Update on the National Science Education Acts of 2000 (8-3-00)
Most recent education bills introduced in the 106th Congress are directly related to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 reauthorization. As Congress progresses through this reauthorization process, specific language and programs focused on science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) education have lost ground. Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a research physicist before joining Congress and a member of the House Science and the House Education and the Workforce Committees, has introduced three new bills that focus specifically on SMET education. On April 11, 2000, Ehlers held a press conference to introduce these three bills: 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. Ehlers and his staff are interested in feedback from the science education community. The full text of the bills and information from the press conference are available on Ehlers's Science Education website.
Unlike many of the other recent education bills that have removed language and programs designed for math and science educators, the Ehlers bills target SMET education and the recruitment of well-trained teachers. The bill emphasizes 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." The American Institute of Physics has released two FYI Bulletin of Science Policy News on the Ehlers bills, one on April 12, 2000 and a second one on April 17, 2000. The American Geophysical Union released a Science Legislative Alert on the bills. Also, the National Science Teachers Association released a Legislative Update on the three bills on April 19, 2000.
Most Recent Action
On July 25th, the House Science Committee passed H.R. 4271, the National Science Education Act. Since their introduction in April 2000, the National Science Education Acts of 2000 have been the topic of several hearings. The full committee held a hearing on May 13, 2000, to review aspects of H.R. 4271. A few weeks later, the committee held a hearing on H.R. 4272, the National Science Education Enhancement Act. On July 19th, the committee held a hearing on the third bill in the package, H.R. 4273, the National Science Education Incentive Act. Now that H.R. 4271 has been passed by the committee it will be placed on the House calendar for floor debate. More information on the bills and the happenings at the hearings are available below.
The National Science Education Act
The National Science Education Act (NSEA) would amend the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, the act that established the National Science Foundation (NSF) and guides the agency's activities, to include several new provisions. The first program authorized under H.R. 4271 is the Master Teacher Grant Program, which would provide grants to elementary and middle schools to hire a "master teacher." According to the bill, a master teacher will provide program support to "not more than 10 [SMET] teachers" and be "responsible for in-classroom assistance and oversight of hands-on inquiry materials, equipment, and supplies, including supplying and repairing such materials." Master teacher grants would be available through NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate.
NSEA goes on to outline a competitive grant for partnership projects between secondary school and college students and university faculty, software developers, and experts in educational technology that work on the "development of high-quality educational software and Internet web sites by such students, faculty, developers, and experts."
One of the largest undertakings of the legislation is the formation of a Working Group on SMET Education. The working group would be charged with reviewing and coordinating "regular and supplemental curricula in kindergarten through the twelfth grade for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology." Members of the 15-person working group would be appointed by the Director of NSF for a three-year term and "shall have experience in the fields of life science, physical science, earth science, chemistry, technology, math[ematics], or engineering." The working group would be required to publish the criteria upon which their reviews will be based and disseminate information to local and state educational agencies on "award-winning programs."
Other provisions in the bill include: one requiring the Director of NSF to work with the Secretary of Education to disseminate information on required course of study for careers in SMET education, one directing NSF to have the National Academy of Sciences conduct a study on the "effectiveness of technology in the classroom on learning and student performance, as measured by State standardized tests;" one establishing a NSF grant for professional development to improve the use of technology in the classroom, one charging NSF to sponsor a National Science Education Forum conference, as well as several other programs for enhanced use of technology in the classroom and distance learning via technology.
After being introduced on April 11th, NSEA was referred to the House Committee on Science and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bill was introduced with 16 cosponsors: Judy Biggert (R-IL), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Kevin Brady (R-TX), Merrill Cook (R-UT), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), Rush Holt (D-NJ), William Jenkins (R-TN), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Steven Kuykendall (R-CA), John Edward Porter (R-IL), Marge Roukema (R-NJ), Nick Smith (R-MI), Jon Sweeney (R-NY), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Heather Wilson (R-NM).
The National Science Education Enhancement Act
The National Science Education Enhancement Act (NSEEA), H.R. 4272, lays out six changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 that aim to provide professional development for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) educators. The bill provides targeted amendments to expand and build upon current programs at the Department of Education (DoEd). Citing problems of support networks for novice SMET teachers, the bill starts by expanding the type of materials currently catalogued by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse to include materials to enhance mentoring programs. Under the current ESEA regulations, local and state educational agencies must provide a strategy for how funds will be used to meet the goals of a particular program. The Clearinghouse expansion would follow this process and require state and local educational agencies to provide methods they would use to improve mentoring for novice teachers. According to the legislation, mentoring programs must "provide a structure for local mentoring program evaluation, provide technical assistance to local mentoring programs, ensure compliance by local mentoring programs with state teacher training requirements, and provide incentives for local educational agencies to take mentoring into consideration in assessing instructional staff hiring needs." H.R. 4272 would also change the local activities available for funding from the Eisenhower Professional Development Program to include "mentoring programs focusing on changing science, mathematics, engineering, and technology teacher behaviors and practices to help novice teachers develop and gain confidence in their skills, to increase the likelihood that they will continue in the teaching profession, and generally to improve the quality of their teaching."
