American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Update and Hearing Summary on the State of Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology Education in America (5-4-98)

Recent Action
In 1997, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) commissioned Science Committee Vice-Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI) to develop a "sensible, coherent, long-range congressional science and technology policy" that would also involve a review of science and math education programs. The House Science Committee held four hearings on science, math, engineering and technology (SMET) education in America in 1997. The July 23rd hearing focused on the status of federal programs; the September 24th hearing focused on K-12 science and math education; the October 8 hearing centered on the result of the TIMSS study; and the October 29 hearing examined the roles of the various federal agencies involved in education.

Five hearings have been held thus far in 1998, and the full written testimony for each is available from the House Science Committee website. The March 4 hearing focused on maintaining the interest of children in science and featured Bill Nye, the Science Guy; the March 11 hearing addressed partnerships in research; the March 25 hearing addressed international science; the April 1 hearing focused on graduate education; and the April 22 hearing addressed the "irreplaceable federal role in funding basic scientific research.

More information on other activities related to the Science Policy Study is available on the AGI website.

House Committee on Science
July 23, 1997

The House Science Committee held this hearing on "The State of Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology Education in America" as the first step in what Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) called a comprehensive review of science, math, engineering and technology (SMET) education from K-12 through post-graduate levels. He emphasized that SMET education is essential for national security and global competitiveness. Both Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member George Brown (D-CA) discussed t he results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which indicated that US fourth grade students rank at the top of science achievers worldwide while eighth grade students rank average. For more information on TIMSS, visit AGI's update on the issue. Finally, Chairman Sensenbrenner said that even though high tech industries are growing in the US, their growth may be retarded because of the lack of a skilled workforce.

The Science Committee called Secretary of Education Richard Riley and National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Neal Lane to discuss how the two agencies have been working together to improve math and science education. Secretary Riley testified that, according to the Information Technology Association of America, there are 190,000 high tech jobs that are currently unfilled because companies cannot find applicants that are well-skilled in science, math and technology. He cited the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, the largest Department of Education program focused primarily on math and science, as a strong factor in local and state efforts to strengthen SMET education. For more information on the Eisenhower Program, visit AGI's legislative update on the issue. Secretary Riley described President Clinton's proposal to give voluntary national tests in reading in the fourth grade and mathematics in eighth grade. These tests would be given in order to determine what students can and should be able to accomplish in reading and mathematics. According to Secretary Riley, the tests may help raise expectations of students, upgrade curriculum and instruction, and therefore help them rise in international education rankings such as TIMSS. Secretary Riley then described an action strategy for improving math and science education that the Department of Education and NSF devised at President Clinton's request. Three elements of the strategy are:

According to Secretary Riley, this strategy combines Department of Education's "flexible support for improving teaching and learning" and NSF's "portfolio of programs targeted on math, science and technology education."

Finally, Secretary Riley discussed President Clinton's Technology Challenge. Two goals of the initiative are to increase access to "appropriate technology and high-quality software" and to ensure that teachers have proper training to use these tools effectively in classrooms. Secretary Riley said that three factors are contributing to the accomplishment of these goals: the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants, and the E-rate provisions of the Telecommunication Act. The Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, which is funded at $2 billion over 5 years, has supplied all 50 states with money to increase technology use and learning in classrooms. The Technology Innovation Challenge Grants support cutting-edge applications of computer technology in classrooms. Finally, Secretary Riley explained that the E-rate is helping provide internet and telecommunications access to rural and poor schools.

Dr. Lane testified that the federal government can and should play an essential role in SMET education. "By sharing costs and disseminating vital information with respect to the development of curriculum materials, assessment instruments, and models for reforming and renewing education systems, the federal government stimulates and helps enable schools and school districts to provide world-class education to all students." Dr. Lane described NSF initiatives that are being used to strengthen K-12 SMET education: Statewide Systemic Initiatives (SSI), Urban Systemic Initiatives (USI), Rural Systemic Initiatives (RSI), and Comprehensive Partnerships for Mathematics and Science Achievement (CPMSA). He said that the goals of the initiatives are accomplished with resources from the Department of Education, including Eisenhower Professional Development state grants, and Goals 2000, Title I, and Carl Perkins funds. Dr. Lane testified that NSF is also working to improve undergraduate and graduate education and "aims to engage researchers and educators in a joint effort to infuse education with the joy of discovery at every level."

