Education Chat

Math and Science Education in the U.S.

Jim Rubillo, the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is joined by Jodi Peterson, director of legislative affairs for the National Science Teachers, and Education Week's own Sean Cavanagh, for discussion on the state of math and science education in the U.S.

Math and Science Education in the U.S.
Feb. 8, 2006


Jim Rubillo is the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics;
Jodi Peterson is the director of legislative affairs for the National Science Teachers Association;
Sean Cavanagh covers math and science issues for Education Week.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat about the state of math and science education in the United States. This is a topic that is high on the priority list of educators, researchers, and policymakers across the country. In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush outlined his plan for improving math and science education. And business leaders nationwide are demanding that schools upgrade their math and science programs to help the nation compete economically with other countries. We already have a large volume of questions, so let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Michael Paul Goldenberg, Director, RationalMath, LLC:
Given the political philosophy of the current administration and its impact on how it has approached literacy education, as well as real-world questions in and around the scientific community, do you agree that federal involvement in mathematics and science education would be fundamentally anti-progressive and that having this administration involved would undermine the efforts of NCTM and NSTA to move away from lecture-driven, teacher-centered instruction that primarily emphasizes rote memorization and recall, rather than dynamic, conceptually-oriented tasks?

Jodi Peterson:
Politics aside, this Administration, and many members of the business, science, technology and engineering communities, realize how important science and math are to our nation’s competitiveness and there is a real commitment to these issues. This has been very important in bringing much needed focus to science and math education and, hopefully, federal programs and most importantly, FUNDING will follow.

WE hope that ALL stakeholders in math and science education are at the table when the Math Panel is formed and when work begins with on these new programs

Question from Brien Kinkel, Librarian, National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information:
No Child Left Behind has had the unintended effect of undermining social studies in the primary grades as schools “teach to the test.” Do you agree that the American Competitiveness Initiative, a welcome development, has the potential to do the same at the secondary school level, as more resources are put into math and science, yet resources for social studies, to say nothing of languages, the arts, etc., remain stagnant?

Jim Rubillo:
Schools have a responsibility to provide a well-balanced curriculum for students, even as we increase the emphasis on math and science. We need to find ways to connect the disciplines, and raise our overall expectations of what students will learn, not replacing content areas, but strengthening them. Some elementary schools have found that spending large amounts of time on reading, for example, doesn’t always yield the kind of dramatic results they might wish. There is something to the physics law about the point of diminishing returns. The key question for all of us is, “ Are we using the time we have in the most productive way?”

Question from Lori Chesney, Professor, Lehigh Carbon Community College:
As an instructor in the education department and transferring knowledge to the future teachers of America, “what monies are going to be allocated to colleges to help prepare our pre-service teachers be ready to face this challenge of President Bush?”

Sean Cavanagh:
I’m not sure about funding for pre-service, specifically. I know that the administration has proposed devoting more money in this budget for training teachers in high-demand subjects, particularly math and science and foreign langugages. That includes giving money to states and districts for training of teachers to lead AP classes, particularly in high-poverty schools. The spending plan also puts new funding toward training of career-changers --in others words, people moving into the teaching profession from other fields.

Question from Fred Mindlin, Project Leader, Technology&Curriculum Integration, Pajaro Valley USD:
One of the longest lived math and science initiatives from the Federal Government was the Eisenhower Grants and Clearning House. Any chance of revitalizing this wonderful program?

Jodi Peterson:
Funding for the Eisenhower Grants, which included dedicated money for science and math teacher professional development, was included in the larger Title II Teacher Quality Grants when No Child Left Behind became law. Districts use these funds for a variety of purposes, including salaries for class size reduction programs.

There is always a chance when Congress starts work on NCLB reauthorization that some new type of “Eisenhower grant” could be re-established; NSTA would support this type of initiative, so stay tuned.

Comment from Deborah A. Kravchuk, Earth Science Teacher, F.D. Roosevelt High School, Hyde Park, NY:
To increase awareness of Science and Math issues, steps must be taken at the elementary level to insure a science literacy. Students should not be encouraged to read about rocks in a literature series such as OPEN COURT, they must learn the science process skills such as observation, and inference. We can not expect a high school freshman to learn these skills at 14. They must be learned correctly, and the must be taught by elementary teachers with a science background. Teaching elementary teachers science process skills is the lace to start. That must then trickle down to the middle school teacher. The high school teacher is usually certified in a particular area and is capable of teaching that subject, we now need to fund a similar initiative at the lower levels. 1. How does the administration see this happening when there is not even money for textbooks and equipment at the high school level? 2. Other nations tend to focus on these topics at an early age, so we must do the same in order to compete.

