Science Panel Unveils 12-Year Reform Plan

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Washington--Warning that American schoolchildren are in danger of becoming "stragglers in a world of technology," a national commission on science, mathematics, and technology education has proposed a 12-year plan that would significantly increase the emphasis on these subjects in schools and would cost the federal government $1.5 billion in new money during the first year of its implementation.

Excerpts from the reportbegin on page 14.

Over the 12 years, the proposals would cost the federal government an estimated $6.5 billion, according to the figures in the report.

The commission's report, Educating Americans for the 21st Century, is the product of 18 months of work by the 20 members of the National Science Board's Commission on Precollege Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology. The proposals include specific recommendations for teacher training, curriculum development, and strengthened leadership--all of which, the report asserts, could be in place within one "education generation." Each recommendation that would require federal funding is accompanied by an estimated cost.

The commission's report, which was scheduled for release on Sept. 13, suggests that the task of improving education in science and mathematics is sufficiently urgent to warrant a major realignment--and some growth--of federal spending on education.

The annual federal contribution would be matched--or in some cases exceeded--by state and local funds, under the commission's plan, and would drop to $680 million in the second year and $331 million in the sixth year. The task of deciding where the new money would come from, the commission suggests, should be assigned to a new Council on Educational Financing, which would be appointed by the President.

The commission acknowledges that its ambitious plan would require an increase in public funding at all levels, at least in the short run. But it argues that some of this could be offset by reductions in spending for other education programs, and that the programs will, in the long run, pay for themselves in increased productivity.

The report does not address the question of whether an Administration that has focused on cutting federal spending in education will be amenable to a major initiative requiring an increase in spending. It implies, however, that the nation's interest in improving education in these areas is sufficiently compelling to make an increased federal investment almost a matter of common sense.

The amount of funding proposed by the commission contrasts markedly with the $50 million that President Reagan earmarked for science and mathematics education in his fiscal 1984 budget.

It also exceeds funding levels attached to two bills now pending in Congress; a bill passed the House this spring would provide $400 million, and a bill expected to reach the floor of the Senate this fall would provide $425 million. Because the commission completed its report before its end-of-the-month deadline, however, its recommendations could influence programs and funding levels for the upcoming fiscal year.

The suggested realignment of funds to give more emphasis to science, mathematics, and technology is a reflection of the commission's basic theme--that as these areas have become more prominent in society, they should also assume a more central position in the schools.

"During the last years of this century, the position of mathematics, science, and technology, historically at the periphery of learning for all but a few American students, must shift to center stage for all," the report states.

This can be accomplished, the commission says, within a 12-year period, so that a child who entered first grade next year would, if the recommendations were put into effect, graduate from an educational system that provided all students with extensive instruction in science, mathematics, and technology.

Under the commission's plan, that child would have the benefit of a wide range of programs in curriculum development, teacher training, "informal education" in museums and clubs, model programs, and efficient use of technology.

To achieve its goals, the commission proposes an eight-point strategy. Within these broad areas, the group recommends specific tactics to bring about the desired state by 1995.

The eight strategies are:

Building a strong and lasting national commitment to high-quality mathematics, science, and technology education for all students;

Providing earlier and increased exposure to these fields;

Providing a system for measuring student achievement and participation;

Retraining current teachers, retaining excellent teachers, and attracting new teachers of the highest quality and the strongest commitment;

Improving the quality and usefulness of the courses that are taught;

Establishing exemplary programs--landmarks of excellence--in every community to foster a new standard of academic excellence;

Utilizing all available resources, including the new information technologies and informal education;

Establishing a procedure to determine the costs of required improvements and how to pay for them.

Leadership Is Vital

Leadership--at all levels--and careful monitoring of progress are central to the commission's plan. At the federal level, the report recommends that the President create a National Education Council, whose members would include a "cross-section of national interests." The council would be responsible for identifying national educational goals, monitoring their implementation, and overseeing a "measurement" program that would keep tabs on students' achievement.

The estimated annual cost of such a council would be $2.75 million, according to the report. Neither of the science-education bills now under consideration in the Congress contains an analogous provision.

