Math and Science Could Be Big Losers Under New Law

By David J. Hoff — January 16, 2002 5 min read
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Math and science teachers will lose their designated federal funding for professional development because the new K-12 education act created a block grant, in part, with money from a 15-year-old program aimed at improving the skills of such educators.

The changes “virtually eliminate dedicated federal funding for K-12 math and science education,” advocates for math and science teachers declared in a last- minute plea for help in lobbying for a new mathematics and science program.

In the end, the effort late last year failed to change that provision of the “No Child Left Behind” Act signed last week by President Bush. Under the new law, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, math and science teachers will have to compete for professional-development aid from the new $2.85 billion block grant, pitting them against teachers of other subjects and efforts to reduce class sizes.

To replace the $485 million Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program, which guaranteed a big chunk of the program’s money to math and science teachers, Congress established a new pot for demonstration grants to enhance those teachers’ skills. But, to the dismay of many lobbyists, Congress fell far short by appropriating only $12.5 million of the $450 million math and science advocates had sought and at one time appeared in line to get.

“No Child Left Behind is well-funded, with one exception,” said Linda P. Rosen, the senior vice president for education at the National Alliance of Business, a Washington-based group that lobbied for the new math and science program. “Twelve and a half million dollars is not going to go very far.”

Federal officials, however, say they expect that districts will continue to pay for math and science professional development with block grant money, because local education leaders know that teachers’ skills are lacking most in those subjects.

“Local school districts will use [block grant] money for math and science, whether or not someone says they have to spend it on math and science,” said Susan K. Sclafani, a counselor to Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “Schools are going to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

But math, and especially science, promoters are doubtful that their teachers will do as well as they did when the Eisenhower professional- development program reserved at least $250 million for them.

“From what we’ve seen, a lot of money is going to reading and math programs,” said Jodi L. Peterson, the director of legislative affairs for the National Science Teachers Association, a 60,000-member group based in Arlington, Va. “We’re seeing science squeezed out in elementary schools.”

Funding Mix- Up

Mathematics and science advocates worked throughout 2001 to avoid being in that position.

From the start of last year’s debate on the education bill, they endorsed President Bush’s proposal to put the Eisenhower program into the block grant and replace it with new math and science partnerships.

The new program will require a pairing of colleges and school districts to offer sustained professional development for teachers.

The program is designed to solve one of the weaknesses of the Eisenhower program, which critics and supporters alike said too often provided money for short-term workshops that had little impact on classroom practice.

Math and science supporters believed that the new partnerships would be financed at $450 million.

The House version of the ESEA bill would have set aside that amount from the block grant and dedicated it to the math and science partnerships. In contrast, the Senate version separated the math and science partnerships from the block grant, though it authorized spending of up to $900 million on the partnerships.

When the House-Senate conference committee separated the partnerships from the block grant, however, the appropriators didn’t take money out of the block grant to pay for the math and science program. And congressional appropriators ended up giving it $12.5 million, a small fraction of what had been anticipated, much less provided in the past.

“Right out of the blue, it caught us by surprise,” said Tom Lindsley, a lobbyist for the Business Coalition for Excellence in Education, a group of 80 companies that pushed for the new partnerships.

Without a significant amount set aside for the new partnerships, mathematics and science teachers will compete with others.

Yet math and science teachers are more likely than their colleagues to be teaching a subject they hadn’t majored in as college students, according to James M. Rubillo, the executive director of the 100,000-member National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “From elementary schools on,” he said, “teachers have more training in reading and other subjects than math and science.”

But Ms. Sclafani noted that history suggests that math and science teachers will fare well.

When Congress previously reauthorized the ESEA in 1994, it took away math and science teachers’ exclusive rights to Eisenhower funds. Still, by last year, about $375 million of the program’s $485 million was awarded to math and science projects.

What’s more, congressional appropriators included nonbinding report language to “strongly urge” that the block grant money keep funding for math and science teachers at current levels. The Education Department plans to pass the word to districts through regulations, Ms. Sclafani said.

NSF’s New Role

In addition, the Education Department is working closely with the National Science Foundation to ensure that the two agencies’ math and science programs don’t overlap, Ms. Sclafani said.

Congress appropriated $160 million for a revamped National Science Foundation program. The Math/Science Partnerships will solicit grant applications from teams that include universities and school districts. The teams will promise to work on upgrading the skills of math and science teachers who haven’t been trained to teach the subjects. Recipients also will need to work toward raising the number of high school students taking high-level math and science courses, said Judith A. Ramaley, the NSF’s assistant director for education and human resources.

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2002 edition of Education Week as Math and Science Could Be Big Losers Under New Law

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