House Ed. Committee Moves Swiftly on Science Bill
Washington--As the Reagan Administration last week unveiled its $70-million plan for upgrading the nation's programs in mathematics and science education, the House Education and Labor Committee concluded four days of hearings on a bill that would support such programs with four times as much federal money.
In its deliberations, the committee--which planned to introduce the measure as early as this week--heard complaints from the education and scientific community that its $300-million package was insufficient to solve schools' problems, as well as the objection of Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell that the bill was too expensive.
The measure, HR 30, is sponsored by the committee chairman, Representative Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky. The $250-million portion that would be allocated for precollegiate education would fund a state block-grants package.
In the version of the bill available late last week, funds under the program would support teacher training, evaluations of school resources, course development, technological improvements, and community-based cooperative programs.
Equipment and Research
Funds in the $50-million higher-education portion of the bill would be used for scholarships, technological improvements, summer institutes for teachers, upgrading of equipment, and research.
The committee was scheduled to act on the bill yesterday, and changes in the current structure are possible, according to a committee staff member.
Secretary Bell, in an appearance before the legislators, said he favored a "smaller" approach like that of the President's fiscal 1984 budget proposal. The Administration's approach concentrates on teacher training, including one-year scholarships for training 7,000 new mathematics and science teachers, workshops for current teachers, and an awards program to honor outstanding teachers.
The Perkins bill, Mr. Bell said, "doesn't concentrate enough on the immediate problem of a teacher shortage. I would concede that there are some long-range opportunities that the bill provides. But with the expected increase in high-school graduation requirements, we need an immediate response. Our bill would do that more effectively."
"[The Administration's] program doesn't even get us half a teacher per district in the 16,000 school districts in the country," said Representative Ray Kogovsek, Democrat of Colorado.
Representative Perkins added that "all last week, we were criticized by education associations for not spending enough. Now you're telling me that we would spend too much."
Mr. Bell claimed that some of the activities proposed by the committee's bill, such as curriculum and technological development and purchases of equipment, "could be supported with funds from the Chapter 2 block grant."
"We do not have unlimited resources at our disposal," Mr. Bell said.
Many of the representatives of the education and scientific community who testified asked the committee to increase funds for the parts of the bill that affected their programs.
Stephen S. Willoughby, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, characterized HR 30 as "a step in the right direction." But he said that "to provide tuition scholarships to 300 students each year to help them become teachers is surely "the proverbial drop in the bucket."
"Even if we were able to dramatically improve the qualifications of some teachers of mathematics, computer science, and the physical sciences with this small amount of money, we could expect many of those whose skills had been improved to promptly leave teaching to go into higher paying jobs in industry and government."
Elevate Teachers' Status
Robert P. Gaither, a professor at the University of Florida who testified on behalf of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, said ''a more constructive use of federal funds would be to elevate the status of science and mathematics teachers in order to make their jobs more attractive."
As an example, Mr. Gaither suggested supplying such teachers with student assistants and giving the teachers "high-priority access" to museums and public laboratories.
Morris L. Norfleet, president of Morehead State University in Kentucky, asked for greater funding for schools' and colleges' laboratory equipment and facilities.
"If I could identify the one area in my institution that is 10 years behind in state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, it's the area of science, mathematics, computer science, and the other technologies," Mr. Norfleet said.
Stanley O. Ikenberry, president of the University of Illinois, asked the committee to consider earmarking its research funds to support a ''national center for the study of math, science, and technology," which he said could be structured like the research centers supported by the National Institute of Education.
Some of those testifying raised the issue of what government agency should administer the new programs. E. Walter LeFevre, vice president of the National Society of Professional Engineers, suggested that the bill's programs should be administered by the National Science Foundation (nsf), rather than by the Education Department.
The foundation, he said, "has proven expertise" in science, technology, and engineering, as well as "a longstanding history of involvement with basic research and laboratory equipment."
The president of the National Science Teachers Association, which also testified in favor of housing the new programs at the foundation, added another reason for not involving the Education Department.
Said Robert E. Yager: "The nsf is a small, independent agency with a reputation for administering programs of very high quality and selected on merit, with a minimum of political interference. ... The present Administration has permitted the advisory and management components of the Department of Education to become politicized ... with ideologues of the far right who often lack even the most basic education or experience relevant to the job requirements."