Question from Jennifer Mosier, Teacher, Cypress Elementary:
Instruction is more concise and appropriate when a student’s abilities have been accurately diagnosed. Do you forsee the development of a performance based assesment that would help to accurately diagnose mathematics understantding, and thus drive differentiated instruction according to student needs and not based on a grade level standard performance?

Jim Rubillo:
All teachers would like to have the tools and skills to diagnose student abilities and adjust the instructional program to better meet needs. We can’t guess what publishers or the Department of Education will choose to do; some instruments exist now; others may be developed. Teachers will always be faced with balancing the use of instructional time and other costs to administer diagnostic tools against the level of information gained and its usefulness in guiding instruction.

Question from Anne Stewart, Special Ed Lead teacher, Nottingham Elementary:
What is the latest on math research from NICHD? I read that Reid Lyon wanted to fund research that pieces together the underlying cognitive and neural bases of math competency in same way researchers have pieced together the basis of reading competency. This was in 1999. When and how can teachers access this and other cutting edge research findings to assist them in the classrroom?

Jim Rubillo:
Reid Lyon’s work involved research related to phonemic awareness. The National Research Council’s Adding it Up provides the most comprehensive summary of research related to K-8 mathematics teaching and learning. Similarly, the NRC’s How People Learn and How Students Learn provide valuable research related to learning. All of these are published by the National Academy Press. NCTM is about to embark on a project that hopes to produce what we are calling the Research ABCs (Analyses, Briefs, and Clips). The goal is to link the known research findings with classroom practice and present the results in a manner that is usable for teachers, school leaders, policymakers and the public. We hope to have the first of these out before the end of the year.

Question from Sharon McGee, 8th grade science, Harris Middle School:
I have a secondary degree in Chemistry and Biology. Most of my fellow graduates in education chose to go to the high school level. How do we convince more science majors who plan to teach to chose middle school? The love of science is easily lost if the teacher doesn’t have love for the subject.

Jodi Peterson:
We do need more teachers at the middle level with a solid understanding of content knowledge. That is why we are very pleased to see a program in the Senate Protecting America’s Competitive Edge Act (PACE) bill that would provide grants to colleges and universities to create baccalaureate degrees program in math and science with a concurrent teacher certification. A second program also in the PACE legislation would provide scholarships of up to $20,000 for studnets who would take these courses and become teachers.

Yet another program in PACE would allow current teachers to pursue a master program in math and science education. All of these programs would help to get more science majors into the classroom, including middle school classrooms, as certified teachers, so we are watching this bill carefully.

Question from Tony Rawlings, Head of High School Mathematics, Cairo American College, Cairo, Egypt:
Improving math education means one of two things to the parents, teachers, and administrators who hear it. To one group it means overhauling the traditional approach of teaching mathematics. To the other, it means reverting to the traditional approach and abandoning the new methods that are seen as watering down the content. How can we proceed without putting an end to this disparity?

Sean Cavanagh:
When I talk to math experts these days, I hear a broad interest in doing away with some of the longstanding divisions you’re referring to. Questions about how to teach math are often described as a divide between those who favor a more “conceptual” approach to math instruction, versus those interested in some sort of back-to-basics model. But these debates and divisions are often mischaracterized and overstated, to hear folks in both camps tell it. Teaching math effectively requires a balance of several approaches, not either-or.

One factor that could be pushing these advocates toward greater consensus is the overall demand by political and business leaders to do something, and quickly, about American students’ poor achievement in math and science, from an economic competitiveness standpoint. The Bush Administration has obviously made math instruction a major focus, and wants the federal government to take a much stronger role in identifying research on what works in math -- as has been the case in reading. Whether this federal impetus bring various camps in the math community together remains to be seen.

Question from James Machen, Community Superintendent, Brooklyn NY:
Please define rigor. What does rigor in the classroom look like? What will be expected of the students and teachers? How can we be sure that this will not become just another mindless mandate and that it promote higher order thinking skills?

Jim Rubillo:
The dictionary definition - quality of being logically valid. However, the word is used differently by many people who call for ‘rigorous’ mathematics. Mathematicians have particular criteria for ‘rigor’ in certain circumstances. Many in the public believe it means “hard.” The bottom line is that we can generally agree that we would like students to do challenging mathematics that will equip them to tackle a wide range of problems or go on to higher level study in math or science. Students should be challenged to validate their solutions, justify their reasoning, and explain their thinking.

