, the National Science Education Tax Incentives for Teachers Act, would authorize a tax credit of up to $1,500 per year for eligible science and math teachers. H.R. 37, the National Science Education Tax Incentives for Businesses Act, would authorize tax credits for businesses that donate new science and math equipment or teacher training to schools. H.R. 38, the Math and Science School Readiness Act, would enhance science and math readiness for preschool children in the Head Start program.

4. GORDON PACKAGE OF COMPETITIVENESS BILLS: Incoming House Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) has introduced three competitiveness bills, H.R. 362 through H.R. 364, similar to the package of bills he introduced last year. H.R. 362, the "10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds" Science and Math Scholarship Act, is intended to improve teacher preparation and increase the number of qualified science and math teachers. It would expand NSF's Robert Noyce Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors who commit to K-12 teaching after graduation. It would also amend NSF's Math and Science Partnership program to prioritize teacher training, and would amend NSF's STEM Talent Expansion program to improve undergraduate STEM teaching and create centers for the improvement of undergraduate education.

5. SENATE COMPETITIVENESS BILL: In the Senate, it is expected that a comprehensive, bipartisan competitiveness bill first introduced by the Senate leadership last year, the "National Competitiveness Investment Act," will likely be reintroduced in some form early this year. Last year's version of this legislation included provisions addressing science and math education as well as research in many federal agencies. Within NSF, among other provisions, the bill would have called for the Education and Human Resources Directorate to receive funding increases proportional to NSF as a whole. Additionally, it would have expanded the STEM Talent Expansion program and the Noyce Scholarships program, would have acknowledged that the NSF and Education Department Math and Science Partnership programs were complementary rather than duplicative, and would have authorized NSF summer teacher institutes. Within the Department of Energy, among other provisions, this bill would have authorized summer institutes for K-12 teachers at the national labs, and encouraged creation of statewide specialty schools in science, math and engineering. Within the Education Department, it would have authorized competitive grants for development of bachelor's and master's programs in STEM fields that would be integrated with teacher education and certification. It would also have provided grants to implement Math Now programs and to encourage advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs. The bill would also have authorized competitive grants to states to better align their K-12 science and math education with the needs of higher education, the 21st century workforce, and the military.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics

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