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Problems in Math, Science Education Spur Varied Policy Initiatives

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New evidence of systemic problems in mathematics and science education was reported this summer as the Congress completed action on a long-delayed measure to upgrade instruction in the disciplines and several national groups announced related initiatives.

A task force of the American Chemical Society has concluded in a draft of a report to be published this fall that too little science is taught in elementary schools and that not enough laboratory work is done in high-school chemistry courses.

The panel, set up to study chemistry education nationwide, also asserts that chemistry courses are often taught by ill-trained teachers who are "spread too thin."

Chaired by Peter Yankwich, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana, the panel offered 40 recommendations, ranging from the establishment of federally supported regional science centers to encourage better science teaching in the schools, to the creation of model science curricula for each of the first eight grades.

Other Evidence of Problems

The troubled condition of mathematics and science instruction is also reflected in an analysis of some 12,000 transcripts from a sample of 1982 high-school graduates released recently by the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to the study, 1982 graduates took an average of only 2.2 years of science and 2.7 years of mathematics during their four years of high school. The nces also noted that the percentages of students who took advanced courses in mathematics and science "were generally small." Four percent of those surveyed, for example, took advanced chemistry; 1 percent took advanced physics.

Encouraging Signs

Legislation to deal with such problems cleared the Congress last month and is awaiting President Reagan's signature. The bill would establish a two-year, $965-million federal program to improve science and mathematics instruction in colleges and schools.

The bill calls for the U.S. Education Department to administer a $350-million effort to "improve instruction" in mathematics and science in fiscal 1984 and a $400-million program in fiscal 1985, which begins on October 1.

(According to Congressional staff, because fiscal 1984 ends on Sept. 30, the Congress is expected to shift the authorization for the program from fiscal 1984 and 1985 to fiscal 1985 and 1986.)

Ten percent of each year's appropriations would be spent at the Secretary's discretion, with the remainder going to the states in block grants. The bill stipulates that 70 percent of a state's allotment must be earmarked for the elementary and secondary levels.

In addition, the legislation calls for the National Science Foundation to administer a $70-million program in fiscal 1984 and a $140-million program in fiscal 1985 to upgrade teacher training, improve6teaching materials, establish awards for outstanding teachers, provide scholarships for college graduates going into science teaching, and set up joint projects with the private sector.

Other Actions

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has received a $356,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to sponsor an annual colloquium and publish an annual report on issues in precollegiate mathematics and science education.

Called "Spotlighting Science Education," the project will attempt ''to keep the nation paying serious attention to science education for a decade or longer," according to F.el35lJames Rutherford, the organization's chief education officer and director of the project.

The first colloquium will be held in 1985; the first report will be published in the same year.

Teacher Training

Earlier this summer, the Council for Basic Education announced the establishment of 11 one-year institutes that will train or retrain 375 mathematics and science teachers in nine cities.

Each of the seven mathematics institutes and four science institutes will be a collaboration between a university, where the institutes will be housed, a local school system, and a philanthropic foundation or corporation that will fund the project.

Attempting to tackle the problem from a different direction, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration this summer unveiled a new program intended to encourage elementary-school students to develop an interest in science and mathematics.

"Operation Liftoff," announced at a Washington ceremony by President Reagan, will include, among other things, new written materials on aeronautics and space topics for the elementary grades, the development of space-related programming for instructional television, and the creation of a "Young Astronauts" organization.

The program will cost $3 million to $5 million over three years, according to nasa officials.

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