According to Dr. Lane, interagency coordination between NSF and the Department of Education is spelled out in a fiscal year 1992 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Targeted at pre-K-12 education, the MOU sets forth a plan of interaction between the two agencies on "planning, information exchange, and collaboration at a number of management levels." Dr. Lane also cited the recent joint effort between NSF and the Department of Education: the Working Group to Improve Mathematics and Science Education, which is developing the voluntary national eighth grade mathematics test that Secretary Riley discussed. Finally, Dr. Lane said, "Through innovative, systemic approaches to education and training at all levels, the National Science Foundation, by collaborating with the Department of Education and other agencies, has pushed the frontier of US education, striving continually to ensure that all students are proficient in all disciplines of science and mathematics and at all levels of education."

Chairman Sensenbrenner opened questions by asking Secretary Riley about the best way for the federal government to deal with the training of math and science teachers. Secretary Riley replied that the best options are Title I funds and the Eisenhower and Goals 2000 programs. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) emphasized that the "most important single factor" in education is the active interest and involvement of parents. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) cited the recent popularity of outer-space and alien movies as evidence of widespread interest in science. Dr. Lane agreed with his assessment and said that NSF Antarctic and undersea programs try to take advantage of the "mystery and romance" of science that excite kids and other Americans.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said that American citizens, along with the federal government, must take responsibility for improved math and science education. He said that he has heard complaints from the general public about poorly prepared students, but that very few of those people serve on school boards or help with school programs. Rep. Boehlert also expressed concerns about low teachers' salaries, saying that the money is not there to attract the best and brightest students into the teaching profession. Dr. Lane replied that systemic reform efforts that focus on teacher enhancement are needed. He also cited NSF scholarships that are used for students who aspire to be teachers. Secretary Riley said that the US will need two million new teachers o ver the next 10 years and that these teachers will need to be trained appropriately in math, science, and technology. He said that the Eisenhower program is the best option to take on this task. Rep. Boehlert replied that, despite these efforts by NSF and the Department of Education, there needs to be more funding for teachers and education.

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) asked about funding for studies to determine "how kids learn." Secretary Riley replied that only 0.04% of the Department of Education budget goes into research, so the Department leans heavily on NSF for those types of studies . Dr. Lane said that $25 million of NSF funds goes into research on teaching and that, through other programs, NSF provides funding to bring scientists into the classroom.

After Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) expressed concerns that teachers are not trained well enough to make science and math interesting, Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) cited her bill, the Technology for Teachers Act, as attempting to alleviate that problem. For more information on the Technology for Teachers Act, visit AGI's legislative update on the issue.

Finally, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) asked Dr. Lane and Secretary Riley about what their agencies are doing to encourage the private sector to donate computer equipment to schools. Dr. Lane replied that, although NSF does not have a program to work with the private sector, the agency itself has already donated about $450,000 worth of equipment this calendar year. However, he emphasized, professionals must donate their time along with equipment to ensure that it is being understood and used properly. Secretary Riley said that the federal government is currently considering the donation of outdated federal equipment to schools.


House Committee on Science
September 24, 1997

Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) discussed his commitment to improving science and math education in an "effort to forge a new direction for long-term U.S. science and technology policy." Ehlers, a physicist, spent 22 years as a science educator and understands many of the challenges teachers face when teaching science and math. While many students are leaving the classroom with little understanding of science and math due to lack of exposure, many are leaving with little understanding due to "ineffective education." According to Ehlers, science is too often presented as a "static body of knowledge" when it should be presented as a window to understanding the universe. Over half of the K-12 teachers will retire in the next decade, Ehlers said, and now is the time for reform. He concluded by saying that he was looking forward to hearing the "visions" of the panel members. For the full written testimony of the witnesses, visit the House Science Committee website.

