More U.S. Support Termed Crucial To Solving Science
Washington--The National Science Foundation's (nsf) diminishing budget for science-education programs was criticized at a hearing last week of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.
In recent years, the foundation has provided major support for summer programs for science teachers, science curricula and research, science programs for elementary and secondary students, and fellowships for college students. It is facing major budget cuts for the second consecutive year.
From a high of $70 million in fiscal year 1981, the nsf science-education budget was cut to $20 million for fiscal year 1982. the Reagan Administration has proposed slashing another $5 million.
The Senate committee is responsible for recommending fiscal 1983 spending levels for the nsf Committee members gave no indication whether they would vote to increase the Administration's proposed budget; a House committee already has recommended spending an additional $30 million for science-education programs next year.
"I can't believe, with this kind of budget you're proposing here, that [scientists in other countries] aren't going to beat us hands down again and again," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.
"If someone were to say that this is a good program for the United States and that we're going to compete with Western Europe or Japan, we're in trouble," he said.
The Senator addressed most of his criticism to John B. Slaughter, the foundation's director. Mr. Slaughter had defended the Administration's budget, which would enable the nsf to provide no programs for elementary and secondary students.
"The delivery of precollege education is basically a responsibility of state and local governments," Mr. Slaughter said. "That means hands off," the Senator charged.
The nsf director replied that "budget constraints make it hard to launch a systematic attack on the problems" of shortages of science and mathematics teachers.
"Under these conditions, the wisest course for the foundation is to play a critical, catalytic role," Mr. Slaughter said. He added that the foundation is about to appoint a commission to study methods of attracting more students into the field of science teaching. The commission, the National Science Board Commission on Pre-College Education, will have 17 members, Mr. Slaughter said.
"We hope that major engineering and science professional societies, whose members number in the hundreds of thousands and reach into virtually every school district, will cooperate with the commission to put their members to work on a grass-roots effort to understand and begin to rectify the situation," said Lewis M. Branscomb, chairman of the National Science Board, the governing body of the nsf
Mr. Branscomb said he did not believe that the foundation could, by itself, alleviate the shortage of qualified science teachers. "Can we begin to address science education to a level that really means something in those 17,000 school districts? The
real question is, what is the founda-tion's role in precollege science education?" he asked.
F. James Rutherford, chief education officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, disputed the claims of the nsf officers that the federal role in science education should be a limited one.
"Clearly, the solution to this national crisis is to form and energize a national partnership--a cohesive, coherent, and determined effort at all levels and in all sectors. Individual schools, colleges, and corporations and each and every state will play an essential role, but the role of the federal government is unique and absolutely necessary," Mr. Rutherford said.
"It really isn't a question of grass-roots support. Parents unanimously support the need for more science education in the schools," he said. Mr. Rutherford said the nsf, before its 1982 budget cuts, supported special summer programs for students gifted in science, and he described the benefits of another nsf program that trained science-education specialists to assist elementary-school teachers.
Those programs, he said, "have almost disappeared. The disaster is most apparent in high schools and junior high schools. Teachers who were once well trained have been without training in their field for five, 10, or 15 years."
Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, asked the scientists at the hearing if they thought it would be more beneficial to target federal resources toward helping students or helping teachers.
"We can hardly [help] students if we don't [help] teachers first," replied Sarah Klein, president of the National Science Teachers Association. "Student learning is a direct result of teaching."
Added Mr. Rutherford: "Teachers who are already there--I think we know how to help and motivate them. People who aren't going into science teaching--that problem is more complex. It's related to salary, but more to lack of status. The perception is that teaching is really not a good job these days."