House Bill Adds Science Requirement to Title I
The House wants to add science to the list of subjects that would have to be taught under the largest federal education program, ending Title I's historic emphasis on reading and mathematics.
Toward the end of last month's debate on the bill, which would keep much of the federal program intact, the House approved an amendment that would require states to set academic standards for science by 2005 and ensure that students in the $8 billion federal program aimed at disadvantaged students were tested on the content.
Title I now requires states to set standards in reading and mathematics--the subjects the 34-year-old program has traditionally emphasized.
"The key issue is that we are not doing well as a nation in math and science," Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., the amendment's sponsor, said in an interview last week. "It's clear we need some improvement here. That's true of science more than any other subject area."
The amendment passed by a huge majority, 360-62, but it has encountered resistance from one significant quarter: Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House education committee.
"He's not opposed to science," said Becky Campoverde, the spokeswoman for the Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "He's just questioning what kind of testing we're going to require at the local level. It's a significant new mandate."
The House's Title I bill, HR 2, which passed Oct. 21 shortly after the chamber adopted Mr. Ehlers' amendment, would change several sections of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as it was reauthorized in 1994 under what was then a Democratic- controlled Congress.
It would strengthen accountability requirements, restrict the hiring of teachers' aides, and lower the percentage of low-income students required in schools that wished to extend Title I projects throughout the school. ("House Passes Title I Bill With Bipartisan Vote," Oct. 27, 1999.)
Mr. Ehlers' amendment is the biggest change to the law's standards and assessment rules.
Just about every state has standards that would probably satisfy the requirement in Mr. Ehlers' amendment. Most also have science tests in place, and many others are creating them.
But some worry that the insertion of science standards into the Title I law might distract schools from teaching math and reading skills.
"I have mixed feelings about it," said Ellen Guiney, the executive director of the Boston Plan for Excellence, a public education fund working closely with the city's schools. She served as the education adviser to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., when Congress last reauthorized Title I.
"The schools are absolutely collapsing under the weight of standards right now. ... It would be very foolish to add new requirements," Ms. Guiney said.
Even though most states already have science standards, Mr. Ehlers' amendment could send a message to state officials that they should spend Title I money teaching science in addition to math and reading, she said.
But others say the six-year phase-in for the Ehlers amendment would allow a reasonable time line.
"Schools could deal with reading and math issues first and deal with the science issues as they move on," said Christopher T. Cross, the executive director of the Council for Basic Education, a Washington-based group helping states work on standards-based improvements. "It's a reflection of what's going on out there more than anything else," said Mr. Cross, who was an assistant secretary of education under President Bush.
To become law, Mr. Ehlers' amendment must withstand an eventual conference between the House and the Senate. Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., the chairman of the Senate education committee, is circulating a draft plan to reauthorize Title I and other ESEA programs.
It would not require states to have science standards under Title I, said Joe Karpinski, the spokesman for the Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
"Whether or not that comes up, we'll have to see," he said. "I don't know if somebody on the Senate side will take up that cause or not."
But Mr. Ehlers, who is the vice chairman of the House Science Committee and a former physics professor, said he was confident the landslide majority in the House vote would bolster his argument that science should be part of the Title I program.
While one branch of the federal government weighs a mandate on science instruction, another is offering to help schools better address the subject.
The National Institutes of Health last week released the first in a new series of curriculum supplements. The research agency also launched a series of training sessions for teachers.
The first set of three CD-roms will aid high school biology teachers in teaching about cancer, infectious diseases, and genetics.
The federal agency plans to release similar supplements to help teachers, starting with kindergarten.
NIH officials attended the National Association of Biology Teachers annual conference last week in Fort Worth, Texas, and ran workshops showing how teachers could use the new materials.
Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 22