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Update on Science Education Policy (12-18-00)

A partisan debate on the appropriate role for the federal government in education is evolving again this year with the stakes raised by the need to reauthorize the massive Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Passing education bills is a top priority of the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress, who see it as a potent election issue. They also hope that education will prove to be an issue that could begin to heal some of the partisan bitterness produced by the presidential impeachment process.  The current deliberation over science education focuses around three major topics of interest to the geoscience community: the treatment of the Eisenhower Professional Development Program for math and science educators, the follow-up action from House Science Committee's report on the National Science Policy Study, and the formation of the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century (often referred to as the Glenn Commission for Chairman John Glenn) by Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Most Recent Action
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the Third International Mathematics and Science Study-Repeat (TIMSS-R) on December 5th.  First given to student in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades in 1995, TIMSS "allows the United States to examine its education system through the prism f other countries' education systems to better understand different approaches to teaching and learning mathematics and science."  Remarks from Dr. Gary Phillips, Acting Commissioner of NCES, at the report's release continued by saying that American 8th grade students "performed above the international average in 5 of the 6 content areas: earth science; life science; chemistry; environmental and resource issues; and scientific inquiry and the nature of science; and U.S. eighth-grade students performed at the international average in physics."  Results from TIMSS-R support the findings from the 1995 TIMSS that American fourth-grade student performed above the international average in both math and science; American eighth-grade students performed near the international average for both math and science; and American twelfth-grade students performed below the international average in math and science.  TIMSS-R also looked at teacher training and professional development.  According to the TIMSS-R highlights, American 8th graders were "less likely than their international peers ot be taught science by teachers with a degree in physics, but as likely as their international peers to be taught by teachers with a major or main area of study in biology, chemistry, or science education in 1999."  More information on TIMSS-R results and charts summarizing the data are available at the TIMSS-R website.

Action During the 106th Congress

Department of Education Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization Process
Several bills are introduced each Congress regarding education reform and programs, but this year, with the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), quite a large number of bills are coming out of the woodwork.  Reauthorization of ESEA, the principal authorizing legislation for K-12 education programs in the Department of Education, is a hot topic in the 106th Congress.  Partially in response to strong constituent demand for change, members of Congress see education reform as a major election-year issue.  As the reauthorization process moves ahead, Congress is discussing the appropriate role and scope of federal control over education, a highly partisan debate.  Differences of opinion in the federal government's role in education have produced several versions of reauthorization legislation, but these different bills will have to be incorporated into a single bill later in the legislative process.  Meanwhile, the House and Senate will continue to hold hearings and debate the various bills.

Three things are complicating congressional action on the reauthorization process for ESEA.  First, the House and Senate decided to approach it in very different ways.  The House of Representatives is reauthorizing each titles of the act as a separate bill.  Second, the full House Education and the Workforce Committee is working on the reauthorization, instead of the standard system in which the subcommittee holds hearings and mark-up before passing it to the full committee for consideration.  And third, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has decided to reauthorize ESEA as a single bill.  These different styles and different versions of the bill will affect the timetable for reauthorization.

A main area of interest to geoscientists in the debate is how the Eisenhower Professional Development Program will be treated. The program distributes funds to states and school districts solely for the purpose of teacher enhancement in math and science. In addition, the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education is a permanent repository of instructional materials and programs to be used in elementary and secondary schools. So far, it appears that Eisenhower is facing a hard battle.  In the EdFlex legislation that was signed into law earlier this year, the Eisenhower program funds were included as eligible for waivers from the administrative regulations under the program, and in the overall ESEA reauthorization process, the Eisenhower program is often eligible for waivers and block grants without requiring that states or local school agencies are meeting the needs of math and science educators.  More information on the Eisenhower Program and AGI's  past and current efforts to support it is available on the AGI Education Policy website.    The National Education Association (NEA) also host a site regarding the ESEA reauthorization.