Dr. Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) discussed the National Science Education Standards developed by the National Research Council (NRC) in collaboration with numerous education organizations and individuals that were released in 1996. Alberts stressed that the science standards are not curricula but rather explain what students should know and understand by the end of certain grade levels. The standards have three "bottom lines,"

The science standards act as a "roadmap" for the next 10 years, but patience is vital. Many of the changes taking place are "major" and will require time. If results are not seen after a year, it is not a sign to try something else. Alberts went on to say that the focus should be on helping teachers implement the science standards through professional development programs.

Dr. Gerald F. Wheeler, Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), covered four points in his testimony. First, the National Science Education Standards are the "marching orders" for science education. Secondly, there will be no change without the involvement of science teachers and the use of professional development in all phases of a teacher's career. Next, while technology is an important tool, it is ineffective unless teachers know and understand how to use it. Finally, the combined efforts of teachers, teacher associations and all interested parties is need to help the one million science teachers across the nations reach the year 2000 with effective science education skills.

Mrs. Gail Burrill, President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), discussed the NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics that were released in 1989. The goal of the mathematics standards is to move from math for some to math for all. One of the problems facing math education, according to Burrill, is the large variation in mathematics teaching across the nation, which lends itself to little direction and focus. Since the math standards were released, progress has been made but much still needs to be done. Just as the panel members before her, Burrill stressed the importance of a "systematic and coherent long-range professional development plan that offers system support and resources."

Ms. Barbara Sampson, President of Technical Education Research Center (TERC), testified that TERC supports research and professional development based on four goals:

Sampson said that while changes are occurring, more needs to be done to reform mathematics and science education.

Chairman Ehlers opened the question and answer period by asking panelists to comment on his belief that the biggest problems in science education are a lack of teacher knowledge and training and lack of inquiry and hands-on learning. Dr. Alberts replied that the National Science Foundation has made hands-on kits available, but noted maintenance of the kits is difficult. He went on to say that many teachers were not taught using an inquiry approach and therefore do not apply it to their students. For this reason, Alberts said that professional development is "vital." Dr. Wheeler agreed that there is a lack of knowledge but the real issue is breaking the "comfort level" of teachers with inquiry learning. Mrs. Burrill said a lack of knowledge and training hindered programs and she went on to say that inquiry learning and hands-on are not enough unless they are tied to a "focused curriculum." Professional development should not be considered an "add-on" but a critical piece of teaching. Ms. Sampson responded that hands-on teaching is essential in elementary school and the earlier science is introduced the better.

Rep. George Brown (D-CA) said that how science and math are taught is crucial and asked the panel to comment on the applicability of standards to a society that fits a "bell-shaped curve." Dr. Alberts replied that the Standards are "minimal" standards and serve as a "platform" not a "leveling device." Mrs. Burrill said that standards are for all students because it is not always obvious by the fifth grade which students will be the scientists. Chairman Ehlers asked the panel to discuss the role of outside scientists in the classroom. He felt it was important to make use of local scientists even if they do not have teaching experience. Dr. Alberts replied that this was a major focus and effort of the National Academy of Sciences. The science community is "huge," said Alberts, and is not used enough. Ms. Sampson said that the National Science Foundation has been working on this aspect of science education and does have some on-going projects. Dr. Wheeler agreed that scientists are underutilized but said it is important to set "boundaries" around their involvement so scientists do not feel threatened. He reminded the committee that a scientist's "passion lies in a different domain," and that is not always the classroom. Wheeler concluded that less traditional and more innovative means of getting scientists in the classroom are needed and suggested involvement via telecommunications.

The hearing concluded with Dr. Wheeler emphasizing that getting teachers involved in improving science education is critical but reform is not akin to a "Field of Dreams" philosophy. In other words, "if you build it, they will come" does not work. Reform must go to the teacher and "change must occur at the community level.

House Committee on Science
October 8, 1997

The following summary of the hearing is provided by the American Institute of Physics as FYI #125

House Science Committee Vice Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI) continued his review of the nation's science research and education programs with an October 8 hearing. Three experts in the field of science education were invited to discuss the lessons learned from TIMMS, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (see FYIs #159, 1996 and #84, 1997), which analyzed international achievement in math and science at several grade levels. In addition to testing students in over 25 countries, the TIM MS program also gathered information on textbooks, curricula, and classroom instruction (via videotape) in several participating countries.

