Flurry of Legislative Activity on K-12 Science and Math Education

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Publication date: 
10 May 2006

The highest recommendation of the National Academies' report on maintaining U.S. competitiveness, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," was to improve K-12 science and math education. This recommendation has resulted in a flurry of activity and legislation on Capitol Hill this spring. After several hearings, the House Science Committee is preparing to introduce education-related legislation this week. Science Committee Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) has already introduced three bills to implement the Academies' recommendations, including one (H.R. 4434) focused on education. On the Senate side, two separate subcommittees have held hearings on science and math education, and a number of bills have been introduced to authorize elements of the Academies' report.

The first of the House Science Committee hearings took place on March 15 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/039.html). At a March 30 hearing, witnesses from five federal departments and agencies with K-12 science and math education programs - the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, NASA, NOAA, and DOE's Office of Science - discussed how they view their roles, and how they coordinate and evaluate their efforts. They also described their agencies' participation in a new interagency coordinating body, the Academic Competitiveness Council, which was established early this year and held its first meeting in March.

A final Science Committee hearing, on May 3, explored the NSF's role in K-12 math and science education. As the hearing charter notes, the elements of President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative that deal with K-12 science and math education are targeted to the Education Department, and NSF Director Arden Bement testified at the March 30 hearing that the Administration seeks to consolidate NSF's Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program with the complemetary MSP program at the Education Department. Expressing concern over these developments, Research Subcommittee Chairman Bob Inglis (R-SC) pointed out that "NSF was leading successful efforts to improve U.S. math and science education long before the Department of Education was even created." Witnesses at the May 3 hearing testified that NSF is uniquely positioned to bring together the scientific and education communities, and acts much like a venture capital firm in funding innovative, experimental ideas. It helps take basic research on education and learning, they said, and develop it into curricula, tools, programs and other educational infrastructure.

According to reports, the Science Committee's legislation would narrow the focus of the NSF Math and Science Partnership program to teacher preparation and professional development, and expand NSF's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEP) and Noyce scholarship programs, which are intended to attract more students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and to teaching in STEM fields. A future FYI will highlight the provisions of the bill.

A number of bills have also been introduced in the Senate that would implement various aspects of the Academies' report and other recent competitiveness reports (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/013.html). The effort attracting the most support is a trio of bills introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) entitled "Protecting America's Competitive Edge," or "PACE." S. 2198, the PACE-Education bill, currently has 62 cosponsors. This legislation was reviewed at a February 28 subcommittee hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, while an April 26 subcommittee hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee addressed the impact of K-12 science and math education on U.S. competitiveness.

Although authorizing legislation, such as the bills mentioned above, can offer guidelines and suggestions for funding, it is important to remember that it is the appropriations bills that actually provide funding for federal programs. The American Institute of Physics recently joined with several of its Member Societies in signing two letters to key appropriators in the House and Senate, dealing with FY 2007 funding for science and math education programs. The funding amounts in the coalition letters were based on the amounts supported in several "Dear Colleague" letters that circulated on Capitol Hill. One letter supports "at least $562.2 million," the total funding level requested by the Administration, for science and math education within the Department of Education (see http://www.aip.org/gov/stem_doe07.pdf). A second letter supports the Administration's requested funding level of $6.02 billion for NSF and the requested level (of $816.2 million) for NSF's Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate (see http://www.aip.org/gov/stem_nsf07.pdf). This letter urges appropriators to seek additional funding from outside of NSF for the EHR Directorate. "We firmly support the robust funding of NSF's EHR Directorate," the letter states, "and believe that funding for STEM education programs should be increased without diminishing essential support for the Foundation's research directorates." Along with other science, engineering, and educational organizations, the following AIP Member Societies also signed the letters: The American Association of Physicists in Medicine, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the Optical Society of America.

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