Related but separate from these legislative activities, Secretary of Education Richard Riley announced in July the formation of the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century.  The commission is headed by Former senator and astronaut John Glenn and is charged with the task of creating "an action strategy aimed at improving the quality of teaching in mathematics and science classes nationwide."  Glenn will lead a committee of members ranging from university presidents, to private industry leadership, to state and local leadership, to ex-officio members from several federal agencies in preparing periodical reports of its findings and conclusions regarding the current status of science and math education, together with recommendations for specific action steps that Federal, State, and local policymakers can take.  The commission will hold several meetings that will be open to the public.  For more information and to make comments to the commission you can call 1-887-220-9884 or visit their website.

On September 27th, the Glenn Commission, officially the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching in the 21st Century, released its long-awaited report.  The commission is made up of chief executives, politicians, and educators, who have met several times over the past year to hear testimony from experts on best practices currently used in science and mathematics education.  According to the final report, now is the time for a focused look at education reform in part because it has gained wide-spread public support and due to the changing environment of education.  The report goes on to detail ways that the nation can help elementary and secondary math and science education by:

The National Science Teachers Association summarized the commission's finding in its September 27, 2000, Legislative Update.

Shortly after the Glenn Commission released its report, Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Connie Morella (R-MD) began work on a piece of legislation that would enact several of the recommendations included in the report.  Introduced on October 19th, H.R. 5504, the National Improvement in Mathematics and Science Teaching Act of 2000, would provide education agencies methods to improve teacher recruitment and retention. According to a press release from Holt’s office, the legislation “establishes grant programs for states to improve the recruitment and retention of math and science teachers, the quantity and quality of their professional development programs, and the achievement gap that currently exists among girls and minority students in math and science. States can use the funding for a variety of uses, such as signing bonuses, loan forgiveness, summer workshops, or master teacher initiatives.”

The Administration's Proposal
The Administration released its proposal for the reauthorization of the ESEA in late May, a program entitled "Education Excellence for All Children Act of 1999." This plan calls for the Goals 2000, Title VI, and Eisenhower Professional Development programs to be rolled into a new grant program entitled "Teaching to High Standards." The plan earmarks $300 million for professional development in science and math education, which is more than the current $250 million allocated for that purpose.

According to the Department of Education, the proposal will continue to "support high-quality professional development activities previously supported by the Eisenhower Professional Development program" and "increase assured federal support for professional development in the priority subjects of mathematics and science." More information on the reauthorization proposal is available from the National Science Teachers Association and the Department of Education's Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs.

Congressional Proposals
Several approaches to education reform and differing philosophies on the role of the federal government in education has led to a series of bills on the ESEA reauthorization.  One of the earliest and fastest moving bills, the Educational Flexibility Partnership Act of 1999 (EdFlex), became the first reauthorization bill to be signed into law.  Because the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee has decided to reauthorize ESEA as one bill the majority of ESEA bills are coming out of the House.  In October 1999, HELP Committee Chairman Jim Jeffords (R-VT) released a discussion draft of the ESEA reauthorization bill that preserved the goals of the Eisenhower programs.  The National Association of Science Teachers (NSTA) summarized the draft in their Legislative Update.  In late January 2000, Jeffords released a second discussion draft of the ESEA reauthorization bill that does not maintain the integrity of the Eisenhower Professional Development Program.  NSTA released a Legislative Alert and sent a letter, in conjuncture with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, to Jeffords voicing their concern and disappointment of this latest version.

Three House bills, with more to come, are the current focus of the reauthorization discussion.  The first was H.R. 2, the Student Results Act of 1999, introduced in February 1999 by Rep. William Goodling (R-PA).  This bill deals primarily with programs that assist low achieving and disadvantaged students.  H.R. 2 passed the House -- with an amendment introduced by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) to include science and math assessments in the language of the bill -- in October and now waits for action by the Senate HELP Committee.

A second bill that deals with professional development for teachers and other programs, entitled the Teacher Empowerment Act, was introduced in May by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA).  This bill, H.R. 1995, joins the crowd of other bills that would allow state and local educational agencies to apply for waivers to clump together funds from several different federal programs without having to meet the administrative goals of these programs.  H.R. 1995 also focuses on innovative ways to improve teacher training, recruitment, and retention.  It also passed the House and awaits Senate action.