Question from Jing Zhang, Information Specialist, Yale National Initiative:
Math and physical sciences usually require students to concentrate and focus when studying. How does taking more math and science courses balance with so many extracurricular activities for high school students?

Jim Rubillo:
Answer Of course this is a major challenge. How well do we use the time we have for all subjects and help students experience all that life has to offer? Indeed, students need to work hard to know and understand mathematics. This includes rehearsal and practice, not only in the band room and the court, but with mathematics. Extracurricular activities can be valuable motivators to keep students engaged in school, especially when participation in extracurricular activities is contingent on maintaining certain grade averages. There is no easy answer to balancing priorities, setting goals, and making choices. Academic success is related to opportunity in later life.

Question from Debbie Carroll, Education Consultant, CT:
Do you support teaching algebra to 7th grade high ability math students?

Jim Rubillo:
Yes, as long as such students have been prepared and have the appropriate prior background. Has the student had algebraic thinking experiences in the prior six years? Our challenge is to ensure that students are not rushed into this sequence.

Have they received a rich preparation for higher level study now included in many middle school programs (proportional relationships, statistical analysis, etc.)? Are there appropriate options for students when they complete the standard math sequence through pre-calculus or even calculus? Starting in Grade 7 allows students to take calculus as 11th graders. What will they do after this, and how can the school ensure that the student will continue to take math every year he/she is in school? Will the student receive an in-depth education in the high school math course sequence, or will they race to cover the material?

Having said all of that, there may indeed be some students who could benefit from the early study of algebra

Question from Joe Fuller, Math Teacher, Hidden Lake High School:
How will the education system be competitive with corporate america to get and hold qualified math and science teachers, especially when the union calls for the same pay for Math/Science and P.E./Art/History teachers?

Sean Cavanagh:
While I can’t predict how these issues will play out, Bush administration officials have seemed very aware of the tensions you refer to, in explaining their math-science initiative last week. Margaret Spellings has spoken about the administration’s desire to lure thousands of career-changers into the teaching profession with incentives, but suggested that such plans would take a lot of state and local cooperation. She suggested such efforts were feasible, however, at one point comparing the administration’s plan to the federal Troops-to-Teachers program. But to your point, the president of the NEA has raised questions about the qualifications and levels of certification these aspiring teachers would need. (See our story from Feb. 8)

Question from :
Where is the funding coming from that will allow the districts to provide the course work so that our students will be prepared for the requirements of the American Competitiveness Initiative either as students entering the workforce or continuing their education at a technical school or university?

Jodi Peterson:
Too early to tell where the funding will actually come from; the President just announced the ACI during the State of the Union last week and unveiled his budget for there programs earlier this week. He proposed $380m for these programs, and did call for the elimination of a number of existing federal education programs, but Congress still needs to act, the appropriations cycle has really just begun.

Question from Pam de Jager, Principal, Arbor Park Primary, Newcastle, South Africa.:
What is the secret of success of countries with outstanding Math and Science Education results? Surely the magic recipe can make a difference in all countries.

Sean Cavanagh:
It depends on who you talk to. One characteristic of the educatonal systems in some of these high-achieving countries, according to some experts who have studied international test results, is that they present fewer math concepts, in more depth. A central complaint about math instruction in the United States is that students have many ideas presented to them -- and end up repeating those lessons from grade level to grade level -- but end up mastering very few of them. Some top-performing nations have national standards in math an science, which some experts believe promotes cohesion throughout various grade levels. Others attribute these nations’ successes to grounding students in basic arithmetic and other skills at early ages, which provides a bridge into more complex subjects.

One recent perspective on this issue, though certainly not the only one, was a report published by the American Institutes of Research in 2005: “What the United States Can Learn from Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System.”

Question from Marv Juel, before retiring in 1987 was chairman of the mathematics department at Evergreen Park High School, Evergreen Park, Illinois:
Has any consideration been given to developing a mathematics teaching strategy (program) at the elementary level in which the learners can progress independently ?

Only when an objective is mastered would the earner proceed to the next.

I participated in a very successful so structured program at the high school level.

Maximum mastery and progress for each learner seems much more desirable than to simply “take more math”.

Jim Rubillo:
I am not aware of programs of this type. Past efforts have produced uneven results. One problem seems to be the choice of which skills must precede other skills. While some choices may seem obvious, some students may have difficulty with a skill this week but may be able to deal with it fine in a few months after some different areas of study. The teacher is likely to need to exercise some discretion to re-sequence content for particular students.

Question from bil bonnice, Associate Prof., Math/CS, Rivier College, Nashua, NH:
Do you anticipate that there will grant money allocated to support this initiative? Where will be the best places to apply for such grants?