The TIMMS results showed that US fourth-graders performed above the international average in math and were second only to South Korea in science. But by eighth grade, US students performed only slightly above the international average in science and be low the average in math. This drop in achievement from fourth to eighth grade, said TIMMS National Research Coordinator William Schmidt, demonstrated that "US students don't start out behind the rest of the world, but fall behind during the middle school years."

All three witnesses attributed this failing of US math and science education to the lack of a national consensus on what should be taught at each grade. Because different areas of the country have different requirements, Schmidt explained, textbook publishers try to include all possible topics, resulting in books of 700-800 pages, compared to 200 pages or less in other countries. "We've achieved number one in the world in math and science in how big our textbooks are," he declared. Schmidt said the con tent of the texts becomes the de facto curriculum, resulting, the witnesses agreed, in students being taught a fragmented, repetitive, and incoherent "laundry list of topics." All three experts advocated the adoption of national (not federally-mandated) standards for each grade level. The idea of local school board control is a myth, Schmidt scoffed -- what students are taught is mainly determined by the textbooks the school board purchases.

James Heibert, who contributed to the videotaping portion of TIMMS, discussed the differences seen in classroom instruction of various countries. Although the study showed that teachers in Japan, for example, placed more emphasis on deductive reasoning , taught fewer topics, and more effectively demonstrated the connections between topics, Heibert cautioned against simply adopting another nation's teaching strategy. What the US lacks, he said, is a mechanism to continually improve methods of teaching. Without data collection and research, he noted, it is "difficult to create informed policies; we can't even evaluate the effects of current policies." Schmidt also pointed out that a national consensus on what was to be taught at each grade would enable teaching colleges to better prepare teachers. Roger Bybee of the National Academy of Sciences added that adequate preparation and continuing professional development of teachers were crucial to improving classroom instruction. He, too, urged adoption of national standards and greater funding for education research (remarking that the US currently invests less than 0.1 percent of education funding on research.) Asked by one of the committee members what was preventing the adoption of such standards, Schmidt said it was political will, and commented that involving politics "is just hurting our children." For the full written testimony of the witnesses, visit the House Science Committee website.

House Science Committee
October 29,1997

The hearing began on a somber note, with Chairman Sensenbrenner and others paying tribute to committee member Rep. Walter Capps (D-CA), who died suddenly the night before. The rest of the hearing focused on "the roles that various federal agencies play in K-12 Science and Math Education Programs." Four witnesses presented testimony: Dr. Clifford Gabriel, Acting Associate Director, Science Division, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Dr. David Shaw, Chairman, Panel on Education Technology, President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST); Gordon Ambach, Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers; and Dr. James Rutherford, Chief Education Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science. For the full written testimony of the witnesses, visit the House Science Committee website.

Dr. Gabriel emphasized Secretary Riley and Director Lane's comments from earlier hearings that the federal role in education is "catalytic." He informed the committee of the actions of the interagency working group on Improving Math and Science Education. The group's action strategy is "coalescing around the key areas of improving teaching, increasing the availability of high-quality classroom materials, illustrating effective uses of technology in the classroom, and strengthening public awareness of t he importance of challenging mathematics as a gateway skill to higher learning and the 21st century workplace." He also spoke of the importance of recruiting minority science and math teachers. Dr. Shaw testified that more funding is needed to support research to determine the best teaching methods for math and science. PCAST recommended funding for two types of research: First, modest funds for individual, early-stage projects and secondly, funding to subject the most promising of these proposals to vigorous testing. He proposed that providing this program with $1.5 billion would lead to $15 billion in savings. Mr. Ambach testified that state and local schools are not fearful of, and in fact support, federal involvement in science and math education. He listed curriculum and professional development as two areas where federal support is necessary, and noted professional development was better funded in the 1960s than it is today. Dr. Rutherford outlined the need for persistence in science, i.e. that the federal government needs to ascertain long-term strategies in education. He also believes in science literacy for all, specific goals and standards, systemic reform, and coordination of limited federal resources. Questions and answers centered around how to obtain funding for new research in a shrinking budget, the importance of minority recruitment, and the effect of national standards.

