Most Recent Action    Previous Action    Partnerships    Background    Hearing Summaries 

Overview of Science Education Policy (11-27-02)

When President George W. Bush signed the "No Child Left Behind" act into law on January 8, 2002, he changed the way the federal government approaches educating elementary and secondary students in math and science. Originally introduced as the administration's proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 -- the principal authorizing legislation for K-12 programs at the Department of Education -- and as a general outline for federal education reform, "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) aims to streamline the programs and funding administered by the Department of Education (DoEd). Congress used the administration's proposal as a starting point for its own proposal (H.R. 1). Of key interest to the geoscience community is the transformation of the Eisenhower Professional Development programs that provided support to math and science educators into a Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program. The new MSP would be administered through DoEd -- an identically named but separate program is funded through the National Science Foundation -- and would allow school districts to partner with universities, businesses, and educational orgnaizations to improve professional development for math and science teachers. Of the Eisenhower programs, only the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse and the Eisenhower Regional Consortia did not end with the enactment of NCLB, but they are threatened with elimination as Congress works to reauthorize the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) that provides funding for these programs. Also of concern to the geoscience community is the fact that funding for the Department of Education's MSP is currently $12.5 million, which is a massive decrease from the $485 million provided to the Eisenhower state-grant programs the year before. As in years past, AGI has joined forces with other scientific, engineering, and teaching professional societies to promote support on Capitol Hill for improved science and mathematics education.  The 2002 statement released in March by the Math/Science Partnership Coalition is available as a PDF document.

Most Recent Action
On October 15th, the Senate passed an amended H.R. 3801, the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, a bill that would reauthorize the Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). Introduced by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) in late February, the bill aims to improve education research, statistics, evaluation, information, and dissemination. Of key concern is the future of the remaining Eisenhower programs for math and science educators -- the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse and the Eisenhower Regional Consortia. As reported in AGI's March 18th Action Alert, H.R. 3801 would threaten the future of the Eisenhower programs, but the final version of the bill would provide a short-term reprieve for the regional consortia. Legislative language states that the Eisenhower Regional Consortia will continue to be supported until the comprehensive centers, authorized under the act, are established. Now that the bill has been approved by both chambers, it awaits presidential approval, which is expected in the coming days. (10/23/02)

On July 24th the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (HR 1).  While two panels of witnesses were present to testify, the focus was overwhelmingly on the first panel that contained Dr. Eugene Hickok, US Under Secretary of Education.  All members and witnesses recognized the great potential of the No Child Left Behind Act, however, there were several concerns related to the implementation of the act.  Concerns regarding school accountability and school choice overshadowed all other issues discussed.  Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), however, both brought up the current lack in science and math education. (8/7/02)

A new Department of Education report calls for the revision of the teacher certification process with particular emphasis on ensuring teacher competence in the subjects they plan to teach.  It recommends that teachers be required to pass rigorous subject-specific exams.  According to a June 11th article in the Washington Post, the report also searches for a way to "deepen the pool of potential teachers by clearing alternative routes to the classroom for mid-career professionals who have strong content knowledge but lack 'education theory' classes."  The effort to attract individuals who have exhibited excellence in their fields to a career in teaching is one that has only intensified in recent years.  Unfortunately, while there are forces looking to increase the rigor of teacher certification, the reality is that there is a growing lack of teachers -- as enrollment in public schools increases along with the beginning of retirements of an entire era of teachers.  It is estimated that school systems will need to hire more than 2 million teachers within the next decade.  The result is a situation in which school systems are having trouble finding anyone to fill their opening teaching positions, let alone highly qualified applicants.  Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige believes that raising the standards for teachers will increase the prestige and desirability of the profession, increasing both the number and qualifications of individuals attracted to the field in the future. (6/13/02)

Previous Action
  Congressional Proposals     Administration's Proposal  

Congressional Proposals
In the first session of the 107th Congress, a flurry of science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) bills were introduced that had widespread bipartisan support. Despite this support, very few of these ideas were incorporated in the the final "No Child Left Behind" act that became the framework for elementary and secondary SMET education in the nation. The House Science Committee has been the source of many of these bills, including the National Science Education Act (H.R. 100, H.R. 101, and H.R. 102) and the Tech Talent Act (H.R. 3130)

Sherwood Boehlert's bill, H.R. 3130, (originally titled the Technology Talent Act)  the Undergraduate Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education Improvement Act, is currently being discussed in the House Committee on Science.  This act calls for several measures with the goal of improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate education.  For more information on H.R. 3030 click here.  A related bill, S. 1549, was introduced in the senate by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in October of 2001 where no further action on the bill has occurred.