In addition to including materials on mentoring and programs to improve retention of novice SMET educators, the bill would charge the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse with reviewing, ranking and distributing information on programs contained within the Clearinghouse database as well as develop a search engine for retrieving information from the Clearinghouse. Two years after the expansion of activities at the Clearinghouse are implemented, the National Academy of Sciences will conduct a study on whether the new activities "have resulted in the Clearinghouse becoming a more effective entity."
The longest provision of H.R. 4272 would establish (or re-establish) Summer Professional Development Institutes for SMET teachers. DoEd in cooperation with NSF would award grants to local education agencies and institutes of higher education to hold these summer programs. The competitive grants would be awarded based on a peer-review application process that would give priority to applicants who use a curriculum recognized by the Working Group established in the National Science Education Act of 2000. Summer programs should be "content-based, build on school-year curricula, and focus only secondarily on pedagogy" as well as "provide supplemental assistance and follow up training during the school year." The NSF Director would lead the peer-review grant process and develop "a theme and structure for the summer institutes," but grants would be awarded through DoEd.
Other provisions of the bill would encourage more science after-school programs and science programs at community learning centers as well as a charge to the Department of Commerce to conduct a study of "the feasibility and effectiveness of various incentive, including tax credits, for corporations and businesses to provide" support to SMET education activities and SMET training.
After being introduced on April 11th NSEEA was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bill was introduced with the same 16 cosponsors as NSEA.
The National Science Education Incentive Act
The National Science Education Incentive Act (NSEIA), H.R. 4273, would change the current tax code to provide tax credits as incentives for individuals and private companies to participate in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) education activities. SMET teachers "who graduate from rigorous, content-based preparation programs" would receive a tax credit of "ten percent of their total college tuition, up to $1,000 per year for ten years." The bill would also encourage private industries to provide SMET educators a "teacher externship" that enhances that teacher's knowledge and teaching skills in SMET areas.
After being introduced on April 11th NSEIA was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. The bill was introduced with 16 cosponsors.
The first hearing on the Ehlers bill package provided more action than most congressional hearings. Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) began the hearing with a harsh reprimand to Dr. Judith Sunly, Acting Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Education and Human Resources Directorate. Dr. Sunly's written testimony was not provided 24 hours in advance of the hearing in accordance with committee rules; therefore, Sensenbrenner excused her from the hearings. After this scolding, the hearing returned to a more standard, well choreographed exchange. The witnesses included: Mr. Jeffrey Leaf, teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and Vice President of Pre-College Education, American Society of Mechanical Engineers International; Mr. Benjamin Boerkoel, Director of Curriculum and Staff Development, Grand Rapids Christian Schools; and Mr. John Boidock, Vice President for Government Relations, Texas Instruments. Complete written testimony of the witnesses, committee members' opening statements, the hearing charter, and a video of the hearing is available on the House Science Committee website.
Mr. Leaf noted that the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) had recently adopted a position paper on K-12 science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) education that echoes many of the activities included in Ehlers's bills: continued research on SMET teaching and learning, improved methods of SMET teacher recruitment, training, and retention; strengthened public-private partnerships, encourage the adoption of SMET curriculum standards, and advocate for women and minorities to pursue SMET coursework and careers. His testimony provided specific comments on provisions of the bill that ASME strongly support.
Mr. Boerkoel highlighted key provisions of the bill in his testimony, including extended comments on the use of technology in the classroom. He stated, "When used appropriately, technology not only provides educators with an additional teaching strategy; it also allows students to access information never before available to them and allows them to work with data that may be far beyond their ability to compute by hand. But the key to the successful use of technology lies in training educators both how to mechanically use it as well as how to integrate it and see it as a means to an end and not as an end in itself. Technology must be embedded for it to be effective."
The last witness was Mr. Boidock, who gave an industry take on the needs to improve SMET education. He stated that as industries become more technology driven "the need for skilled employees, particularly those trained in math, science and technology, has to increase." Companies are finding it difficult to fill these jobs with the current national workforce and are forced to look overseas to fill in these positions. In closing his oral testimony, Boidock said, " Because our future is linked to technological innovation and because these innovations will be discovered, refined, implemented and ultimately reinvented by children now learning their ABCs -- we must do all we can to nurture the interest of young people in mathematics and science."
The second hearing in the National Science Education Acts (NSEA) series focused more on H.R. 4272, the National Science Education Enhancement Act. Witnesses included: Dr. Len Simutis, Director of the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse (ENC) for Mathematics and Science Education, the Ohio State University; Dr. Diane Bunce, Associate Professor in the Chemistry Department, Catholic University of America; Dr. Audrey Champagne, Professor of Chemistry and Science Education in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, State University of New York at Albany; and Dr. Janice Gruendel, Executive Director, Connecticut Voices for Children. Complete written testimony of the witnesses, committee members' opening statements, the hearing charter, and a video of the hearing is available on the House Science Committee website.
