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Federal Science Education Policy (6-2-06)

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Since 2001, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has been the cornerstone of federal K-12 education policy. Within NCLB, the primary effect on geoscience education has been the establishment of Math and Science Partnerships in the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation. NCLB also requires that states begin assessing science proficiency in the 2007-2008 school year. The act is up for reauthorization in fiscal year 2008. Higher education policy has been dominated in recent years by reform of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA, which focuses on federal student aid, contains scholarship and loan relief provisions for math and science students and teachers. HEA reauthorization is expected to occur in 2006. A number of education initiatives have also been proposed as part of a new focus in Congress and the White House on innovation and U.S. competitiveness. For more information, see AGI's innovation page.

Recent Action

Science Achievement Results from NAEP 2005
In 2005, more than 300,000 fourth-, eighth- and twelfth-grade students from both public and private schools were assessed in science by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) - also known as "the Nation's Report Card." The science assessment contains multiple-choice and short-answer questions on topics related to the Earth, physical and life sciences. Results, released on May 23, 2006, show that science achievement in the United States has improved for elementary school students over the past decade but has remained unchanged for middle school students and declined among high school students. Comparisons of the 1996, 2000 and 2005 student performance level results are listed below.

Fourth Grade:
Percent Scoring At or Above Basic Level: 1996 - 63%; 2000 - 63%; 2005 - 68%
Percent Scoring At or Above Proficient Level: 1996 - 28%; 2000 - 27%; 2005 - 29%

Eighth Grade:
Percent Scoring At or Above Basic Level: 1996 - 60%; 2000 - 59%; 2005 - 59%
Percent Scoring At or Above Proficient Level: 1996 - 29%; 2000 - 30%; 2005 - 29%

Twelfth Grade:
Percent Scoring At or Above Basic Level: 1996 - 57%; 2000 - 52%; 2005 - 54%
Percent Scoring At or Above Proficient Level: 1996 - 21%; 2000 - 18%; 2005 - 18%

NAEP results are also presented in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, national school lunch recipients, parents' educational level, students with disabilities and English language learners. Male students continue to outperform female students in science at all three grade levels, while minority students appear to be making progress in science at grades 4 and 8. Since 2000, average scores have increased by 7 points (on a 300 point scale) for Black fourth-graders and by 11 points for Hispanic fourth-graders. Science scores of White and Asian/Pacific Islander fourth graders have also consistently improved since 1996. At grade 8, Black students were the only minority group to make gains since 1996. In addition, average scores of fourth- and eighth-graders eligible for free/reduced-price school lunches have also increased by 8 and 3 points, respectively, since 2000. Fourth- and eighth-grade English language learners and students with disabilities also had higher average science scores than in previous assessment years. However, average score gaps between White, Black and Hispanic students, and between those eligible and ineligible for school lunch remain large - on the order of 30 points or more at all three grade levels.

"Policymakers and industry representatives are concerned about national competitiveness in an increasingly technical world," said Darvin M. Winick, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the bipartisan group that sets policy for NAEP. "The lackluster achievement of our older students in science appears to confirm those concerns. As better-prepared fourth-graders continue in their schooling, we all hope that they will raise American achievement results when they reach middle and high school."

To that end, a new bill that will hold states accountable for student performance in science was introduced by Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) on May 22, 2006. The Science Accountability Act (H.R.5442) would require states to annually assess student proficiency in science from grades 3 to 8, beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. Presently, under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, states are required to test student proficiency in science only once during grades 3 to 5, 6 to 9, and 10 to 12. The new Science Accountability Act would put requirements for state science assessments on par with NCLB requirements for annual reading and math assessments. In a joint letter of support for the Science Accountability Act, Dr. Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, and Dr. E. Ann Nalley, president of the American Chemical Society wrote that "science assessments are necessary tools for managing and evaluating efforts so that all students receive the science education necessary to successfully prepare them for the future. Including science in the accountability measures will put science on an equal footing with other curriculum areas, highlight areas for improvement in many of our nation's schools, and help to ensure that all learners can succeed academically in science."