Jim Rubillo:
We cannot know for certain until the federal budget is approved, but it is reasonable to expect that the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education might have some grant money available in the future.

Question from Walt Gardner taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education:
Why will increasing the number of math and science graduates in this country prevent jobs in these fields from continuing to be sent abroad because of the dramatically lower cost of labor there?

Sean Cavanagh:

You raise a good point. Amid all the talk about the need to improve math and science education in this country, advocates on all side probably gloss over some of the more complicated economic issues in play -- especially the fact that the shifting of jobs abroad is driven by many factors, not just students lack of understanding of algebra, physics, etc. Many business and political leaders, however, do understand the point you’re making, though, and have argued that a central goal of our math and science efforts should be to promote future innovation in our economy, not just protect jobs. If you look at the oft-cited “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report, for instance, it makes the following point:

“Because other nations have, and probably will continue to have, the competitive advantage of a low wage structure, the United States must compete by optimizing its knowledge-based resources, particularly in science and technology, and by sustaining the most fertile environment for new and revitalized industries...”

Question from Jack Pine, parent, Rutgers:
My impression, from both the experience of my daughter and myself, is that emphasis of high schools on AP science courses at high schools is misplaced. Many colleges will make students take introductory science classes--biology, chemistry, physics again. AP courses end up “teaching to the test” and are a knee jerk reaction Wouldn’t it be better to have high schools enrich a student’s science experience by either having them either: 1. Do much more lab work than a high school class normally allows, 2) Let them explore the cultural underpinings of science by reading works by good science writers or science historians, 3) Give them a great deal of experience in guided reading of scientific literature from recent journals or 4) Encourage exploration of other sciences--astronomy, electronics, entomology, etc

Jodi Peterson:
There has been a lot of discussion about the quality and goals of AP courses in the last few years. A 2002 NAS study reported by the Associated Press found that AP courses tend to cover an “excessive number of topics that sacrifices hands-on, practical lessons. While covering so much material quickly may be appropriate for college-level work, the study said, younger high school students often learn best through problem solving and discussion, not rote memorization of facts.”

We need to be cognizant of these concerns since expansion of the AP/IB program is a big part of the President’s ACI Education agenda.

Question from Wanda Jones future teacher:
Do you beleive that the best time to start teaching good math and science skills starts when children enter school? Also can a teacher’s attitude with the students harm them?

Jim Rubillo:
The teacher’s attitude and expectations are tremendously important. Perhaps our greatest shortcoming as a society is the low expectations we set for both ourselves and our children. We should start engaging children with mathematics as soon as students enter school. Many early math readiness skills are similar to, or consistent with, early language development skills (sorting, classifying, matching).

Question from Gina Gayford, Education/Transition Specialist ACCORD Head Start:
Since the measurement of child outcomes, specifically in language, literacy, and math; in Head Start are a direct result of NCLB act-Can the guests give us an idea about how this “push” might be reflected in the Child Outcomes Framework and requirements on Head Start programs to assess children’s progress toward school readiness in math and science? Currently, minimal math standards a mandated and nothing in science is mandated (recommended, yes).

Jodi Peterson:
Its too soon to tell how these new programs will work with Head Start.

Question from Margaret Van Valkenburgh, Teacher, South Meadow School:
Will the government provide and/or help fund additional training for math and science educators at the middle school level?

Sean Cavanagh:
The Bush administration’s says it will address teacher training at a number of levels. A big emphasis is in taking a more active role in promoting effective teaching strategies and research for middle school teachers. The “Math Now” proposal would make competitive grants for students who are below grade level in that subject. How much of these efforts focus on training for middle-school instructors, specifically, is a question the administration would have to answer. But you raise a good question -- no matter what their disagreements about the best way to teach math, many experts agree that those strategies are ineffective, if there isn’t professional development to go along with it.

Question from Mylina Stanfield, science teacher, Asbury High School:
Instead of incentives for people to come in, why not something for those of us who have been here for years trying to boost the students that we teach with the little that we have? We are the ones who stay day to day while we listen to the struggles that go on around us, yet here we are. What about us? Reward us for staying!

Jodi Peterson:
We hear you. NSTA surveyed members a few years ago, and the two top reasons they left were pay and dissatisfaction with working conditions. And many teachers that do stay move on to adminstrative/leadership positions in their schools or districts.

Maybe now is the time to seriously explore options like differential pay for science and math educators, and perhaps career ladder programs that would allow teachers to advance in the profession but still stay in the classroom.

