Energy Secretary Unveils Science-Education Projects

By Robert Rothman — May 30, 1990 3 min read

Washington--Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins last week unveiled a set of education initiatives aimed at “launching America to a new Renaissance period” in science and mathematics.

Releasing a report from a conference he held last fall on science and math education, Admiral Watkins said at a press conference here he had signed “memoranda of understanding” establishing joint precollegiate-education projects with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Company Inc.

He said the department is negotiating similar agreements with the Education Department, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition, he announced that the department’s national laboratories have undertaken a number of education initiatives in the wake of last fall’s conference.

The projects would help create an “organizational process” to start moving toward meeting the national education goals set by President Bush and the nation’s governors, Mr. Watkins said.

“It isn’t good enough to leave [the goals] on the table, while the rest of us sit around complacently, watching the grass grow,” he said.

The retired admiral noted that the agency has increased its education budget by $7 million, to $35 million, to launch the initiatives, and said that he would seek additional federal or corporate funds to provide incentives to allow teachers to spend summers at national labs.

He added, however, that improving science and math education need not require a huge infusion of new resources.

The Energy Department will create “opportunities to use the resources it has,” he said. “We don’t open our labs up [to teachers and students]. We will. We don’t allow our scientists to teach. We will.”

“If we can begin to move this mountain,” the Secretary said, “we can make a tremendous difference in 10 years.”

‘The Key Is Collaboration’

The conference last fall, held at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, Calif., laid out an ambitious agenda for improving science and math education by 2007. (See Education Week, Oct. 25, 1989.)

For example, the conferees pledged to:

  • Create a core curriculum for math and science from preschool to high school;

  • Provide high-quality teacher-enhancement programs for 10 percent of the teaching force each year;

  • Boost the numbers of female, minority, disabled, and disadvantaged students completing high-level math and science coursework and entering careers in those fields; and

  • Expand alliances between government, industry, and education.

To meet such goals, said Glenn T. Seaborg, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist who co-chaired the conference, participants agreed that “the key to our program is collaboration.”

The agreements signed this month signal that federal agencies and businesses have begun such collaboration, Mr. Watkins said.

Under the agreement with the arc and the Coca Cola Bottling Company, he noted, the two governmental agencies and the private firm will create joint programs allowing students from rural schools in Appalachian states and the Washington area to participate in summer research activities at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The agreement with nasa, Mr. Watkins said, will create a number of education programs, such as providing technical assistance to teachers implementing aerospace or energy-related curricula, and offering teachers opportunities for research experiences at nasa centers and doe labs.

In addition to the joint programs, Energy Department officials noted that a number of the labs have launched their own initiatives to improve science and math education in their areas. For example:

  • Four labs in the San Francisco Bay area are working with the Oakland Unified School District to develop curricula and provide professional development for teachers.
  • The Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico have agreed to “lend” scientists and engineers to Native American schools to serve as consultants to science and math teachers.
  • The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, in collaboration with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, has designed a program to encourage technically trained professionals to pursue new careers as precollegiate math and science teachers.
  • The Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, in conjunction with an independent television producer, have produced a series of 13 half-hour TV shows featuring scientists at work. The series, known as “New Explorers,” is expected to be aired on the Public Broadcasting Service network next year.

A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 1990 edition of Education Week as Energy Secretary Unveils Science-Education Projects