To read a summary of the Nation's Report Card on science achievement, click here.
To browse sample questions from the NAEP science test, click here.
For more information on the Science Accountability Act, click here. (6/2/06)

Previous Action

Government Accountability Office Report Examines Higher Education Programs in STEM Fields
On October 12, 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released "Higher Education: Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Programs and Related Trends," a report requested by Representative David Dreier (R-CA) that examines trends in STEM education at the postsecondary level, and the federal programs designed to improve it. The report documented slower growth in post-secondary science and engineering degrees. The GAO also found that the most important factors in increasing the number of students in STEM fields were K-12 teacher quality, the number of math and science classes completed in high school, and mentors for women and minority students. The report warned, however, that new programs should not be created before the efficacy of existing programs was reviewed. (2/23/06)

House Committee Approves College Access and Opportunity Act
The House Education and Workforce Committee approved a major bill on September 22, 2005 that includes a few minor provisions encouraging students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). During a committee mark-up of the College Access and Opportunity Act (H.R. 609), Representatives Howard McKeon (R-CA) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) successfully offered an amendment that would authorize over $41 million over the next five years for scholarships and grants directed toward STEM education. The key measures included in McKeon and Ehler's amendment were:

  • Math and Science Scholarships for students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in a STEM field.
  • Student loan relief of up to $5,000 for individuals with degrees in science or mathematics who serve as teachers or other professionals in these fields.
  • Grants for states to better coordinate and implement reforms to improve math or science education, as well as for activities that promote better teacher recruitment and training and increased student academic achievement.

This amendment includes ideas from a bill proposed earlier this year by Science Appropriations Committee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). Wolf's bill had offered up to $10,000 in loan interest relief, but lacked funds for scholarships and state-local partnerships.

"It is simply unacceptable that America's high school students are struggling to keep up with their industrialized-world peers in the fields of math and science," said Representative McKeon. "This is a serious crisis that we cannot wait to address."

The main purpose of the College Access & Opportunity Act is to reauthorize and reform the Higher Education Act, which is the nation's primary legislation governing student financial assistance and other programs that enable low and middle-income students to pursue a college education. Other provisions in the bill, which reform the Pell Grant system and other programs, received mixed reviews on Capitol Hill and throughout the education community. The committee approved the bill along strict party lines on July 22, 2005, with House Democrats calling the bill the "largest cut in federal student financial aid in the 40-year history of the aid programs."

The bill is now ready for consideration by the full House. Click here to see the majority and minority views. (9/15/05)

Senate Committee Approves Higher Education Amendments Act
On September 8, 2005, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the Higher Education Amendments Act of 2005 (S. 1614). The Senate's Act is part of a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) that corresponds with the College Access and Opportunity Act on the House side. Amendments to the HEA include several minor incentives for college students to pursue science and math degrees. Under the new Title VIII, the act creates the Mathematics and Science Scholars Program, which awards competitive grants to states that match funds for math and science scholarships. The $1000 scholarships would be available to students that complete a "rigorous" high school curriculum in mathematics and science and continue to study these subjects at the post-secondary level. The legislation also creates a national "Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent" (SMART) Grant, a $200 million program that would provide scholarships of up to $1,500 for undergraduate students who are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and are eligible to receive a Pell Grant. The SMART Grant differs from the Scholars Program in that funds come directly from the federal government and states are not required to match the funds.

The Senate legislation also reauthorizes loan forgiveness provisions in the Teacher-Taxpayer Protection Act of 2004, meaning that many mathematics and science teachers are eligible for up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings praised the Senate legislation, including the programs designed to support students studying STEM disciplines. "This future depends heavily upon mathematics, science and technology - more schools offering these subjects and more students studying them," she said. "This has long been a priority of the President, and the HEA contains two measures vital to achieving it."