Question from Dan Wascoe, education reporter, Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Which states are in the best and worst shape when it comes to the supply and qualifications of math and science teachers and the performance of students in those subjects?

Sean Cavanagh:

While I couldn’t cite this information on the spot, I could point you to a good resource. The Council of Chief State School Officers, in Washington, has published studies with information on the percentage of teachers who are certified in various subjects, including math and science. The results are broken down, state-by-state. Check them out at

Question from Craig Seibert, Science Coordinator for Collier County Public Schools in Naples, Florida:
I have not seen any mention of an increase in pay for current math and science teachers. Is there any discussion in the President’s plan to increase salaries to be more competitive with the private sector?

Jodi Peterson:
Not specifically in the President’s plan for the American Competitiveness Initiative. A current program at hte Dept. of Ed called Teacher Incentive Fund addresses this issue.

Question from Lynn Elfner, CEO, The Ohio Academy of Science:
Good afternoon,Jim, Jodi and Sean

What is the single, most important discovery in pedagogy during the past 30 years?

Jim Rubillo:
Don’t think I am qualified to answer, but that won’t stop an attempt. Rather than a discovery it is probably a re-discovery. There is a greater awareness that people learn in many ways and at different rates. This awareness is hopefully leading us to provide students with a variety of learning settings in addition to the teacher-talk, student-watch scenario. Thus a thoughtful and planned program that integrates discussion, exploration, concrete materials, interactives, tables, graphs, and media can help all students develop a deeper understanding of both the subject and its uses.

Question from Carrice Cummins, Associate Professor, Louisiana Tech University:
Taking additional courses in the areas of math and science is a start; however if we only increase exposure to these concepts we will only repeat the mistakes we made over 40 years ago when we recognised a need for increased emphasis on math and science. Does the President’s initiative include an emphasis on the literacy skills needed to read and comprehend these concepts?

Jodi Peterson:
The President has requested $1.1 billion for the FY2007 Reading First program. This state grant program is a comprehensive, nationwide effort to implement high quality,research based reading instruction to ensure that every child can read at grade level or above by the end of 3rd grade. More information on this program can be found at the U. S. Department of Education website at

Question from Sandra Fox, NBCT Teacher, Mathcounts coach, East Hills Middle:
What is being done at the national level to get “best practice” information for mathematical topics out to the teachers? Are there any scientific studies being allowed that would give some data to show that certain methods are better over others?

Jim Rubillo:
Not sure I know what “best practice” means. Philosophically, “best” means “can’t get better.’ I believe things can always get “better” In that context, I believe that we need to find and distribute information about “effective practices” and a full description of the circumstances and conditions in which they worked. Then a community can determined if the local situation can benefit from its implementation. As indicated in my response to an earlier question, NCTM is embarking on an effort to summarize what is currently know from research and linking it to classroom practice.

Question from Julie A. Niles, Director, MESA Program, Allan Hancock College:
How will the President’s initiative support community college math/science programs which serve an increasing number of potential scientists and engineers, including a large, often overlooked group of promising students from underrepresented backgrounds?

Jodi Peterson:
It appears that most of the new programs for math and science introduced under the ACI are directed toward K-12.

Community college students eligible for Pell Grants seem to be also eligible for the new Academic Competitiveness grants, which award $750 to qualified first year students who have taken rigorous high school program in math and science. However, since the regulations have not been released on the program, eligibility for these grants has not yet been fully determined.

Question from Marion Walsh, Executive Editor:
Will the Department of Education be proposing regulations for schools to increase the rigor of math and science programs?

Sean Cavanagh:

While I can’t predict what they might do in the future, the proposal released by the administration this week attempts to have the federal government take a more active role in promoting elementary and middle school math strategies that work (as the government has done in reading). Many decisions about course content, and overall grade by grade standards in math and science, are of course left to individual disticts and states.

Question from Dianne Lindo, Outreach Director, St. John’s College:
How can teachers develop the mathematical attitude needed to encourage mathematical thinking in students from the very start of formal schooling? And how can sequential stages of schooling build on previous stages to solidify mathematical competence?

Jim Rubillo:
Teachers often develop a positive mathematical attitude by participating in high quality professional development that helps them build understanding and knowledge of mathematics and helps them see how this relates to what they are teaching. In addition, working as a learning community of teachers within a school or district can eliminate the feeling isolation that a lone teacher can feel. If all of the teachers in a school are enthusiastic about what they teach, it easily transmitted to students.