The commission also recommends that states establish "governor's councils" to "stimulate change, develop state educational goals, and monitor progress. At the local level, school boards should "foster partnerships with business, government, and aca-demia to encourage, aid, and support in solving the academic and financial problems of their schools."

Another key component of a new education effort in these areas would be a "national mechanism" for measuring students' achievement and participation in science, mathematics, and technology. An assessment program of this sort would, the report says, allow officials and citizens to monitor progress at all levels. The commission estimates that this program would cost $5 million annually, and could be conducted by "the groups responsible for the National Assessment of Educational Progress or other such entities experienced in testing procedures and techniques."

Teacher training and retraining would also be important components of the commission's proposed revamping of science education. It is a "federal responsibility," the commission states, to assure that retraining programs are available, and estimates that it would take about five years to train the existing pool of teachers.

The $698-million annual cost, however, should be divided between the states and the federal government, according to the report. Under that plan, each state would spend $6.98 million annually on teacher-training programs.

By comparison, the House science-education bill would provide $250 million in a block grant, much of it earmarked for teacher training; the Senate bill would provide $220 million in fiscal 1984 and $252 million in fiscal 1985 for this purpose.

Under the House bill, the Education Department could spend $17.5 million for summer institutes and workshops for teachers; the Senate bill provides $20 million for summer programs to be administered by the National Science Foundation. Both bills also include funds for "forgivable loans" for students who agree to teach mathematics or science in the public schools.

The nsf commission also urges that school systems "explore means to adjust compensation in order to compete for and retain high-quality teachers in fields like mathematics, science, and technology."

The establishment of model, exemplary programs will also play a major role in the improvement of science education. Point-ing to already established schools that have successful records of student achievement, the commission recommends that the federal government provide support for 1,000 programs at the elementary level and another 1,000 at the secondary level.

It suggests that the federal government provide 65 percent of the start-up costs for these schools, distributed over a three-year period. The total cost would be $1.275 billion, with $829 million coming from the federal government.

Neither of the bills pending in Congress would provide funds for exemplary programs as described by the commission.

The National Science Foundation, which led earlier curriculum-development efforts in science education, would again coordinate such programs under the commission's plan. At an estimated cost of $52 million annually, the nsf would establish a new advisory committee that would evaluate existing curricula and materials and disseminate information about curricula.

To carry out those tasks, the foundation would establish 20 demonstration projects, one national instructional-resource facility, and 25 regional resource and teacher-assistance facilities. The regional centers would be funded jointly by state, local, and federal contributions. The science foundation would also be responsible for sponsoring research on teaching and learning, which would cost an estimated $10.5 million annually.

The commission was chaired by William T. Coleman Jr., a lawyer with O'Melveny and Myers and former Secretary of Transportation, and Cecily Cannan Selby, former dean of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

Other members were:

Lew Allen Jr., director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president, California Institute of Technology; Victoria Bergin, associate commissioner of education, Texas; George Burnet Jr., chairman of the nuclear engineering department, Iowa State University; William H. Cosby Jr., entertainer and educator; Daniel J. Evans, president, Evergreen (Wash.) State College; Patricia Albjerg Graham, dean, Harvard University Graduate School of Education; Robert E. Larson, chief executive officer, Optimization Technology Inc.; Gerald D. Laubach, president, Pfizer Inc.; Katherine P. Layton, mathematics teacher, Beverly Hills (Calif.) High School; Ruth B. Love, general superintendent, Chicago Public Schools; Arturo Madrid 2d, professor of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Minnesota; Frederick Mosteller, chairman, department of health policy and management, Harvard University School of Public Health; M. Joan Parent, president, National School Boards Association; Robert W. Parry, professor of chemistry, University of Utah; Benjamin F. Payton, president, Tuskegee Institute; Joseph E. Rowe, executive vice president of research and defense systems, Gould Inc.; Herbert A. Simon, professor of computer science and psychology, Carnegie-Mellon University; John B. Slaughter, chancellor, University of Maryland.

Vol. 03, Issue 02

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