Math, Science Teaching Pegged For More Aid

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President Bush and congressional Republicans are planning to increase the money available for math and science teachers' professional development, but advocates for the cause are asking: Is it enough?

Mr. Bush has proposed providing up to $2.8 billion a year for teacher-development programs that would be available for teachers of all subjects. On top of that, he would finance statewide efforts to raise skills of mathematics and science teachers. House and Senate school improvement bills now working their way through Congress would put those ideas into law.

But some champions of math and science education maintain that the programs fall short of the multibillion-dollar effort they say is vital to ensure that schools have the highly qualified teachers needed for those subjects.

"It's good as far as it goes," said Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J. "But for us to address the teacher shortage, it's going to take a major commitment. We need a much better climate of continuous professional development. I don't see that kind of ambitious investment in either the authorizing bill or the budget process."

Mr. Holt, a physicist, was a member of the so-called Glenn Commission that called for $3 billion to improve the quality of mathematics and science teachers. The commission's wish list suggested that each state conduct an assessment of needed improvements, hold summer institutes and year-round study groups for teachers, and provide scholarships and fellowships for prospective teachers. ("Effort To Recruit Math, Science Teachers Urged," Oct. 4, 2001.)

Under the Republican bills, programs for math and science teachers would be guaranteed around $400 million in fiscal 2002, but could receive much more if school districts considered them a priority, an administration official said.

"We believe they'll continue to put a tremendous focus on math and science," said Sandy Kress, the senior education adviser to President Bush. "Within the framework of the accountability system, we think there should be more flexibility on the local level. People who are held accountable for those subjects will put a heavy focus on them in professional development."

But advocates for math and science educators suggest that their subjects will lose out in local battles for funding.

"If it says 'reading and math,' all the bucks go to reading," said Gerald F. Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, based in Arlington, Va. "Science, especially at the elementary school level, is the forgotten topic."

Set- Asides vs. Flexibility

Teacher professional development is the second title in the mammoth House and Senate bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The bills include the heart of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education proposals. It would require states to assess students' reading and math skills every year from the 3rd through the 8th grades and start new reading programs to build students' skills.

The House and Senate bills contain similar approaches to improving the quality of teachers in all subject areas. They differ mostly in the funding levels set for the programs.

Both would dissolve the existing $250 million Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program, which focuses on mathematics and science education, and replace it with a program that would serve teachers of all disciplines. The Senate would authorize up to $3 billion to be spent on the project, about $800 million more than the House would.

The authorization level sets an upper limit that the program can receive. Once a bill is passed, Congress can appropriate however much it wishes under the cap.

Without specific set-asides for math and science, advocates for the subjects say, those fields would lose a crucial funding source that has been in place since President Reagan proposed the creation of the Eisenhower program in the mid- 1980s.

"There should be set-asides [for math and science teachers] because there's still so much to be done," argued Lee V. Stiff, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a professor of mathematics education at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "Given the teacher shortage, we can't just say, 'Kick them to the curb. Let's bring in a whole new batch.' "

President Bush, however, is committed to letting districts choose how to spend the money that gets passed to them through a prescribed formula based on population and poverty rates.

"We don't think you need to lead school district folks by the nose," Mr. Kress said. "If we tell them what the goals are, and if we have an accountability system, they'll find their way to it."

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved its ESEA bill last month. The full Senate is slated to debate the bill at the end of this month. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is also scheduled to consider a bill late this month.

Competitive Partnerships

While the overall teacher-development program would not focus on math and science education, as the Eisenhower program does, the House and Senate bills would create a new competitive-grant program focused on those two subjects. The measures are similar to the one Mr. Bush proposed.

Under both bills, "partnerships" of states, colleges and universities, and school districts could compete for funding to improve math and science teaching. The Senate bill would authorize $500 million for the partnerships; the House bill would allow up to $390 million.

The projects would be in line with the needs assessment that the Glenn Commission proposed for every state, according to Linda P. Rosen, who was the executive director of the project. But it doesn't require states to be as comprehensive as the panel's report suggests.

"There's some real promise for forward-looking proposals that map well with the Glenn Commission," said Ms. Rosen, who is now the senior vice president for education at the National Alliance of Business.

But, Ms. Rosen said, the funding for the partnership program may not be enough. "What none of us knows is how far $500 million goes," she said. "What I don't know is how many partnerships would be funded and at what magnitude."

While the House plan would require that winning partnerships include a high-poverty district, the NSTA's Mr. Wheeler suggests that well-heeled areas would tend to dominate the groups receiving the awards. "The have-not school districts are not going to be able to compete at that level," he said.

Vol. 20, Issue 29, Pages 27, 30

Published in Print: April 4, 2001, as Math, Science Teaching Pegged For More Aid
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