Question from Rene Perez, Literach Coach, Sharpstown HS, Houston ISD:
In Texas 3 years of math and science are required. Despite our attempts, we cannot get students to take a 4th year of math or science. I have tried to motivate students, persuade students, to no avail. Their common statement is, “I want an easy senior year.” We also have students who enroll in the class in the fall and then drop in the spring, or enroll and do not pass because “the 4th year doesn’t count.” What do you recommend?

Jim Rubillo:
I think the issue here is policy. I would not expect most students to elect the harder route. Yes we can give them anecdotal evidence from universities and former graduates that taking a year off from may put them behind in college. However, they are seniors. A better route might be to collect data and information and present it to your local school board. After all, they want what is best for their own children.

Question from Liz Marquez, Retired Math Teacher/Presidential Awardee, New Jersey:
What do you think of the following as incentives to increase the number and quality of math&science teachers-- Feds forgive 20% of student loans for each year of teaching(this was done for me)and significantly increase salaries for math&science teachers?

Sean Cavanagh:
The idea of loan forgiveness has had support at the federal level, from Congress and the administration. (As my colleague, Michelle Davis reported this week, the White House has proposed expanding the fed’s loan-forgiveness program to private school teachers working with substantial numbers of students from low-income backgrounds.) Salary questions, of course, would most likely be questions for local school district and state officials, and could potentially draw questions from teachers in other subjects, if they weren’t receiving the same incentives.

Question from Junlei Li, Researcher, Carnegie Mellon Univ:
The last TIMSS science study showed the usual Asian v. U.S. gaps. However, it also showed that U.S. whites = Japan, and U.S. affluent > Japan affluent students in achievement. By framing our science education (or math) in terms of a fear-driven international competitive issue, aren’t we missing the real and much more substantial morally-driven equity issue within our nation? Does it not divert limited resources away from where it is needed the most?

Sean Cavanagh:
Although I had not seen that piece of data, it does have some interesting implications.

With regard to questions of equity in math and science -- Some observers have questioned whether it makes sense to focus on students taking AP coures, who are traditionally among the best-prepared for college, as opposed to focusing on a broader swath of the school population at large. Administration officials, however, are arguing that their proposal will bring more rural, urban, and generally underrepresented student populations into AP courses -- and to help prepare them for those courses, earlier in K-12.

Question from Rosie McCann, parent:
Do you think there is a will to completely reinvent the way we teach science? I’ve been disappointed in the way science is taught. Science is naturally exciting. Through science we can try to answer so many questions that we’ve all had as we grow up. It is potentially so applicable to our daily lives and capable of answering some of our most basic questions...yet, the way it is taught is a collection of facts that need to be memorized! No wonder so many children are turned off to science.

Jodi Peterson:
NSTA’s position statement says that “Scientific inquiry is a powerful way of understanding science content. Students learn how to ask questions and use evidence to answer them . . . The use of scientific inquiry will help ensure that sutdents develop a deep understanding of science and scientific inquiry.”

NSTA works hard to help all teachers make inquiry the center of their instruction. We think many children are turned off to science because they simply dont get much science instruction in their elementary years, during a time when it is naturally exciting to them. Instead science is introduced to students when they reach the middle level, and often it is catch up science which includes these huge collection of facts, as you mentioned. We strongly advocate teaching science at the early grades FOR ALL STUDENTS, in the manner described above.

Question from Marty Solomon, Retired Professor, University of Kentucky:
Most school reform emphasis today seems to center on making high school curricula more rigorous. But to me, that is like fixing the attic when the foundation of a house is weak. I believe that if we do not fix the math deficiency at the elementary and middle school levels, it will be too late by the time kids enter high school. Could you comment?

Sean Cavanagh:

I think a lot of math experts agree with you -- and increasingly, so do a lot of elected officials at the federal level. On the one hand, the Bush administration has proposed a $1.4 billion expansion of the No Child Left Behind Act at the high school level -- an effort that failed to gain support last year. But the plan unveiled last week also puts an emphasis on figuring out what works in math instruction at the elementary and middle school level, and promoting it. I talked with a prominent math researcher this week who made the same point you are making -- that if students don’t master basic math concepts in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade, and so on, they will be lost later on. “Math is cumulative,” was how he put it.

Question from Gerry Meisels, Professor of Chemistry, University of South Florida:
Reading has resolved the issue of phonics vs. whole language. There are similar issues in science and mathematics, such as inquiry-based learning vs. direct instruction. Where are we on the path to resolving such issues?

Jodi Peterson:
NSTA believes that effective science teaching is a combination of exploring and explaining science. A single teaching approach is unsufficient for all students all the time.