The third key bill is the Academic Achievement for All Act (aka the Straight A's Act).  Rep. William Goodling (R-PA) introduced this bill in June 1999 with strong House Republican leadership support.  Straight A's, H.R. 2300, follows the common theme for all three keys bills of allowing states more flexibility in how they use federal funds for education reform.  Like the other two bills, Straight A's also awaits Senate HELP Committee action.

The last of the House bills relating to the ESEA reauthorization is Rep. William Goodling's (R-PA) Education Opportunities To Protect and Invest In Our Nation's Students (Education OPTIONS) Act, H.R. 4141.  The bill introduced on March 30, 2000 deals primarily with safe and drug-free schools and after-school programs.   On April 13, 2000, the House Education and the Workforce Committee completed five days of markup by passing the legislation out of committee in a partisan 25-21 vote.  A Committee report will be released at the beginning of May, and the bill will now be placed on the calendar for House floor debate.

Before leaving last session, Senator James Jeffords (R-VT), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a discussion draft of S. 2 (the Educational Opportunities Act), the majority legislation for the ESEA reauthorization.  In this version the Eisenhower Professional Development Program maintained its integrity as a federal program designed specifically for science and math educator's professional development.  In the end of January, Jeffords released a new discussion draft of the legislation that repeals the earlier version's language on Eisenhower.  According to a NSTA Legislative Alert, this new version "allows for the Eisenhower program to be included into a block grant; although [local education agencies] LEAs are 'required' to spend funds for professional development, there is no language authorizing a specific percentage or dollar amount that must be spent on teacher training."  Included in the NSTA Legislative Report is the text of the letter that NSTA and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics send to Jeffords.  AGI sent out a Special Update on the proposed Senate elimination of specific language for the Eisenhower program.  On March 7, the Committee began marking up the bill.  During the three days of meetings, amendments supported by the Committee minority were quickly voted down by party lines, including an amendment proposed by Ranking Member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) that would reinstate language aimed at professional development for math and science educators.  The Committee introduced an amendment in the nature of a substitute -- they had been working off a discussion version of the bill and not the official version -- and passed the legislation favorably out of committee by a 10-8 vote, again along part lines. More information on S. 2 is available on AGI's Educational Opportunities Act Summary webpage.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee has continued to work on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization process by marking up H.R. 4141, a bill introduced by Rep. William Goodling (R-PA) at the end of March 2000.  H.R. 4141, the Education Opportunities To Protect and Invest In Our Nation's Students (Education OPTIONS) Act, would amend sections of ESEA not previously dealt with by the Committee -- Safe and Drug-free Schools and several after-school programs.  After meeting for five days to amend and refine the bill, the Committee reported the bill out of committee in a partisan 25-21 vote.  The House Education and the Workforce Committee website contains a summary of the Education OPTIONS bill and links to current activities.

Unrelated to the ESEA reauthorization but still on the issues of science education, Rep. Vernon Ehlers held a press conference on April 11th to release three new bills focused on science, math, engineering and technology (SMET) education: the National Science Education Act (H.R. 4271), the National Science Education Enhancement Act (H.R. 4272), and the National Science Education Incentive Act (H.R. 4273).  These bills are part of what Ehlers and others are calling the National Science Education Acts of 2000 package.  Many of the other recent education bills, primarily focused on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization, have removed language and programs designed for math and science educators.  But the Ehlers bills not only target SMET education, they also demand that SMET "lessons ought to reflect the scientific process, be object-oriented, experiment-centered, and concept-based."  The National Science Education Act (NSEA) deals largely with "improving and expanding the activities of the National Science Foundation" through the development of grants and scholarships aimed at teachers in SMET education and research.  The National Science Education Enhancement Act aims to improve and expand SMET education activities at the Department of Education.  And lastly, the National Science Education Incentive Act "concentrates on expanding provisions in the tax code to encourage activities that will benefit science, math, engineering and technology education."  More information on the NSEA 2000 package is available on AGI's National Science Education Acts of 2000 Update.

