'Bolder' Federal Science Efforts Needed, Lawmakers Say
The coordination of federal programs that support precollegiate mathematics and science education has improved dramatically under the Bush Administration, but not enough to make the programs a significant force in helping the nation's schools meet the national education goals, lawmakers said last week.
At a joint hearing of the House Education and Labor and Space, Science, and Technology Committees, four senior Administration officials contended that the efforts of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology have radically improved interagency cooperation and strengthened the federal role in education.
The witnesses included D. Allan Bromley, director of the White House office of science and technology policy; Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander; Walter Massey, director of the National Science Foundation; and Richard Truly, who recently resigned the post of administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, commended the 16-agency Committee on Education and Human Resources, a subcommittee of F.C.C.S.E.T. headed by Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins, for focusing the efforts of disparate agencies on a reform agenda.
But, he added, "I have serious questions about whether these efforts are bold enough" to meet the national goal of making American students the world's top performers in math and science by the year 2000.
Representative George E. Brown Jr., the California Democrat who is chairman of the Space, Science and Technology committee, also expressed a concern at the absence of a federal "multi-year, interagency strategic plan" for assisting the reform effort.
The Administration officials agreed that international assessments and other barometers of academic performance show that the nation's students are far from reaching the math and science goal.
However, Mr. Bromley noted, "the problems [of precollegiate education] are not restricted to those fields." The witnesses pointed to President Bush's proposed fiscal 1993 budget, which they said includes $2.1 billion for math and science education, with $768 million earmarked for precollegiate programs. They argued that this represents a significant increase in federal support.
In response to a comment by Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Education and Labor Committee, that teacher training is vital to successful reform, the officials said it is the highest priority of F.C.C.S.E.T.T.
Mr. Massey also pointed to the Administration's key role in the science community's "proactive" effort to develop national standards for science teaching: (See related stories, page 1.)
He added that the N.S.F. and the Education Department recently signed a memorandum of agreement to coordinate their activities in precollegiate education. (See Educalion Week, Feb. 26, 1992.)
While defending the Administration's efforts, Mr. Truly and Mr. Massey also lamented the technological inferiority of most science classrooms, which are little changed from those in the schools they attended in Mississippi during the 1940's.
"The classroom is fundamentally untouched by technology," said Mr. Truly, who recently taught a 6th grade science class in Washington, D.C., during National Engineers Week.
Vol. 11, Issue 24, Page 20Published in Print: March 4, 1992, as 'Bolder' Federal Science Efforts Needed, Lawmakers Say