Dr. Simutis discussed the provisions in H.R. 4272 that would help ENC to expand its current activities to evaluate curriculum resources and to include products and information on mentoring new science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) educators. He stated, "We believe that expansion in these areas enhances work that we are already doing through collecting resources and disseminating evaluations online, and in providing professional development resources to educators." Simutis concluded his testimony in saying that the mission of ENC dove-tails with the goals of the bill and that ENC is excited about these possibilities.
Dr. Bunce, as a representative of the American Chemical Society (ACS), praised Rep. Vernon Ehlers and the committee for their support of SMET education reform but voiced some concerns ACS has of specific sections of the NSEA bills. The biggest concern was the formation of a work group that would aim to coordinate SMET activities. "ACS appreciates the importance of coordinating SMET curricula at the K-12 levels. However, we question the need for another national body to define the scope and sequence of curricula and to identify quality materials. As written, it is not clear how this new group would add to their well-established national efforts to achieve similar goals, including the National Science Education Standard and the AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks. Although we recognize the need to translate these efforts into coherent classroom practices, we urge that any effort build on and not duplicate these widely used consensus frameworks."
Dr. Champagne primarily discussed methods to improve professional development for SMET teachers. She stated that for professional development to really make an impact, it must be a part of teachers' daily schedule and not just spotty seminars and workshops. A provision of H.R. 4272 would establish summer institutes that Dr. Champagne urged included a thorough follow up through out the year leading up to and following the summer institute. She also praised already existing programs within the federal government, but welcomed the emphasis NSEA is taking in SMET education.
Dr. Gruendel discussed the use of technology in the classroom and the fact that very few of our schools are currently capable of fully integrating technology in K-12 education. In a recent survey, 30-40 percent of SMET teachers said they felt comfortable with using technology in the classroom. Most SMET teachers use technology in tracking students (i.e. test scores and attendance) and in preparing their lesson plans, but few teachers use technology as a teaching tool for students. She closed her statement by saying that as the nation produces few SMET workers even fewer SMET trained individuals will enter the teaching profession.
The last hearing the National Science Education Acts (NSEA) series focused on H.R. 4273, which would provide tax incentives to students who enter SMET education and would provide tax credits to companies that sponsored SMET education activities. Dr. Judith Sunley from the National Science Foundation (NSF), who was not allowed to provide testimony at an earlier hearing, provided the first official response from NSF on NSEA. The other witnesses included: Mr. Alfred Berkeley, President, the NASDAQ Stock Market; Dr. Cozette Buckney, Chief Educational Officer, Chicago Public Schools; and Mr. Ted Gardella, K-12 Mathematics and Science Coordinator, Battle Creek Public Schools. Complete written testimony of the witnesses, committee members' opening statements, the hearing charter, and a video of the hearing is available on the House Science Committee website.
Dr. Sunley and NSF's response to the NSEA package was nicely summarized when she stated: "In sum, both the spirit underlying the bill and the type of actions suggested are implemented in extant NSF activities. The language of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.) has provided NSF with great flexibility in developing programs that respond to the issues of particular times. In considering the NSF activities, we urge the Subcommittee to focus on the overarching issues to be addressed rather than the specifics of program implementation. We need to retain the agility to move forward with programming that addresses the issues of today and tomorrow and to do so within the resources available to us."
Mr. Berkeley discussed the links between SMET education and the current and future economic growth of the nation. He suggested that education needs something similar to the NASDAQ, without government regulations, that would provide "transparency" to local grades -- it would take a local grade and place it in an international context that would provide information on the "true value" of the grade. He also discussed the need for "proven curriculum" in SMET education; an American Institutes for Research study reviewed 20 widely used curricula and found only three of them as being effective.
Dr. Buckney praised the NSEA package and showed examples from the Chicago school system that have greatly improved the SMET education there. For example, to help boaster SMET educators' knowledge they spend eight days at the Illinois Math and Science Academy and have monthly follow up training. She closed her testimony by saying that passing the NSEA and the financial incentives included in the package can greatly help fund better SMET education in the long-run.
Mr. Gardella's testimony, similar to Dr. Buckey's testimony, highlighted ways that his school district is working to improve SMET education. He applauded the work the Rep. Ehlers has done to rise awareness of the need for improved SMET education. The tax credit for educators who enter SMET education would "ease the financial demands placed on these candidates, who also face the enticements of other careers." In closing, Gardella gave a real-life example of how externships, like those proposed in H.R. 4273, help SMET teachers in their daily teaching.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs
Posted April 28, 2000; Last Updated August 3, 2000
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