On May 24th, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced the Senate companion bills to Rep. Vernon Ehlers's (R-MI) National Science Education Acts of 2000 package.  Roberts along with co-sponsor Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the three bills: S. 2622, the National Science Education Incentive Act; S. 2623, the National Science Education Enhancement Act; and S. 2624, the National Science Education Act.  In a press release, Roberts stated, "We must place a major new emphasis on educating students in the fields of technology and information security."  S. 2623 and S. 2624 were referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  These bills are identical to those introduced by Ehlers in April, which now have nearly 40 co-sponsors.  More information on the NSEA 2000 package is available on AGI's National Science Education Acts of 2000 Update.

On October 24th, the House defeated Rep. Vernon Ehlers's National Science Education Act (NSEA; H.R. 4271) under suspension of the rules in a 215-156 vote -- passage under suspension has the advantage of limiting debate but requires a two-thirds majority.  NSEA had gained wide-spread bipartisan support for its approach to improving science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) education, garnering more than 100 cosponsors. Between the House Science Committee's unanimous passage of the bill in July and October's floor consideration, several members who had previously supported NSEA -- and even co-sponsored it -- voted against the bill, citing a provision that would provide funds, administered through the National Science Foundation, to both private and public schools to hire and train master teachers.  A House Science Committee  press release quotes Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) as saying, "If these Members did their homework and had a problem with the bill, I wish they would have said so months in advance rather than ambushing the debate with last-minute, superficial references to an outdated 1971 Supreme Court ruling."  The Committee's Democrats responded to Sensenbrenner's statement in their own press release claiming that it was not a partisan vote and "only Republican inaction on appropriations measurers enabled the bill to reach the House floor at all."  They also claim that "once the constitutional and policy issues were raised, there were many opportunities to modify or eliminate the Master Teacher provision, but all offers to negotiate were rebuffed by Chairman Sensenbrenner and his staff."  Chances are that Ehlers will re-introduce his National Science Education package at the beginning of the 107th Congress.  More information on the bills are available at the NSEA Summary.

Presidential Candidates on Education
On June 20th, Texas Gov. George W. Bush released his three-point proposal to improve math and science education as part of his presidential campaign.  He proposed the establishment of a Math and Science Partnership Fund of $1 billion over five years.  The fund would require participant states to pair up with higher learning institutions to raise, among other things, specific K-12 math and science education objectives and hold those states accountable in meeting those standards.  The plan provides $1 billion over five years in Pell Grants for students who take college-level math and science classes in high school.  It also significantly raises the loan forgiveness level for those science, math, engineering and technology majors who commit to teach for five years in a school with a high percentages of low-income students.  For the full text, see Bush's campaign website.

Bush's announcement comes after the high-tech industry's annual appeal to Congress, which addressed education as the U.S.'s long-term solution to the shortage of skilled domestic workers.  The Education and Workforce Committee also passed H.R. 4402, the Training and Education for American Workers Act of 2000, this week. The bill regulates the spending of funds obtained by the possible doubling of HB-1 visas issued to bring in foreign skilled workers. (6/26/00)

Unlike Gov. George Bush, Vice President Al Gore does not have an education proposal specifically for science and math education.  Instead, Gore includes teacher training as a cornerstone of his education proposal to increase teacher, student, and school accountibility.  Gore also proposes the establishment of a $115 billion Education Reform Trust Fund "to ensure that the nation's budget surpluses are used partly to make essential investments in our children's future."  More information on Gore's education proposals and agenda is available on his campaign website.

