Governors Join Concerned Chorus on Science Skills
Washington--Primary and secondary education--especially in the critical fields of mathematics and science--must be improved if the U.S. is to avoid being left behind in the race to develop new technologies, according to a panel of 22 experts convened by the National Governors' Association's task force on technological innovation.
The task force met in connection with the governors' midwinter conference, held here last week.
"I believe we have to take very seriously the precollege crisis in science education," said Frank Press, president of the National Academy of Sciences and White House science advisor under President Carter.
Mr. Press, a geophysicist, was one of the representatives of science, industry, government, and education who took part in the "dialogue,'' intended by the governors to raise issues rather than to solve immediate problems.
Created one year ago, the task force represents the first effort by the governors' association to address at the state level some of the well-documented, interconnected problems that affect U.S. technology.
The session, "Technological Innovations: New Challenges to the States," was chaired by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. of California and Gov. William G. Milliken of Michigan.
The experts who joined the task force last week agreed that science education--along with such factors as capital investment and the translation of research into marketable applications--will be a determining factor in the nation's future economic success.
Several speakers noted that a well-trained work force will also help decide which regions of the U.S. attract industry and which do not.
'The growth will tend to concentrate in those areas where the manpower base is strongest. I think the governors know that," said Mr. Press.
"We may need Presidential leadership analogous to the President's campaign for physical fitness of 10 years ago," he continued. The solution, Mr. Press suggested, may lie "not necessarily in billions of dollars, but in strong Presidential involvement."
Currently, primary and secondary science and mathematics education suffers from a well-catalogued malaise with multiple causes, the speakers noted.
George A. Keyworth II, the physicist who is science advisor to President Reagan, singled out teacher training as crucial to the success of programs.
"The lack of emphasis we have placed on the training of teachers," he said, is one underlying problem "that may in the end be the most important of all."
The states can help prevent a gap in technology between the U.S. and other nations by focusing on education--"the single most critical element for which state governments are responsible," Mr. Keyworth said.
Specifically, he told the governors, they can concentrate on remedying the "abysmal" quality of science education in the schools; developing vocational education programs to ease the shortage of technicians, and attempting to improve both teacher training and teachers' salaries.
Some of these measures could be costly, the speakers said. But Gov. James B. Hunt of North Carolina noted that there are some inexpensive steps the governors can take to alleviate the problems, particularly in the public schools.
"You can determine accurately the shortage of qualified teachers," Governor Hunt pointed out.
"We all need to know this," to understand the dimensions of the problem, he added.
In addition, he said, "We can ensure that the teacher-education programs we now have require appropriate training for mathematics and science teachers."
Governor Hunt also suggested that states make certain that all mathematics and science teachers are certified and that none are teaching out of their field. "Are we using the ones we've got?" Governor Hunt asked.
Other measures requiring relatively little money would also help significantly, Governor Hunt said.
For example, state officials can encourage local officials to bring people from industry and from the community into the schools to work with the science and mathematics teachers.
His state, he said, is looking at several other measures costing relatively little that would address the problem of teacher preparation.
The North Carolina legislature, for instance, is studying a measure that would provide $1,000 grants to teachers to allow them to take science and mathematics courses in the summer to improve their knowledge in the field, he said. And the legislators are also considering establishing a scholarship fund for future teachers of science and mathematics.