Research tells us that an inquiry based approach promotes a deep, comprehensive understanding of science. The research also shows that some data and facts are taught more effectively through direct explanations. In either approach it is key that the students are intellectually engaged.

The challenge is that we need to learn more about the proper balance of these approaches as it relates to the science classroom

Question from Jolanta Nitoslawska, Lower School Math & Sceince Coordinator, American School Foundation, Mexico City. Mexico:
We need to follow the Mexican Ministry of Education framework for Science, in English. We are an IB school, and therefore teach all of our program via six in-depth Units of Inquiry per year. Three of these units are science based, and three have a Social Studies focus. Any ideas of how to ensure that the children are understanding, knowing and doing Science all year? What is the minimum time that children ought to be engaged in hands-on, minds-on science per week, aside from reading and writing about it?

Jodi Peterson:
NSTA has a position statement (under Laboratory Science,) which provides guidelines about the amount of time should be spent on hands on activities and laboratory experiences. You can access this at our website

Question from Mahesh Sharma, Professor of Mathematics Education and President Cambridge College:
Do we have any evidence that shows significant improvment in children’s achievement in mathematics in the United States since NCTM standards have been implemented? Do the mathematics curriculum, teaching methodology, and teacher qualification in the countries where children are performing at higher levels than United States display charactrisitcs of NCTM Standards and the recommendatins made by NCTM commissions? Are they compatible to the constructivist approcah NCTM recommends?

Jim Rubillo:
As an aside, NCTM has never recommended a constructivist philosophy to teaching and learning. Nor does the Council endorse any program or textbook.

NAEP results have shown steady improvement over the last 15 years. In a sense, the current generation is performing at a higher level than their older counterparts on this particular examination. We have lots of evidence in the older population that the approaches used many years ago to teach mathematics were ineffective for most people. The key focus for all of us is to move forward, “blend the best” of what worked in the past with what is now emerging , and to do a better job of teaching math now.

Let’s look at the rest of the world. Many Asian countries teach for far greater student engagement and independent thinking than in American classrooms, as documented in the TIMSS-99 video study (reference: The Teaching Gap, Stigler and Hiebert, 1999). It is difficult to document particular effects attributable to the NCTM standards, since there are few indicators of the extent of implementation in any school or state. In a nation of local control and wide variation in curricular implementations, attributing cause and effect for gains or losses is extremely difficult in this complex setting Rather, the NCTM standards advocate that students make sense of mathematics, do mathematics and use it to solve problems.

Question from Terri Wakild, teacher/parent, North Shore Elementary:
How does ‘whole’ math (Everyday Math, Connected Math, etc...) fit into the ‘rigorous enough to compete with other nations’ initiative?

Jim Rubillo:
Having never examined these materials in detail, I don’t know. Again in a nation of local control, each community must examine its options and match the program implemented to local objectives and resources. Since the Council does not evaluate or recommend specific programs, I am not in a position to answer this question for these programs or any other programs or texts.

Question from Jasper Brown, computer scientist, prospective teacher:
What does this proposal mean for those who are hoping to transition into math/science teaching from other careers?

Sean Cavanagh:
The White House is calling one part of its plan the “Adjunct Teacher Corps.” It would create a $25 million grant program to school districts and states to “create opporunities for professionals” to move from different fields into teaching. Many of the details have not emerged yet, but the administration says the goal is to draw in people who want to teach part-time and full-time.

The administration suggested that many of these assignments would be temporary, for individuals willing to teach a class or two in hard-to-fill subjects, while on leave from their jobs. It is unclear what kinds of qualifications they would need to have. Here is language from the budget.

“Instead of the usual focus on certification or licensure of such individuals, the initiative would concentrate on helping schools find experienced professionals who would be able to provide real-world applications for some of the abstract mathematical concepts being taught in the classroom and, in some cases, provide individuals to teach temporarily in hard-to-fill positions.”

Question from Jackie Bryant, Director Teacher Leader Quality Partnerships Program, Nazareth College:
Have any recent studies been done to see the impact of increasing the understanding of math in elementary school teachers or increasing the number of students prepared to take more advanced math courses?

Jim Rubillo:
Off the top of my head I can’t cite a study that was focused on this issue. However, at the current time, more students than ever (by percentage and total number) are enrolled in high school pre-calculus and calculus courses than ever before in our history, and the majority are young women. That seems to be solid evidence that we are making progress.

I also think the increased public attention to mathematics in recent years has provided more opportunities for elementary teachers to expand their knowledge base. Many pre-service programs are requiring prospective teachers to develop a stronger background. I assume the momentum will continue.

