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Update on Science Education Hearings (2-17-00)

As a follow-up to last year's Science Policy Study, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) is leading a series of hearings on science and math education for the House Science Committee. Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said, "This series of hearings will serve as a comprehensive examination of current science and math education, the directions science and math education may take in the future and programmatic reforms that may be necessary to ensure graduates of US schools are well prepared."

Why and How You Should Learn Math and Science
House Science Committee
March 17, 1999

Chairman Sensenbrenner opened the hearing then turned the gavel over to Representative Ehlers. Sensenbrenner noted the poor performance of US students on international tests, and stated, "We can and must do a better job of preparing our young people for the 21st century." Ranking Member George Brown (D-CA) suggested that we need to make learning math and science more exciting for young people. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) commented that all citizens now need a grounding in science and math to function in today's world. Rep. Ehlers echoed her comments, and noted that math, art, music, and science help children learn other subjects, including reading. The hearing charter is available from the House Science Committee website.

Dr. Vera Rubin, National Science Board
Dr. Rodger Bybee and Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Center for Science, Math, and Engineering Education at the National Research Council
Ms. Amy Kaslow, Council on Competitiveness
Dr. Shirley Malcolm, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Mr. John Harrison, Ecutel

Dr. Rubin's testimony was based on a recent National Science Board report, "Preparing our Children: Math and Science Education in the National Interest," which was created "in the wake of the disturbing results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)." It focused on four areas that need improvement to increase the quality of math and science education: instructional materials, teacher preparation, college admissions criteria, and research on teaching and learning. She concluded by saying, "implementing those strategies for excellence in education is nothing less than a national imperative."

After providing background on recent debates over content in science curricula, Dr. Bybee and Ferrini-Mundy testified, "although content and procedures are important, in fact essential, they are the context in which students will learn to think and reason, the more productive focus in this conversation about mathematical and scientific literacy for all is on the value added of reasoning and critical thinking that must be developed in the citizenry."

Ms. Kaslow's testimony focused on the "inadequacies of American schooling" on the workplace. She provided several examples of the lack of skilled workers on industry gained from many meetings around the country. She also listed three trends that she believes will continue to intensify:

Dr. Malcolm's written testimony focused on the need for adequate science and math preparation not only for employment but also for an educated country. She spoke of the need for national standards -- both because of the increasing number of children that move during their education and because she believes "that the 15,000 roadmaps that lead to the production of our Nation's human resources must be guided by a road map that at least helps us understand the destination." She also spoke on the importance of higher education and teacher training.

Mr. Harrison testified on his efforts to hire scientists for Ecutel, a software development company that he co-founded. He said that in the first few months, he received 630 resumes, and "of those we considered qualified, none were US citizens." He concluded that "US innovation is outpacing its ability to innovate from within." He provided two suggestions: "Math and science education need to be in a child's everyday activity so it increases their intellect and becomes second nature to them. Secondly, until these kids are ramped up on technology, make immigration laws easier so we have the necessary technical skills in the hands of US companies to stay on top of the world's innovation curve."

K-12 Math and Science Education -- What is Being Done to Improve It?
House Science Committee
April 28, 1999

This hearing summary was taken from the American Institute of Physics' FYI #80, which is also available on the AIP website. The full written testimony of the witnesses is available from the House Science Committee.

At an April 28 hearing, committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) noted that the federal government spends more than $2.5 billion annually on "63 separate math and science programs...scattered across 24 different agencies and departments." There are many more state and local efforts as well. "The problem," remarked Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), "is how to determine what works best.... Or put another way, are they actually helping the school systems?"

The two federal agencies with the largest responsibility for science and math education are the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation. NSF Director Rita Colwell testified that education is one of the foundation's top three priorities. While NSF collaborates closely with the Education Department, its efforts are unique in that the focus is solely on science, math, and engineering education, and NSF is able to link its programs to the nation's research enterprise. Colwell explained that proposals for NSF education funding are selected by peer review and can address teacher professional development, systemic school improvement, development of instructional materials, research on learning, and digital libraries for educational resources. Two new programs include a Teaching Fellows program to pair up graduate students with K-12 teachers for classroom experience, and an interagency Education Research initiative with the Education Department and NIH.

