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U.S. Science Board Solicits Planning Guidance

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Washington--Offering suggestions that may influence the distribution of federal science-education funds, the National Science Board's Commission on Precollege Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology last week outlined for the science board the areas in which it believes the federal government should play a major role.

And although a range of issues emerged during the commission's two-day discussions, its report suggested that the training and retraining of teachers are among the most important needs.

The presentation was made at the request of the science board, which is the governing arm of the National Science Foundation (nsf). The board will meet in June to discuss science-education programs that the agency might support, and it had asked the commission for the report so it could better judge what programs would be most valuable.

"The National Science Board really does need your help, in part because the problem is complicated and in part because there are a lot of different things the foundation might support," said Lewis M. Branscomb, chairman of the science board and vice president and chief scientist for the International Business Machines Corporation.

The special joint meeting of the two groups came at the end of the commission's meeting, most of which was spent talking about what role the federal government should play in improving precollegiate science and mathematics education.

Originally, the commission agenda allowed one-and-a-half hours for discussion of "the federal role." But as it became apparent that the issue would be critical to the commission's final recommendations and possibly to the science board's program planning, the group shelved other agenda items in favor of discussing the topic in detail.

The consensus that emerged, given as preliminary recommendations to the science board, covered a variety of topics. Commission members emphasized that the group's thinking on the various areas is likely to change as the members continue to analyze the problems and possible solutions.

Among the suggestions that the commission offered:

Testing students nationally to monitor their progress as a group and within districts to see how it compares with previous achievement and the achievement of students in other countries. One aspect of this effort might include the federal funding of a test that districts could use, commission members suggested.

Establishing a council--under the auspices of the science board--that would monitor and analyze test results.

Developing a set of national guidelines that school districts could follow, while stopping short of setting a national curriculum.

Identifying excellent programs, with particular emphasis on magnet schools for science and mathematics.

Developing a system of teacher training and retraining that would build on similar "teacher-institute" programs established in the 1960's.

Considering the possibility of creating a national corps of highly qualified science and mathematics teachers who would work with school districts to improve education in these areas.

Exploring ways to involve scientists from industry and higher education as adjunct teachers.

Greater Understanding

On the subject of technology, the commission suggested that the federal government could play a key role in developing good "course ware,'' and in fostering greater understanding of how teachers can best integrate technology into education.

The commission emphasized that any federal response to the problems should be an "ongoing effort," rather than a "crisis-to-crisis" response. But the group also acknowledged that members remain divided on the question of what mechanisms can best remedy the problems. Within the commission, one member noted, the debate on the federal role is "sustained and sharp."

Science-board members acknowledged the difficulty of their task and that of the commission in choosing the issues that most need attention. Mr. Branscomb suggested that the board will have to take care not to "break our lances on [solutions] that are not do-able," and not to choose only those tasks that are easily accomplished.

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