House Science Committee
March 11, 1998

The following summary of the hearing is provided by the American Institute of Physics as FYI #45

As part of his National Science Policy Study, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) chaired a March 11 House Science Committee hearing on successful scientific partnerships. The policy study is intended to develop an updated, coherent justification for prioritizing and funding federal R&D. This was the second in a series of hearings that will provide input for the study.

Changing times, budget constraints, and global competition have, as Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) stated, caused scientific cooperation to grow "in recent years as a way to leverage money and expertise among federal agencies, re search universities, and industry." The 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), which calls for federal agencies to implement performance plans and measure achievement, has also prompted agencies to look for mechanisms, such as partnering, to use resources more effectively. "There has been relatively little attention paid," Ehlers noted, "to analyzing the relationship of the structure of these agreements with their success." He hoped "by the end of the hearing to be able to identify the common elements of successful partnerships...and how performance measures for research can best be developed and used."

Identifying items common to productive collaborations, however, proved difficult. The point emphasized most by all four witnesses was the need for flexible and differing partnership mechanisms to fit different circumstances. Both Charles Vest, president of MIT, and University of California at Berkeley professor David Mowery echoed an often-used comment on partnerships: "One size...does not fit all." The fact that the U.S. led the world in successful partnering, they agreed, could largely be attributed to its pluralistic, competitive, flexible, and what Mowery termed "chaotic" system.

Mowery criticized the national labs' CRADA process for its lack of adaptability, and said its emphasis on intellectual property rights "sometimes turned out to be an impediment." He stressed the importance of a partnership's ability to alter its agenda and even its goals in pursuit of efficiency. This had implications for the GPRA process, he warned; goals must be defined broadly enough to allow adjustability. Mowery urged a more comprehensive effort to gather data on collaborations and development of a "more flexible set of instruments and criteria to help determine which vehicle is most suited" to a given situation. He also questioned whether various legislation permitting and encouraging partnerships has been assessed for its usefulness and consistency.

The witnesses did cite a number of elements important to effective collaborations: partners should have a realistic understanding of each other's goals, cultures and time scales, and must bring their own unique capabilities to the effort. The management system "must contain mechanisms for stopping good work" and reprioritizing resources, said former IBM vice president for research James McGroddy. If public funds are involved, insisted Harvard professor emeritus Lewis Branscomb, "the public benefits have to exceed private benefits" to individual firms. Ranking Minority Member George Brown (D-CA) urged the witnesses to continue their efforts to explain and clarify the political justification for federal collaborations. "It is an important prelude," he said, to "trying to establish a base on which to provide a stronger financial commitment to R&D."

House Committee on Science
International Science
March 25, 1998

Ehlers opened the hearing by stating that the purpose of the hearing is to "examine why the United States should participate in international scientific collaborations, when they are likely to be effective, and how to prevent them from being manipulate d to meet goals other than scientific goals."

Admiral James D. Watkins, president of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education, testified that the US is seen as an unreliable partner in scientific endeavors by the G7 nations because of its poor track record in sustaining commitments. He stressed the importance of involving the Secretary of State in international scientific collaborations. He suggested assembling a small group of scientists, academics, and those involved in international affairs to meet in a roundtable discussion with the Secretary of State. He also recommended involving the new Undersecretary for Global Affairs to tackle this issue.

Dr. Bruce Alberts, president, National Academy of Sciences, spoke about the many advantages to the US from participating in international science collaborations. For example, partnerships are necessary to afford the new, high-cost research facilities. In addition, international collaboration allows US researchers to capitalize on new discoveries made elsewhere and will aid the American economy. He stated that the US is the leader in science and technology, and we must work with the developing countries . He concluded by saying that by 2002, satellites will allow internet connections worldwide, which will help communication with these countries.

