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Federal Science Education Policy (10-8-08)

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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. 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

No Child Left Inside Passes House
The House passed the No Child Left Inside Act (H.R.3036) on September 19, 2008. Sixty-eight Republicans voted with Democrats to approve the bill by a 293-109 vote, authorizing $14 million in funding through fiscal year 2009. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate (S.1981) but no action has been taken.

The No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act attempts to combat the recent trend for schools to forego environmental education in order to dedicate more time to subjects like reading and math, which are subject to high-stakes national testing. The NCLI Act provides funding for school systems that design plans to increase the environmental literacy of their students and teachers. The bill also establishes grant programs for professional development of teachers and for outdoor learning experiences for students.

In 2003, a National Science Foundation panel reported that “in the coming decades, the public will more frequently be called upon to understand complex environmental issues, assess risk, evaluate proposed environmental plans and understand how individual decisions affect the environment at local and global scales. Creating a scientifically informed citizenry requires a concerted, systemic approach to environmental education…” The NCLI Act is a critical part of that systemic approach.

Click here to learn more about the No Child Left Inside Coalition. (9/08)

Previous Action

Congress Passes Higher Education Bill
On Thursday, July 31, 2008, Congress passed a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act (H.R. 4137) by overwhelming majorities in both chambers. The measure marks the first major revision of the act since 2003. The measure requires colleges to provide tuition information and to rein in rising tuition prices, tries to restore integrity and accountability to the student loan process, simplifies federal student aid applications, tries to make textbook costs more manageable, expands support for low-income and minority students, expands aid for veterans and members of the military, ensures equal opportunities for students with disabilities, improves campus safety and disaster readiness plans and encourages colleges to adopt energy-efficient practices. Of particular interest to the geoscience community, the bill provides incentives to “strengthen our workforce and our competitiveness” by creating programs to bolster students’ interest in science and improve teacher training in the sciences.

The full text of the bill is available from Thomas at (07/08)

House Passes Higher Education Bill
On February 7, 2008 the House passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 (H.R. 4137) with little acrimony and only a few amendments. The measure is essentially a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act with some significant perks for science and engineering.  Many of the amendments dealt with the cost of tuition and operating expenses of institutions. Amendments to monitor the effect and cost of regulation on institutions, require institutions to set benchmarks on tuition, require reports on how endowments are used to reduce costs and require institutions to provide non-binding estimates of tuition costs were adopted.

The major enhancements in the bill would provide more support for students majoring in science or engineering disciplines, for students training to be K-12 teachers to receive more education in science and engineering and for additional science and engineering training for teachers who are already in the classrooms. This support would come from more scholarships, more fellowships and more partnerships between science and engineering schools at universities and K-12 teacher training programs. Additional support is specified for minorities and women who are majoring in fields where these groups are underrepresented.

These measures are important for the geoscience community because they provide more support for geoscience students, more opportunities for minorities in the geosciences, more geoscience training for education students and more opportunities to provide current K-12 teachers with a better background in the geosciences.

Another key component to note is that the committee defined the geosciences as a physical science in the House report for this bill (Report 110-500). Under the Byrd Scholarship section, the committee indicated that the scholarships should go to students majoring in the physical, life and computer sciences. It then defined the physical sciences as “the branch of knowledge or study of the material universe, including such fields of knowledge or study as astronomy, atmospheric sciences, chemistry, earth sciences, ocean sciences, physics, and planetary sciences.”

This is an important and useful distinction because the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative calls for a doubling of federal funding for research in the physical sciences, but does not include any of the geosciences or space sciences in their interpretation of physical sciences. The American Geological Institute and many geoscience societies as well as members of the geoscience community have been advocating for a doubling of federal funding for the geosciences as part of any competitiveness initiative. Geoscience research is essential for competitiveness, economic growth, energy resources, water resources, climate change, hazard mitigation, risk assessment, environmental and ecosystem health, effective land use, agriculture, mineral resources and many other critical issues of national importance.(02/07/08)

New Journal about Teaching Evolution

Springer announced the print version debut of its new journal entitled "Evolution: Education and Outreach" on November 28, 2007. The journal "promotes understanding and teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience. Targeting students of all ages including undergraduates, teachers and scientists alike, the journal publishes articles to aid members of these communities in the teaching of evolutionary theory." according to their press release. The press release goes on to say: "The quarterly journal connects teachers with scientists by adapting cutting-edge, peer-reviewed articles for classroom use on a variety of instructional levels. Teachers and scientists collaborate on multi-authored papers and offer tools for teachers such as unit and lesson plans and classroom activities, as well as additional online content such as podcasts and PowerPoint presentations."

Springer is also awarding prizes of as much as $10,000 annually for enhancing research and teaching of evolution.

More information about the journal is available from a social networking site: (12/14/07)

House Passes College Cost Reduction Act
On June 13, 2007, the House Education and Labor Committee approved H.R. 2669, the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007. The bill will boost college financial aid by almost $20 billion over the next five years, making it the single largest investment in college financial aid since the GI Bill. The bill is funded by reducing federal subsidies paid to lenders in the college loan industry. (6/18/07)

Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Expected
In a proposal titled "Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act," President Bush called upon Congress to modify and reauthorize the NCLB act. The proposal includes a new Adjunct Teacher Corps to encourage 30,000 math and science professionals to "bring valuable real-life experience to the classroom as part-time teachers." The President's FY 2008 Budget requests an increase in Federal support for underperforming schools of over $400 million – to a total of more than $1 billion.

