Being an Account of
Your Government, So-Called, in Action*
Or How to Solve the Science Education
Crisis in America Without
Adding One Cent
to the Budget Deficit, Reducing
Social Security Benefits,
or Annoying People in High Places
Reports, reports, reports. News conferences on reports. More reports.
Commentaries on reports. Still more reports, dozens, beginning in 1980.
They all agree: The nation is in the throes of a serious crisis in
science and mathematics education. O.K. After drifting for a decade and
a half, we're ready to get with it.
In the Congress, House first off the blocks. Holds hearings--in early
1983--and declares there's no doubt about it. A serious national crisis
does exist in science education, and by golly it intends to do
something BIG about it. More hearings are scheduled.
President accepts the April l983 "Excellence" report of his "Rising
Tide" Commission with pleasure, noting that it proves what he said all
along: We need to get prayer back into the schools.
Spirited fight breaks out between House Science and Technology
Committee and Education and Labor Committee (as surrogates for their
client agencies, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Education
Department) on who gets to authorize billions for science education.
After months, belligerents declare truce and jointly sponsor HR 1310 at
$425 million, which House eventually passes. Not much, but there's
still the Senate to be heard from--some big-time spenders there.
And then there's the Chief Executive. In the Blue Room he tells 100 top
S&M teachers that they are great, the nation appreciates them, and
not to worry 'cause he has finally managed to whip the states into
action to deal with the crisis in education.
Senate finally swings into action. By summer 1983, Labor and Human
Resources Committee calculates it will take exactly $425 million to do
the science-education job (with foreign languages and computer learning
thrown in for good measure). Calls its creation the "Education for
Economic Security Act"--catchy, but doesn't flow, so let's stick with S
1285. Anyway, that's symmetry for you, Congressionally speaking. But
not for Senators Eagleton and Moynihan. They tack on an amendment to
fund desegregation programs in selected cities. Senator Hatch demurs,
sits on S 1285. (Don't worry, later, much later,1285 hatches--pun
A year later (oh yes, the crisis!), the Congress passes and the
President signs a bill appropriating the science-education money for
NSF authorized in S 1285, which of course hadn't been passed. Students
of government claim to understand that sort of thing. Well, take it as
it comes, and who knows, maybe NSF will even figure out how to spend
its $88 million, though patience is clearly called for.
Secretary of Education Bell says country on move: SAT's up a point and
no recent White House threats to wipe out Education Department. Nancy
and Ronald Reagan adopt a school in Washington, D.C. President
announces plan to send teacher up in space shuttle (presumably to take
roll and assign homework).
Hatch, Eagleton & Moynihan embrace in August, and bingo!, just like
that we have ourselves a Senate-passed S 1285. Not your old S 1285 of a
year ago, mind you, with its neurotic fixation on science education,
but a gussied-up one legalizing "access" to public schools and
providing for asbestos abatement in school buildings.
House says it will go along with S 1285 and authorizes $425 million.
The same folks then dish up an appropriations bill with not one single
dollar in it for science education. Well, as Emerson reminds,
consistency doesn't always fly.
In its appropriations bill, Senate cuts science education to $200
House-Senate Conference Committee meets to set science-education
spending at House's $0 or Senate's $200 million, or somewhere in
between. In a stunning show of its determination to deal decisively
with a major national crisis, not to mention its mastery of advanced
mathematics, it decides on--that's right--$100 million. A nice round
Here, then (drumroll please), is the result of three years of "action":
a federal appropriation of funds for improving science and math in the
elementary and secondary schools equivalent to less than 1/1000th of the nation's annual expenditure for precollege
education, about 1/2 of 1 percent of the 1985 Education Department budget,
and less than $2 per student per year (compared to an average annual
local expenditure of nearly $3,000 per student).
A nation at risk, indeed!
F. James Rutherford is chief education officer for the American
Association for the Advancement of Science. He has served as the the
National Science Foundation's assistant director for science education
and as assistant secretary of education for educational research and
improvement in the Carter Administration. He has also taught science on
the high-school and university levels.
*Coolidge's Third Law: "For every inaction there is an equal and opposite nonaction."