Dr. Thomas Ratchford, director, Center for Science, Trade, and Technology Policy at George Mason University, testified on the importance of international science. He spoke about five trends that he sees as the boundary conditions for globalization of science and technology:

He suggested that the federal government incorporate science and technology into foreign policy decisions and into the development of international policies both inside and outside the State Department. He also recommended developing and implementing policies that affect science internationally, as it is carried out in the public and private sectors.

Dr. Homer Neal, a physics professor at the University of Michigan, spoke about his positive experience at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. He listed several benefits of international collaboration, including cost-sharing of major facilities; "the synergy from bringing together the skills of the world's most talented scientists;" the additional level of scrutiny of projects; and increasing interactions between countries. He also cited several problems with international research programs that focused mainly on faculty travel and missed class time.

Ms. Caroline Wagner, senior analyst for the Critical Technologies Institute at RAND, provided the committee with the results of a recent RAND study on international science. The report found that 10 US federal agencies commit more than $1 million to international research. She cited two main reasons for this participation: the equipment is so expensive, and the subject matter -- such as oceans and earthquakes -- is global. In an analysis of research and development in earthquake science and seismology, RAND found that foreign contributions equaled the US contribution. US companies are setting the standard for 80 percent of the research equipment.

During the question and answer session, Rep. Ehlers asked what types of agreements are necessary for "big" science projects -- such as the international space station -- and smaller projects. Watkins noted that DOE has signed more than 200 international R&D agreements, but only funds a few dozen. These agreements are primarily political, and have little follow-up. Alberts stressed the need to follow through on agreements. Ratchford, Neal, and Wagner agreed that no agreements are necessary for most smaller projects, but larger projects need stronger, more meaningful agreements in an international forum.

Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN) asked the witnesses their views on the international space station. Alberts responded that the National Academy and the scientific community do not feel it is warranted by science, but may have other international relations benefits. Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) asked what lessons we learned from the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) fiasco. Watkins responded that had President Bush been reelected, we would have created the SSC. The Department of Energy, however, did not fully support the project. He continued by stating that the US lost a lot of credibility with that decision, but "we did not learn anything from it." Ratchford said the US made a strategic error by billing the SSC as a domestic project, and only turning to the international community once we needed funds.

Ehlers asked what the US could do if we were to sign on to a project then decide not to go through with it. Watkins responded that an effective mechanism would be to engage other countries and gain congressional support early, but allow for reassessments by each country at certain milestones.

House Committee on Science
Attracting and Graduating Scientists and Engineers Prepared to Succeed in Academia and Industry
April 1, 1998

House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner opened the hearing, before giving the gavel to Rep. Ehlers. He stated that the "US has a first-class science and engineering graduate education enterprise," but the focus of this education is to train students to go into academia, a choice many are not making. Sensenbrenner voiced his concern that this focus is not adequately preparing graduate students for careers outside of academia and is also discouraging many from entering scientific fields entirely. His sentiments were echoed by Ranking Member George Brown and Ehlers.

Dr. David Goodstein, vice provost at California Institute of Technology, spoke about the increasing gap in scientific literacy between the general public and students who have earned a Ph.D. in science or engineering. He stated, "the problem is that science education in America is designed to select a small group of elite scientists." He believes widespread reform in both education and society will be necessary to remedy this problem.

Catherine Johnson, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, spoke about the current system of education in which students generally spend 10 years in training through research for a Ph.D. and postdoctoral positions. She testified that the current systems inhibits student creativity and the long time period to degree discourages many from entering the system. She suggested expanding the career paths of young scientists, re-validating the Masters Degree, increasing scientific flexibility and decreasing time to degree and employment.

Dr. Earl Dowell, dean of the Duke University School of Engineering, testified on behalf of the Engineering Deans Council of the American Society for Engineering Education. He spoke about the high enrollment in engineering Ph.D. programs and the strong job market for engineers. He countered his optimism, however, with the news that undergraduate enrollment in engineering has decreased more than 15 percent since the peak several years ago.