The House Education and Labor Committee has recently held a series of hearings to examine various aspects of NCLB, including hearings such as "Improving the No Child Left Behind Act's Accountability System," "Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Current and Prospective Flexibility Under No Child Left Behind," and "Examining Local Perspectives on the No Child Left Behind Act." The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has also held hearings regarding the reauthorization of NCLB. Congress is expected to reauthorize NCLB after making significant changes. (6/18/07)

House Approves Legislation Strengthening Science Education
The House is also working on competitiveness legislation that would provide more funding for science and math education. The House Committee on Science and Technology passed H.R. 362 with overwhelming support this month. Also known as the "10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds" Science and Math Scholarship Act, H.R. 362 is designed to better prepare U.S. math and science teachers to teach these subjects. The measure, sponsored by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), was created in response to the National Academies' 2005 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report, which concluded that "America's footing as a global leader is slipping," according to Chairman Gordon. The report showed that the majority of U.S. grade school students receive math and science instruction from teachers without degrees or certifications in these areas.

H.R. 362 addresses these issues by increasing scholarships for undergraduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, who are also committed to pursuing a teaching career. The measure establishes a teacher education program at the National Science Foundation to encourage education faculty to work with STEM faculty on ways to improve education for math and science teachers; provides in-service training to math and science teachers to improve content knowledge and teaching skills; and authorizes the development of master's degree programs for in-service math and science teachers. (4/9/07)

Bill Introduced to Help Teach Scientists to Communicate with Policymakers
Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced the Scientific Communications Act of 2007 (H.R. 1453) to provide communications skills training for graduate students in the sciences. This legislation, co-sponsored by Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology, provides resources at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve the ability of scientists to convey the relevance and importance of scientific research and technical topics to policy makers.

The bill directs the NSF to establish a program to make grants to institutions to provide communications training to graduate students to improve the ability of scientists to interact with policymakers. The bill authorizes the appropriation of $10 million every year from 2008 to 2012 to the NSF to carry out such a program. (4/9/07)

Congress Begins Deliberations on Science Education
Since 2002, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has been the cornerstone of federal K-12 education policy. Within NCLB, the primary effect on Earth science education has been the establishment of Math and Science Partnerships in the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation (NSF). NCLB also requires that states begin assessing science proficiency in the 2007-2008 school year. With this requirement, states have the opportunity to set standards, determine curricula and review education programs. This is also a time for the Earth science community to advocate for and explain the value of Earth science in curricula, testing and standards. NCLB, the Higher Education Act (HEA) - which focuses on federal student aid, contains scholarship and loan relief provisions for math and science students and teachers, and NSF are all up for re-authorization in fiscal year 2008. Congress is likely to consider their overlapping objectives in crafting any changes to these programs. 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.

With this backdrop on science education legislation, a bipartisan task force presented more than 70 recommendations for improving NCLB to members of the House Education and Labor Committee on February 13, 2007. The task force recommended more tests and standards for students, new requirements for teachers, requirements for schools to maintain databases of student progress, and new requirements to measure the performance of principals against the performance of their students. For more information, see AGI's innovation page. (3/06/07)

Nominations for Presidential Science Awards
Each year, the President of the United States recognizes outstanding mathematics and science teachers by honoring them with the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Exemplary mathematics and science teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible for the award, which recognizes teachers from the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Department of Defense Schools, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. territories. PAEMST awardees are "a premier group of highly qualified teachers who have both deep content knowledge of the subjects they teach and the ability to motivate and enable students to be successful in these areas."

The PAEMST program is administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on behalf of the White House. Since the program's inception in 1983, more than 3,700 awardees have been selected, with up to 108 awardees each year. In even-numbered years, the award is given to elementary teachers; in odd-numbered years, secondary teachers are recognized. To nominate a 7th-12th grade teacher, visit; applications are due by May 1, 2007.

Bill for College Student Loan Relief
For millions of student borrowers, the College Student Relief Act of 2007 (H.R.5) may offer some hope for reducing their debt burden. Sponsored by Representative George Miller (D-CA), the bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 and reduce interest rates on certain student loans. The student-loan bill aims to phase-in cuts in the annual interest rates charged undergraduate student borrowers under the Federal Family Education Loan and Direct Loan programs from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over five years.

As the cost of a college education continues to escalate, the inclusion of such a bill in the new Congress's first 100 hours is a helpful sign. However, in a statement released through the Department of Education, President Bush stated his opposition to the bill, saying that "reducing student loan interest rates would direct federal subsidies to college graduates, not to students and their families who are struggling to meet current and future educational expenses." The statement asserted the Administration's commitment to "continue to work with Congress on a comprehensive approach to improve college access for the neediest students, in a fiscally responsible manner."

According to the 2002 Nellie Mae National Student Loan Survey, undergraduate student loan debt has increased significantly since 1997. The average undergraduate debt is $18,900, up 66 percent from $11,400 in 1997. More recent numbers have not yet come out, but student loan debt is sure to increase in step with the skyrocketing cost of a college education. Last year alone, the average total tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose 6.3% to $5,836, according to the College Board's 2006 Trends in College Pricing report. For students at private four-year colleges, the price rose 5.9 percent to $22,218.

As of January 17th, H.R.5 has passed the House and been received in the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.


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 109th Congress, 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, Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, Erin Gleeson, 2007 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Paul Schramm, 2007 AGI/AAPG Summer Intern.

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

Last updated on October 8, 2008..

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