The HEA is now ready for consideration by the full Senate. (9/15/05)

Science and Technology Scholarship Program Passed by House Science Committee
On May 17, 2005, the House Committee on Science passed H.R.2364, a bill that establishes a Science and Technology Scholarship Program. This program awards scholarships for the recruitment and preparation of students who are pursuing careers in the National Weather Service (NWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) marine research, atmospheric research, and satellite programs. To receive the scholarship, students must commit to working a minimum of two years at NOAA for every academic year for which the scholarship is provided. (6/3/05)

Math and Science Incentive Acts Introduced in the House and the Senate
At a press conference on April 12, 2005, Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) , Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) introduced the Math and Science Incentive Act of 2005 (H.R. 1457). In an attempt to restore the United States' global dominance in science and innovation, the bill would direct the Secretary of Education to pay the interest on undergraduate loans for science, math and engineering majors up to a limit of $10,000 each. In order to be eligible, students must agree to teach or work as a professional in their areas of study for at least five years following graduation. Wolf based the bill on an idea floated in Newt Gingrich's book, Winning the Future.

On the same day, Senators John Warner (R-VA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced an identical bill (S. 765). In his statement before the Senate, Warner likened today's shortage of "homegrown, highly trained scientific minds" to the kind of national, scientific complacency that was jolted by the launch of Sputnik in 1957. (5/5/05)


No Child Left Behind
When President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act into law on January 8, 2002, he changed the way the federal government approaches educating elementary and secondary school students in math and science. The Act, H.R. 1, was the presidential version of the reauthorization bill for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), that established a range of federal programs. NCLB eliminated the Eisenhower Professional Development programs, which provided support to math and science educators. Some of the Eisenhower programs have been replaced by two new Math and Science Partnership (MSP) programs; one administered by the Department of Education (DoEd) and one administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The two MSP programs have a shared purpose of improving academic achievement in mathematics and science. The DoEd's MSP program gives funds to states and school districts to allow local communities to partner with universities, businesses, and educational organizations to help math and science teachers enhance their understanding and ability to teach these subjects. It is a formula grant program to the states, with the size of individual state awards based on student population and poverty rates. The states are responsible for administering competitive grant competitions within their boundaries. The NSF's MSP program is based on competitive grants to fund projects to help improve math and science learning in elementary and secondary schools. In fiscal year (FY) 2001, the Eisenhower programs were funded at $485 million. NCLB authorizes a similar $450 million annually for math and science partnerships; but appropriators have provided only $258 million ($179 million for DoED and $79 million for NSF) in FY 2005 and $245 million ($182 million for DoEd and $63.2 million for NSF) in FY 2006.

NCLB requires states to assess each students' math skills each year in grades 3-8 and at least once during grades 10-12. Reading and math assessments became mandatory for the first time in school year 2005-2006. Science assessments will be added to NCLB in school year 2007-2008. States will be required to test students' science proficiency at least once during grades 3-5, once during grades 6-9, and once during grades 10-12. NCLB is up for reauthorization in FY 2008.

Education Sciences Reform Act
On November 5, 2002, the president signed the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 into law (Public Law No. 107-279). Introduced by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) in late February 2002, the act aims to improve education research, statistics, evaluation, information, and dissemination. The bill eliminated the Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) along with the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse and the Eisenhower Regional Consortia. In their place, the bill established the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Higher Education Act
The Higher Education Act (HEA) was originally signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The primary aim of the HEA is to help low and middle income students gain access to higher education opportunity. The act, which must be reauthorized approximately every five years, was reauthorized for the ninth time in 1998 under President Bill Clinton. The next reauthorization is expected to occur in 2006.

For additional information, read overviews of science education policy developments in the 108th Congress and 107th Congress.


Sources: US Department of Education, National Science Foundation, Library of Congress, National Science Teachers Association, Triangle Coalition, Washington Partners, LLC, House Education and Workforce Committee, Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation.

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on Science Education Policy for the 107th Congress.

Contributed by Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff, Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern, Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.

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

Last updated on June 2, 2006.

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