House Votes $35 Million for Science Education
Washington--In the wake of a widely publicized national meeting on precollege science and mathematics education, the House last week passed a bill authorizing $20 million more than President Reagan had requested for the National Science Foundation's (nsf) science-education programs.
The bill, which sets the programs' funding at $35 million, will provide an as-yet unspecified amount for precollege education programs, which had been eliminated entirely in the President's proposal. It also directs nsf to restore the recently abol-ished science-education directorate, and specifies that the directorate may not be eliminated in the future without Congressional approval.
Support for Precollege Programs
Precollege programs could end up with about 50 percent of the additional funding--$10 million--according to an aide to the House Science and Technology Committee. During debate over the funding level, he said, there was strong support for precollege programs.
The vote is among several signs that, although the Administration has cut support for science and mathematics education, some members of Congress, as well as some state officials, are proceeding with their own plans to remedy the "crisis" situation.
Describing their efforts at the National Convocation on Precollege Science and Mathematics Education, held here recently at the National Academy of Sciences, (see Education Week, May 19), a variety of officials emphasized that their motives for improving science and mathematics education are based on economic as well as educational concerns.
The proposals under consideration include increasing course requirements in science and mathematics in the public schools, enacting federal legislation that would create a national scientific- and technological-education policy, and using research findings on how children learn about science to improve curricula.
"It is not only the scientific community that should be concerned," said Senator John Glenn, Democrat of Ohio, in his address to the convocation. "This is a problem that profoundly affects our economy, our national security, and our international competitiveness."
Action is Necessary
Senator Glenn is one of a growing number of members of Congress who believe that some action is necessary to change the current state of affairs. Together with Senator Howard D. Cannon, Democrat of Nevada, Senator Glenn has introduced S 2421, the National Technical Engineering and Science Manpower and Education Act of 1982.
The bill, which was introduced April 22 and was referred to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, would establish a national policy, under which the U.S. would be required to maintain an "adequate and efficiently employed supply of technical, engineering, and scientific personnel." It would also "encourage the development of enough human, educational, and material resources to maintain an adequate supply of qualified educators in science and mathematics at the precollege, collegiate, and graduate levels."
In response to the recent academy convocation, however, the bill will probably be amended to provide greater emphasis on precollege science and mathematics education, especially teacher training, according to an aide to Senator Glenn. "We did recognize the problem, and I would think we'd want to put additional emphasis on that," the aide said. The Governmental Affairs Committee, of which the Senator is a member, plans to hold hearings on the bill, but the date has not yet been set.
A similar bill, HR 5254, has been introduced in the House by Representatives Donald Fuqua, Democrat of Florida, and Douglas Walgren, Democrat of Pennsylvania. Hearings on that bill were held this spring.
Stricter Requirements Planned
Several states are also moving ahead with plans to impose stricter science and mathematics requirements in the public schools, according to B. Frank Brown, program director of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation and chairman of the Governor's Commission on Secondary Schools for the State of Florida.
In Florida, the governor's commission has recommended that the state require each student to take four years of mathematics and four years of science before receiving a high-school diploma.
A similar proposal in California came from the "Investment in People" program, part of the California Commission on Industrial Innovation. The proposal, which is currently before the California legislature, would require all students to take at least three years of math and two years of science. Students who planned to attend college would be required to take more courses in these fields.
Since the state is currently facing a severe shortage of qualified mathematics and science teachers, the California plan also addresses teacher training. Specifically it would establish a network of regional ''Teacher Education Centers," where teachers could brush up on mathematics and science or learn the material necessary to be certified. The centers, which would be controlled by parents, teachers, and adminis-trators, would be linked to the state college and university systems.
Computers, too, figure into the California plan, which would establish training programs and software-evaluation assistance programs at the teacher-education centers.
In Connecticut, Mark R. Shedd, commissioner of education, has recommended that students take at least three years of mathematics, including algebra, and at least three years of science, with particular emphasis on physical science.
More Effective Teaching
Science and mathematics can also be taught more effectively, according to Lauren B. Resnick, professor of psychology and education at the University of Pittsburgh, especially if educators make use of new research on learning. The emerging agreement on new findings in the field of cognitive science "has direct bearing on how science and mathematics can most effectively be taught," Ms. Resnick told the group.
Among the recent, relevant findings she cited are:
Even students who do extremely well on textbook problems often cannot apply the laws and formulas on which they have been drilled to interpret actual physical events; they cannot "apply school-learned routines." This is true of students of all levels of intelligence.
Students come to their first formal science classes with surprisingly extensive "theories" about how the physical world works. They use these theories to explain "real world" events, and leave their class and textbook theories aside when confronted with a problem that differs from the textbook. These theories can interfere with learning "real'' science.
Successful problem-solving involves a lot of qualitative reasoning, not just the formula-and-equation thinking usually applied to science. A good problem-solver applies the formula only after he or she fully understands the situation.
Clear Implications of Research
Educators have not yet incorporated these findings into the teaching of science and mathematics, Ms. Resnick said, but the new research has clear implications for how the subjects should be taught. For example, she said, since the "naive" theories seem to be an inevitable part of the process of trying to make sense of the world, teachers can confront them directly and can use them as vehicles for teaching the scientific theories.
Teachers should also focus on qualitative aspects of science and mathematics. "Too quick an advance to formulas and routines will not help children acquire the kinds of analytical and representational skills they need," said Ms. Resnick.