In early February, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) reintroduced his Public Education Reinvestment, Reinvention and Responsibility Act (Three R's Act; S. 303).  A House version of the bill, H.R. 345, was introduced by Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN) in late January.  Three R's is the "New Democrat" comprehensive ESEA legislation that revises and reauthorizes certain educational assessment and evaluation programs.  Proposals in the bills include increasing the accountability of states and local educational agencies (LEAs) for a student's academic performance, with penalties for failing to meet predetermined achievement standards.  The bills also focus on improving teacher quality and development and school improvements through federal and state funded programs. (8/9/01)

On July 13th, the House Science Committee passed both H.R. 1858, the National Mathematics and Science Partnership Act, and H.R. 100, the National Science Education Act, by unanimous voice vote.  H.R.1858, introduced by Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), expands K-12 education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and encourages colleges, universities and businesses to become more involved in improving pre-college science, mathematics and technology education by creating partnerships and scholarship programs.  The bill would create scholarship funds to allow teachers research opportunities at universities as well as recruit and train math and science college graduates to become teachers.  It provides for the expansion of the NSF science, mathematics, engineering, and technical education library to include more K-12 instructional materials and improved K-12 science and math education through a program development conference sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology.  Added to H.R.1858 was the manager's amendment, which incorporated minor revisions from both Democratic and Republican members.  H.R. 100 was part of Rep. Vernon Ehlers's (R-MI) package of three bills (H.R. 100, H.R. 101, and H.R. 102) introduced aimed specifically at reforming science and math education.  These bills are identical to the National Science Education Acts that he introduced in the last Congress.  No amendments were added to H.R. 100.  Both bills were passed by the House in the end of July and sent to the Senate. (8/6/01)

The Administration's Proposal
The Administration's proposal, No Child Left Behind, covers a wide range of educational programs to improve elementary and secondary school education.  It was proposed as a reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The policy emphasizes increased accountability for student teacher performances, focuses on programs to improve literacy through the Reading First initiative, reduce bureaucracy and increase flexibility with funding programs and technology grants, and empower the parents to become more involved in their child's progress.

Annual reading and math assessments are proposed to evaluate a student's development and improvement.  These assessments will also be used to review the successes or failures of improvement programs at the school, district and state levels.  Agencies will either be rewarded through grant programs or sanctioned and corrected if programs appear to be failing.  The Reading First initiative "gives states both the funds and the tools they need to eliminate the reading deficit."  Reading First program provided funds for reading comprehension and science-based reading programs in kindergarten through second grade.  The program was developed from research conducted on the most successful methods and techniques to teach students how to read.

The proposal stresses the importance of improving teacher quality, including funding programs for teacher development programs outlined by individual schools and districts.  Funds for professional development provided to the states and school districts will allow the states and school districts the freedom to "use their funds to promote innovative programs such as reforming teacher certification or licensure requirements; alternative certification; tenure reform and merit-based teacher performance systems; differential and bonus pay for teachers in high-need subject areas such as reading, math, and science, and in high poverty schools and districts; and mentioning programs."  Evaluation of student progress will also be factored in for grant and award programs measuring teacher performance.

Another emphasis is strengthening K-12 math and science education by encouraging partnerships with institutions of higher education to improve the quality of instruction and curriculum.  Local school districts and states would be eligible for federal funding for such programs as "making math and science curricula more rigorous, improving math and science professional development, attracting math and science majors into teaching, and aligning high school math and science standards to foster college placement."  Research institutions are strongly encouraged to become active participants in improving elementary and secondary science and math education. (8/9/01)

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, H.R.1, is the comprehensive ESEA reauthorization bill that restructures math and science education.  The bill highlights the same programs as reflected in President Bush's education proposal, including programs for holding the state and school districts accountable for federally funded improvement programs, and strategies to asses the progress of the schools by annual math and reading testing and evaluations of teaching staffs.  Some other basic provisions include identifying schools for improvement and corrective actions, reporting on school performance and teacher quality, providing federal funds for teacher enhancement and reduced class size programs, increasing literacy programs for K-3rd grade children, and providing grants for states to work in conjunction with institutions of higher education to strengthen K-12 math and science education.  H.R.1 also "explicitly prohibits federally sponsored national testing, federally controlled curriculum, as well as any mandatory national teacher test or certification."  H.R. 1 was passed by the House on May 23rd; the corresponding bill in the Senate, The Better Education for Students and Teachers Act (BEST), S.1, passed on June 19th.  The bill has bipartisan support for the proposed reforms. (6/8/01)

The House-Senate Conference Committee on ESEA filed the conference report (H. Rept. 107-334) on H.R. 1.  On December 13th, the House passed the conferenced bill in a 381-41 vote, and the Senate passed it in a 87-10 vote.  The good and the bad news is that little of interest to the geoscience community changed between the final version and the previous report.  One issue that remained in the final version of the Conference Report, but not the actual legislative language as originally introduced, is evolution.  Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced a "Sense of the Senate" provision that singled out biological evolution as a controversial theory.  The report language states: "The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

