In Joint Venture, E.D., N.S.F Release ‘Action’ Agenda for Math and Science

By Peter West — October 21, 1992 3 min read

WASHINGTON--The Education Department and the National Science Foundation have released a joint statement of principles on education reform in science and mathematics that urges states to revise their teacher-certification standards to reflect the outcomes specified in national standards-setting documents.

“This is a statement of principles for action,’' said Eve Bither, the department’s director of programs for the improvement of practice. “It’s a sort of exhortatory statement to the nation, if you will.’'

The draft “Statement of Principles on School Reform’’ is the first public pronouncement on the need for change in math and science teaching released by the two agencies since they formally agreed earlier this year to pool their efforts to strengthen federal support for math and science education reform. (See Education Week, Feb. 26, 1992.)

An interagency committee has met four times since that agreement was signed to chart a new course for the cooperative venture.

The draft statement of principles was released here this month at an Education Department conference on improving math and science teaching. A final version may be completed within six months.

In a related development, N.S.F. officials announced at the same conference that they are developing a new grant program for urban school districts that will emulate the agency’s extremely popular Statewide Systemic Initiative program.

Emphasis on Early Grades

The draft statement embodies the position of both agencies that “all children should receive a challenging education in science and math based on world-class standards’’ from kindergarten through grade 12.

The statement refers to teaching and curriculum standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics as well as to standards for science curriculum, teaching, and assessment that are being developed by an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, according to Ms. Bither.

The emphasis on providing meaningful instruction across the spectrum of precollegiate education is in itself an innovative element of the statement, she added.

“That is certainly not the state of affairs now,’' she noted.

The statement encourages the development of comprehensive curriculum frameworks at the state level based on the national standards, a process that the department is supporting through a new grant program. (See Education Week, Oct. 14, 1992.)

By far the heaviest emphasis, however, is on the need to reform teacher training and certification programs.

The document states, for example, that states should adopt methods of recertifying the teacher workforce to ensure that all math and science teachers understand the philosophy underlying the standards as well as new instructional approaches.

The statement also establishes that the agencies’ “biggest concern’’ is with the preparation of elementary and middle school teachers, many of whom have only minimal preparation in science or math.

A preliminary department study that compared the desired outcomes of the N.C.T.M.'s teaching standards and the certification requirements of several state education departments “found that there was practically no match,’' Ms. Bither said.

The statement also states that preservice preparation programs should become a joint responsibility of university arts-and-sciences faculties, state departments of education, and classroom practitioners.

“The higher-education portion of this is perhaps the most challenging part, because higher education has come to this late in the game,’' Ms. Bither said.

Meanwhile, Luther S. Williams, who heads the N.S.F.'s education and human-resources directorate, announced that he has briefed the National Science Board on a plan to implement an Urban Systemic Initiative program.

Under the program, the agency would award grants to cooperative ventures of public school systems, local governments, and other entities to develop locally appropriate plans to improve math and science teaching.

A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 1992 edition of Education Week as In Joint Venture, E.D., N.S.F Release ‘Action’ Agenda for Math and Science