Mr. Michael Peralta, executive director of the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS), testified on how JETS "works to expose high school students, in a fun and creative way, to engineering as a career and helps students understand better the importance of engineering and technology in their lives." One of their programs, Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS), is a competition in which teams of up to eight students address real engineering problems in an open-book, open-discussion format. Each year approximately 45 states are represented in the competition. JETS also sponsors the National Engineering Design Challenge, in which student teams design, build, and demonstrate a model of a new product. Another program sponsored by JETS is UNITE, a summer program to prepare African American, Latino, and American Indian students for graduate school in engineering.

Dr. Philip Griffiths, chair, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) for the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering, testified on a 1995 report by COSEPUP. He refuted several myths about graduate education by stating that m ore than half of all Ph.D. graduates go on to jobs where research is not a priority, unemployment rates for scientists and engineers have declined slightly in the last several years, and enrollment in graduate science and engineering programs are declining. In a survey of employers, the COSEPUP study found that employers find shortcomings in three areas: communication skills, appreciation for applied problems, and teamwork. The report provides three recommendations for graduate education:

The full written testimony for each witness is available from the House Science Committee website.

House Committee on Science
The Irreplaceable Federal Role in Funding Basic Scientific Research
April 22, 1998

The following summary of the hearing is provided by the American Institute of Physics as FYI # 77

"The very role that the federal government is most needed and best positioned to fill is perhaps the hardest to explain to the American people." -- Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI)

Continuing to solicit input for his National Science Policy Study, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) chaired an April 22 House Science Committee hearing on "The Irreplaceable Federal Role in Funding Basic Research." All the participants agreed that R&D has contributed in a major way to the nation's economic growth and standard of living, and that the federal government is the most important supporter of fundamental research. No one believed that if the federal government reduced its support, private industry would be able to pick up the slack. The absence of a federal role "would be a disaster for the economy...and the well-being of the country," said George Conrades, President of GTE Internetworking.

 According to Claude Barfield of the American Enterprise Institute, the contemporary federal role in R&D funding was articulated by Vannevar Bush in his famous 1945 report, "Science: The Endless Frontier." It has provided guidance for federal support of science and technology ever since. However, Barfield explained, portions of Bush's vision are flawed or obsolete. Bush's linear description of the R&D process ignores its complexities, Barfield said, and basic research is viewed as driven purely by curiosity, not by real-world problems. The Bush policy was also designed for growing R&D budgets, but Michael Doyle of the Research Corporation warned that in the current era of fiscal constraints, researchers stick to projects that are "a sure thing," and avoid risky but innovative research.

Georgia Research Alliance President William Todd, representing a collaboration among industry, academia, and state government in Georgia, emphasized how dependent the entire framework was on the federal role. It was "one of the great strengths of the system," Barfield added, that federal funding of early-stage research enabled states to focus their efforts closer to the market. Conrades noted that it is the wide dissemination of publicly-funded research results across disciplines that often leads to unforeseen practical applications that create industries, provide jobs, and fuel the economy. Several witnesses raised concerns about programs (such as ATP and CRADAs) that encourage licensing the results of federally-funded research.

Conrades is a member of the Committee for Economic Development, a group of business and academic leaders. The group has prepared a report, "America's Basic Research: Prosperity through Discovery," which will be released in June. Many of its findings an d recommendations for federal R&D funding echo a 1995 National Academy of Sciences report, with emphasis on supporting merit-based peer review, maintaining diverse funding mechanisms, broadening graduate education, and continuing participation in large-scale projects (including international collaborations). Direct federal funding of commercialization activities is discouraged unless the federal government is the main customer or the only source of funding for a technology with broad societal benefits . Federal funding for basic research, Conrades concluded, is "an extremely productive use of taxpayer money," and can be thought of as "low-cost insurance" for the nation.

Sources: Hearing testimony, The American Institute of Physics


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Stephanie Barrett and Catherine Runden, AGI Government Affairs Interns and Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Last updated May 4, 1998


  Information Services |Geoscience Education |Public Policy |Environmental
Geoscience
 |
Publications |Workforce |AGI Events


agi logo

© 2014. All rights reserved.
American Geosciences Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to: webmaster@agiweb.org.
Privacy Policy