Both chambers have completed action on the ESEA reauthorization bill (H.R. 1) and the fiscal year (FY) 2002 Labor/HHS Appropriations bill (H.R. 3061).  These bills were signed by President Bush on January 8th, 2002 and January 10th, 2002, respectively.  Formerly, math and science education were under the Eisenhower programs but the H.R. 1 structure will terminate these programs in favor of math and science partnerships.  The partnerships will be administered through the DoEd and will allow state/local education agencies to work with institutions of higher education as well as corporations and nonprofit organizations to raise math and science standards for both students and teachers.  The program will provide funding for all states to award grants on a competitive basis to eligible partnerships. As described by DoEd: "Partnerships would focus on strengthening the quality of math and science instruction in elementary and secondary schools and could include such activities as making math and science curricula more rigorous, improving math and science professional development, attracting math and science majors to teaching, and aligning high school math and science standards to foster college placement."

The Eisenhower programs were funded at $485 million in fiscal year 2001, while H.R. 1 authorizes up to $450 million for math and science partnerships.  Unfortunately, the appropriators have provided a measly $12.5 million for these partnerships for next year.  Report (H. Rept. 107-342) language for the partnerships begins by stating the planned allocation of $12.5 million, then continues in the following paragraph by stating: "The conferees note that, although this is a separate program designed specifically for the development of high quality math and science professional development opportunities, in no way do the conferees intend to discourage the Secretary and States from using other federal funding for math and science instructional improvement programs.  The conferees strongly urge the Secretary and States to utilize funding provided by the Teacher Quality Grant program, as well as other programs funded by the federal government, to strengthen math and science education programs across the Nation." (6/3/02)

The Eisenhower Professional Development Act was originally enacted in 1984 to provide funding for professional development opportunities for math and science educators. The program was reauthorized for an additional five years as Title II of the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 (IASA). It is designed to enable teachers to have access to quality professional development that is consistent with their state's content and teaching standards. The Eisenhower Professional Development Programs includes the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse (ENC) for Mathematics and Science Education, the Eisenhower Regional Mathematics and Science Education Consortia, and the Eisenhower Professional Development State Grants. The state grant program was designed to distribute funds to states and school districts solely for the purpose of teacher enhancement, particularly in math and science. ENC was designed to be a permanent repository of instructional materials and programs to be used in elementary and secondary schools. The Department of Education (DoEd) provides grants to non-profits and institute of higher education to run the Eisenhower Regional Mathematics and Science Education Consortia that aim to promote partnerships and be a resource for educators to address regional needs. Unlike the state grants, the funding for the remaining programs, which are collectively referred to as the Eisenhower Network, is provided through the DoEd Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI).

A current trend in education reform has been to remove programs with specific funds in favor of block grants, which state and local education agencies can use at their discretion.  The EdFlex legislation that was became law in the last Congress is an example of the type of money-without-strings, block grants popular in Congress.  Under this type of funding mechanism, the Eisenhower program is 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 efforts to support it is available on the AGI Education Policy website. The National Education Association (NEA) also hosts a site regarding the ESEA reauthorization.

In 2000, the National Research Council released a report entitled Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for the New MillenniumThe report addresses a perceived shortcoming by the authoring committee in the preparation of K-12 teachers for teaching in science, mathematics, and technology.  Noting the increased expectations on a variety of levels, the committee recognizes that expectations for K-12 teachers have increased accordingly, and yet instruction programs that teach the teachers have not adjusted accordingly, leaving the teachers inadequately prepared to teach at appropriate levels.  Lastly, the report addresses the lack of performance standards, support, and an established program of procedures and policies to attract, educate, and place professionals in the field.  The committee established six guidelines for improving K-12 teacher education in science, mathematics, and technology, including making teacher education a top national priority and a career-long process, and upgrading the status of teaching as a profession.  As an ideal solution, the committee envisions a partnership between K-12 schools and the higher education community, incorporating the broader community for assistance and support.  The committee ultimately recognizes a need for a revamping of the K-12 teacher position and its relationship with the broader educational community.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the Third International Mathematics and Science Study-Repeat (TIMSS-R) on December 5, 1999.  First given to students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades in 1995, TIMSS "allows the United States to examine its education system through the prism of 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 to 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.

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, the National Academy Press, The Washington Post, and hearing testimony.

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

Contributed by Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs; and AGI/AIPG Summer 2001 Geoscience Policy Interns Michelle Williams and Caetie Ofiesh; AGI/AAPG Spring 2002 Intern Heather Golding; and AGI/AIPG Summer 2002 Intern Sarah Riggen.

Posted December 5, 2001; Last Updated November 27, 2002.

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