If students are to achieve high standards, they need to have "competent, well-trained teachers," said Department of Education official Judy Johnson. She stated that the Administration's proposal for ESEA reauthorization will include a new program to enhance teacher professional development in all areas, while keeping an "emphasis on math and science." The department, she said, maintains databases to help assess current programs, and is working hard to collect, evaluate, and disseminate that data. A national evaluation of the Eisenhower Professional Development program, she reported, "has taught us that professional development works best" when it is sustained, collaborative, and tied to content standards and curriculum.

The number of supplemental materials for teachers is "daunting," said Gerald Wheeler, Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association. However, many are not aligned with state or national standards, and teachers do not have the time or expertise to find the best. The challenge, his testimony concluded, is "to provide educators with increased support for professional development to enhance content knowledge and their ability to appropriately select curriculum resources."

Gordon Ambach, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, agreed that "the federal government has a very legitimate role" in helping states and teachers determine what materials are most effective. Ambach's organization performs surveys to help NSF collect critical baseline data on state efforts in student achievement, teacher preparation, teaching conditions, and other areas. Ambach described what he considered "essential federal actions" to improve math and science education: supporting state and local efforts to develop and align their standards and assessments, funding state-by-state and international benchmarking, implementing learning technologies, and increasing support for teacher professional development in science and math. With the upcoming ESEA reauthorization, he warned, the Eisenhower program is at risk of being incorporated into a block grant or blended into a more general program. "I can assure you," he said, that if left to the states, "the focus on science and math...would disappear." He called on Congress to "protect what is in [ESEA] for science and math teacher development."

Ehlers commented that while the federal government should not be involved in setting student achievement standards, "the best thing NSF can do" is to encourage a national consensus on content and sequence. The Education Department's Johnson reported that the department provides funds for state and local efforts to develop curricula, standards and assessments. Several committee members raised questions about teacher recruitment. The witnesses agreed that better pay would be an important factor. Ambach and Wheeler reiterated their call for expanded support of professional development. When Ehlers asked if there was "something better than the Eisenhower program" for that purpose, Wheeler said it "serves the purpose, [but] the funding is just woefully low."

Ehlers then asked if there was "something to be gained from assigning all [math and science education] efforts to one department?" Colwell answered that no single agency would have sufficient funds, and the current approach "leverages...the various strengths" of different agencies. Ambach warned that math and science must have strong support from the general education community, and Johnson added that pulling science and math education out of the Education Department would separate them from research into learning and pedagogy.

Additional questions focused on computers and information technology for education. Johnson reported that more than half the nation's public schools are now wired for Internet connections. She cautioned that many teachers are not sufficiently trained to properly use the hardware and software, and that educational technologies must be seen as a tool, not an end in themselves.

Joint hearing on K-12 Math and Science Education -- Finding, Training, and Keeping Good Teachers
The House Committee on Science and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
June 10, 1999

This third hearing in a series on science and mathematics education issues was held jointly by the House Science Committee and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to look primarily at three related issues:  the recruitment of quality future teachers;  the retention of teachers; and the continuing training and development of teachers.  Opening statements were made by the chair and ranking members from the two committees, with everyone citing statistics that by 2008 we will need to have hired 2.2 million new teachers.  These new hires will be needed to meet the demand from a growing student body and the gaps left by retiring teachers around the country.  Specifically related to science and math teaching, Ehlers pointed out that currently over 30% of high school math teachers do not even have a college minor in math, and less than 18% of high school science teachers have a minimum of a minor in their field.  In a time when math and science scores in the U.S. are low and our economy is increasingly technology dependant, this lack of qualified teachers was an obvious concern to the committee as a whole.

