Panel Blames Math and Science Crisis On Public's Agenda, Not on Schools
Washington--The National Science Board's Commission on Precollege Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology last week blamed the public's perceptions and priorities, not public schools, for the current problems in precollege science and mathematics education.
The 20-member commision, which met here last week, is investigating those problems and searching for possible solutions to them.
Appointed by the National Science Board, the policy-making arm of the National Science Foundation, the commission includes representatives of education, industry, and government.
It is chaired jointly by William T. Coleman, a lawyer and former Cabinet member, and Cecily Cannan Selby, who chairs the board of advisors for the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.
"The condition of mathematics, science, and technology education reveals an apparent misperception by the public that adequate coursework need only be provided to students preparing for college-level study in these fields, and that these courses are unnecessary for other students," the commissioners say in their first report.
This misperception, they conclude in the document, "Today's Problems, Tomorrow's Crises," is "tragic" for the United States.
The group recommends that the nation's educational institutions respond in three ways to help correct the problem:
By continuing to develop and to broaden the pool of students who are well prepared and highly motivated for advanced careers in mathematics, science, and engineering;
By widening the range of high-quality educational offerings in mathematics, science, and technology at all grade levels, so that more students will be prepared for and thus have greater options in technologically oriented careers and professions; and
By increasing the general mathematics, science, and technology literacy of all citizens for life, work, and full participation in the society of the future.
Over the next year, the commission will develop a "national agenda" to help the country meet these goals.
Now, the group concludes, it is doing well in meeting the first goal, but failing at the other two.
The commission also heard a recommendation from the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, composed of about 12 scholarly and industrial mathematics groups, that competence in using calculators and computers be added to the list of basic computational skills, which now includes the ability to add, subtract, and multiply.
The mathematics board stressed that knowing how to press the buttons on a calculator could not replace knowing how to calculate the problems.
"The introduction of calculators into the classroom inevitably diminishes the emphasis on paper-and-pencil execution of the classical arithmetic operations," the board wrote in a preliminary report. "But we most emphatically do not recommend that the study of these algorithms be simply abandoned."
The mathematics board's report, which may be modified before being issued in final form in December, was one of several that the commission heard at its one-day meeting. Science-Education Programs
The commission also received a report on six science-education programs chosen as outstanding by the National Science Teachers Association (nsta).
In its nationwide "Search for Excellence," nsta had sought nominations of successful science-education programs from both public and private schools. The association received 165 nominations and from these selected 50 outstanding programs.
The five programs announced at the commission's meeting stood out as the strongest of the strong, according to Robert Yager, president of
the association and professor of science education at the University of Iowa.
The search grew out of "Project Synthesis," a federally supported effort to interpret and synthesize the results of recent science-education studies. The researchers who worked on that project used as guidelines descriptions of "desired states" for science education, then compared them to the data revealed by the studies.
Further Study Planned
The association used the goals and descriptions outlined in Project Synthesis to select the strongest programs. The commission provided the funds for the association to complete its search.
The programs selected: Green Acres School, Santa Cruz, Calif., elementary "Project Life Lab;" Jefferson County R-1 School District, Lakewood, Colo., elementary science program and secondary "Topics in Applied Science" program; Brandywine High School, Wilmington, Del., "Human Ecology;" Merritt Island High School, Merritt Island, Fla., "Research Science Program;" Wausau West High School, Wausau, Wis., "Unified Science Curriculum for High School."
Next, the science teachers' group will study how these programs came into being, how they operate, and what resources are used to support them, according to Mr. Yager.