Five yeas after national and state officials declared a “crisis” in mathematics and science education, a federal program aimed at alleviating the crisis faces the possibility of extinction.
The Education Department program, which provides grants to state and local education agencies to upgrade science and math instruction, was cut from $100 million to $45-million last year, and is slated for elimination by the Reagan Administration next year.
But a group of science educators, saying the program is the best one on the books for dealing with the need that exists, have formed an informal coalition to try to save it. While they do not intend to launch a full-scale lobbying effort, the educators say the program needs a show of active backing in order to survive.
“From our point of view, the key thing is, when it counted, no significant support materialized to support efforts on the Hill to maintain funding,” said Gary G. Allen, executive director of the Native American Science Education Association, who is spearheading the effort.
Mr. Allen added that because the program is just getting under way in many states, cutting off its funding would doom it to failure. “If the thing is de-funded,” he said, “it’s as if the legislation was never passed.”
The Reagan Administration, in its fiscal 1987 budget, has proposed to replace the math and science program with a new program that would fund teacher training in all disciplines. The new program, the Administration contends, would “broaden the authority to serve teachers in all academic disciplines and would not carry over the burdensome administrative requirements and funding set-asides that hamper current program operations,” according to budget documents.
But F. James Rutherford, chief education officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that a general teacher-training program would dilute funds that are already spread thin.
Susan P. Snyder, chief of the science and mathematics section of the Maryland State Board of Education, said that most of her state’s science-math funds are used for teacher training. If the money were not targeted, she said, “different priorities would probably fall into place.”
Concerned that the United States was losing its competitive edge, especially in the growing field of high technology, educators began in the early 1980’s to sound the alarm about the inadequacy of science and mathematics education in the schools.
According to a new report by the National Science Board, the policymaking arm of the National Science Foundation, the problem persists. It cites as evidence data on the long-term decline in students’ science-achievement scores and on the continuing shortage of teachers in mathematics and the sciences.
Meanwhile, college students who plan to teach science and math have lower grade-point averages and Graduate Record Examination scores than those who plan to teach other disciplines, the report notes.
It was to address such problems that several members of the Congress in 1983 proposed a federal program to upgrade mathematics and science instruction. On Aug. 11 of the following year, President Reagan signed into law legislation to provide grants to states and local education agencies to train and retrain teachers in science and math.
For fiscal 1985, the Congress agreed to provide $100 million for the program, about a fourth of what had been envisioned when it was initially proposed.
In fiscal 1986, however, funding was cut back from $100 million to $45 million. A Congressional aide said that a House-Senate conference agreed to the cutback to bring the bill under budget guidelines, and because other programs were considered higher priorities.
The new informal group headed by Mr. Allen of the Native American Science Education Association is intended to show that the math and science program has strong support, he said.
He added that it has been difficult to maintain the momentum from the early 1980’s, when science and math education issues were top priorities. “Science and math education is last year’s fad,” he said. “Having addressed that issue with this legislation, it’s as if, well, we’ve taken care of that problem.”
“In fact,” Mr. Allen continued, “any person knows you don’t address a problem of this magnitude in that short a period of time.”
Mr. Rutherford of the A.A.A.S. blamed the Reagan Administration for “taking the steam out” of the issue.
“This Administration just didn’t want to do education,” he said.
But an Education Department official, noting that the Reagan Administration requested more than the Congress provided in fiscal 1986 for the program, said the Administration is committed to improving math and science education. This year’s proposal for general teacher training, the official said, is a logical extension of that commitment.
“They feel that a healthy education program is one that is strong throughout,” the official said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1986 edition of Education Week