Other Actions
In mid-June, AGI joined the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education and other professional organizations in sending a letter to the 50 chief state school officers urging them “to continue to make improved student learning in elementary and secondary science, mathematics, and technology education a state priority.”  The letter also recommended the need for a curriculum specialist at the state department of education to help lead state reform efforts in science education.  The complete text of the letter is available below along with the list of participating organizations. (6/30/00)

At a Capitol Hill briefing on September 20th, the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) and ExxonMobil announced Phase II of NSTA's successful Building a Presence for Science program, which is funded primarily by the ExxonMobil Foundation.  Building a Presence for Science began four years ago as a pilot-program in Texas by NSTA to improve science education by connecting teachers to increase professional development.  Phase I of the program included thirteen states and the District of Columbia and serves 30,775 schools in these areas.  When NSTA developed the program, a major issue that many science educators faced was their isolation from other science teachers.  To address this issue, the program works with state-based education organizations to develop a network of science educators and science education advocates with "Points of Contact" that serve 25-30 schools in geographical clusters.  Phase II of the program will include over 43,000 schools in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

EdFlex Bill Becomes Law
The Education Flexibility Partnership Act of 1999, a bill that allows school districts and states to apply to waive requirements of federal education programs and use the funds for other education needs, if the state/school district can prove those requirements impeded their ability to improve education, was signed into law on April 29, 1999. This "EdFlex" bill was introduced in the House as H.R. 800 by Rep. Castle, and in the Senate by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) as S. 280.

In the Senate, the bill passed the Senate HELP Committee in late January 1999, and the bill passed the full Senate by a 98 to 1 margin on March 11. The House bill, which has 65 cosponsors, passed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on March 3 by a 33-9 margin and the full House by 330 to 90 on the same day as the Senate vote. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist, offered an amendment during the House debate requiring districts seeking the waiver to document how the professional needs of its math and science teachers will be met. Despite vocal support from the National Science Teachers Association, the amendment failed. An update by the American Institute of Physics provides details of the effect of the amendment on the floor debate.  An amendment by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) was accepted in the final bill that requires states to assure that the underlying intent for each program continues to be met under the waivers.

AGI-Endorsed Letter to Chief State School Officers

June 15, 2000

The science, mathematics, engineering, and technology communities urge you to continue to make improved student learning in elementary and secondary science, mathematics, and technology a state priority.  For the United States to sustain its economic growth and remain competitive in an increasingly global and technology-driven economy, we need to ensure that we have a scientifically and technologically literate citizenry and workforce.  Employers need workers who have critical reasoning skills, an understanding of scientific concepts and inquiry, and who are well grounded in mathematics.

Improving science, mathematics, and technology education is a complex problem requiring many different approaches at several levels.  At the state level, curriculum specialists are essential in implementing and maintaining standards based science, mathematics, and technology education.

We urge the designation and support of curriculum specialists at the state department of education.  Without personnel designated to lead state reform efforts, it is difficult or impossible to maintains world-class science, mathematics, and technology education.

These curriculum specialists should be responsible for coordinating the planning, development, and dissemination of state curriculum frameworks.  They would serve as consultants for schools in their states in the areas of curriculum design, professional development, instructional strategies, student and program assessment, and the development of partnerships with the broader community, including institutes of higher education.

We understand that state departments of education have tremendous responsibilities for the science, mathematics, and technology education of the students in their states.  These responsibilities are best met with discipline-specific experts who can integrate an understanding of content, pedagogy, and human learning and bring this understanding to bear on policy decisions and day-to-day operations of a state education agency.

We encourage you to support science, mathematics, and technology education curriculum specialists. We stand ready to work with you and these specialists to create an outstanding education program for your students.

J. Patrick White
Executive Director of the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education

This letter has been endorsed by:
American Chemical Society
American Geological Institute
International Technology Education Association
National Biology Teachers Association
National Science Teachers Association
National Society of Professional Engineers
Project 2061 -- American Association for the Advancement of Science

Sources: Triangle Coalition, American Institute of Physics, National Science Teachers Association, Library of Congress, CQ Daily Monitor, House of Representative website, Senate website, Department of Education website, and the Washington Post

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Margaret Baker and Kasey Shewey White, AGI Government Affairs; 2000 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Audrey Slesinger; and 1999 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Interns Scott Broadwell and Sarah Robinson.

Last updated December 18, 2000

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