Panel 1
Dr. John Staver, Director, Center for Science Education, President, Association for Education of
    Teachers of Science, and Professor, Kansas State University
Dr. Howard Voss, Chairman, Physics Department, Arizona State University
Dr. Jane Kahle, Condit Professor of Science Education, Miami University of Ohio
Ms. Pamela Tackett, Executive Director, Texas State Board for Educational Certification

Howard Voss was the first to speak and he addressed the problem of recruiting teachers, reiterating many of the predictions for future teacher demand.  It is not just the quantity of new teachers, however, but the quality that also has Voss concerned, with many math and science teachers who are not well prepared to teach in their fields.  Voss suggested causes of this lack of well trained science teachers were the relatively low regard in which teachers are held, the under-utilization of teachers in our current school calendar setup, and the low pay and benefits that make other industries more attractive to the best prospective teachers.  His suggestions for improvement involved long-term, societal shifts and he summed up his recruitment strategies in three categories:  catching, keeping, and converting.  Voss sees the most effective way of interesting folks in becoming science teachers in the first place is by making the profession attractive.  Well-prepared, enthusiastic teachers will excite and inspire young folks.  According to Voss, college and university science departments also have "the responsibility of making the undergraduate experience one that is conducive to choosing teaching as a career."  In order to keep the teachers we already have, Voss believes we need to treat teachers as the professionals they are and continue with their professional and scientific education.  Voss also called for greater collaborations between science and education departments at our country's campuses, thinking that our current non-science teachers were a good source of potential science teachers.

Staver addressed the question, "What does an effective science teacher preparation program look like?"  and argued that "future teachers of science need sound intellectual grounding and extensive practical experiences in four domains:  In science, in teaching, in learning, and in the setting in which they plan to teach."  He introduced the idea of a Professional Development School, explaining, "[It] is a regular school working in partnership with a university to develop and demonstrate fine learning programs for all students; practical, thought provoking preparation for novice teachers; new understandings and professional responsibilities for experienced educators; and research projects that tell us more about how to make schools more productive."

Kahle took up the issue of teacher development in her testimony as well.  She mentioned that in the past, "professional development has focused on programs that followed a training paradigm:  short term, standardized sessions designed to impact discrete skills and/or techniques."  Kahle found, however, that more sustained professional development is required for quality science and math teaching.  She offered a number of recommendations as to what kind of teacher professional development should be encouraged and supported, citing examples as to how the longer-term, content-based programs were better able to improve knowledge and teaching practices and enhance student learning.

Tackett spoke about the system they have in Texas to certify quality teachers and she mentioned her state's need to teaching positions.  Tackett also spoke about programs at the University of Texas Austin aimed towards means of teaching science.

A lengthy question and answer period followed, during which the focus was on what the panel members would recommend or look for in terms of action from the Congress.  Several times mention of older, federally funded teaching institutes was brought up, programs that many of the panel members had been through and found to be very positive.  Stahle recommended bringing back these programs as an addition to the current Eisenhower Foundation.  Voss found that development programs need to be located locally, so as to be more accessible to teachers.  The reintroduction of the federal institutes was one of the only concrete suggestions for what can be done federally to help, with most comments and suggestions leaning towards societal shift issues and changing the "culture of schooling" (as recommended by Staver).  Ehlers finished by asking the panellists put themselves in the position of an elected member of Congress, and respond to the following questions as a "homework assignment:"  What should the Federal Government's role be (what should it do to):
1. Improve the education of K-12 teachers of science?
2. Facilitate the hiring of enough teachers to deal with the current
teacher shortage over the next decade?
3. Improve teachers' professional development after licensure?
4. Retain high quality teachers in the profession?

The hearing is archived on the House Science Committee's web page at, and includes full testimony as well as the original web-cast.

K-12 Math and Science Education -- Testing and Licensing Teachers
House Science Committee and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
August 4, 1999

In the fourth of a series of hearings, members of the House Science Committee and House Committee on Education and the Workforce discussed problems and possible solutions for the American shortfall in elementary and secondary science and math education.  The focus of this hearing was issues relating to teacher qualification, certification standards, accountability measures, and licensing requirements.  Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) chaired the meeting and guided the discussion on these issues.  Witnesses included Dr. Mari Pearlman, Vice President, Teaching and Learning Division, Education Testing Service; Ms. Patte Barth, Senior Associate, The Education Trust; and Dr. Marci Kanstoroom, Research Director, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.  The written statements of members of the Committee and witnesses, along with a complete webcast of the hearing, are available at the House Science Committee website.

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

Contributed by Kasey Shewey White and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs, and Scott Broadwell, AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern.

Last updated February 17, 2000

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