Question from Kathy Evkovich Math Instructor Central Westmoreland CTC:
What can we do to enhance math education in the vocational setting?

Jim Rubillo:
Big question! Not sure I have a comprehensive answer. However one starting point would be discussions between math and vocational teachers. It has been my experience that we teach similar topics in both areas but we use different language. We expect the students to make the connection. Perhaps we spend too much time in our “discipline silos” and not enough time in “real life.” Our goal is a well-articulated curriculum. That’s starts with dialogue by the teaching professionals in a school district.

Question from Kathy Rushlow, UVA Grad Student, Curry school of Educ:
Is the state of math and science education as bad as popular portrayals? Also, a report on NPR said a district in Calif is going to get math and science teachers from the Philippines to meet the need for qualified math and science teachers under NCLB. Are Philipino teachers qualified under NCLB anyway?

Jodi Peterson:
Is the state of science education as bad as the cover of Time suggests, no it is not. The cover graphic is humilating and frankly denigrating to the thousands of science teachers who every day are doing good science in labs nationwide.

My understanding of NCLB HQT is that even if they do come in to teach from anothe country, they eventually have to meet their state HQT requirements.

Question from Julie Katzenberger, Northern Illinois University:
How can a teacher earn National Board Certification in science when he/she does not have a college degree in science?

Jodi Peterson:
I would visit the NBPTS website for that information ( This information is from their website:

Possess a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution. An accredited institution is defined as one that is authorized or accepted by a state as fulfilling the state’s educational requirement for initial teaching licensure or school counseling licensure. A teacher or school counselor with a degree awarded by an institution outside the United States must submit proof that the degree is equivalent to a baccalaureate either by submitting transcripts to an organization that belongs to the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services or by providing evidence that the state in which you teach or serve as a school counselor has accepted the degree for licensure requirements and attaching the documentation to the form that will be sent to candidates following receipt of the initial application by NBPTS.

You will be required to submit written verification that you satisfy these requirements.

Question from Junlei Li, Researcher, Carnegie Mellon Univ:
Can we solve a mile-wide and inch-deep curriculum problem by asking for mile-wide AND mile-deep? In both Math and Science, how do we distinguish the kind of skills and knowledge we want students to have and those that they “need” in their professional and civic activities? If we let corporate executives, educators, and politicians decide such in committees, how do we be sure that we do not end up with mile-wide and mile-deep curriculum? There has been scant studies of the mathematical or scientific skills actual Americans (from all walks of life and professions) need and use in their work and life. Where is the research base (rather than the political base) for our push for more math and science?

Sean Cavanagh:
In discussing the recent federal proposals in math, in particular, I have heard many people talk about the inadequacy of the research base in that subject, though people often disagree about where, exactly, the research falls short. Recently, mathematicians and math educators have said that despite longstanding squabbles over how to best teach math, there are areas of consensus; presumably, those are the areas the administration is seeking to highlight through its recently-announced efforts. Whether the call for a better research base actually results in a readily accessible, useful pool of information for K-12 teachers remains to be seen.

Question from Carol Porter, Gr 4 & Technology, Meadowbrook School, Weston, MA:
We have mathematics every day...for about 45 minutes. We also give about 20-30 minutes of homework each night in math. Since more and more is being expected of children, mathematically speaking, should the amount of time devoted to teaching math increase? From where should the minutes devoted to math come? Is it more homework, or fewer minutes on other subjects? How are other educators dealing with this?

Jim Rubillo:
Let’s not assume that we need more time before considering how well we are using our current time. In my 37 years in the classroom only one question stopped me dead in my tracks. A student asked, “Why are you trying to teach us things that we don’t know?” I chuckled but on reflection this 9th grader asked an appropriate question. He was in an algebra I class and for the prior 3 or 4 years he had experienced a constant repeat of the same topics. Yes, each year started with a review that assumed that in the prior year he had learned nothing. This gets back to having a coherent and well articulated program across the entire K-12 curriculum. Schools can be legitimately criticized for not really being a system of instruction, but a series of independent yearly experiences.

On the homework issue – is it more or better homework. Having seen what my three children and now my grandchildren are given for homework, I believe we can be more constructive in what we assign. Mindless worksheets of repetitive drill should not be the primary homework experience. Again, teachers should have opportunities to discuss this issue and work as a school team in planning how this time is best used.

Question from T.J. Hanes, Science Specialist, American School Elementary:
What do you think about the use of science specialist in elementary schools? Do you think they improve the quality of science teaching?

Jodi Peterson:
We’ve been watching the growth of science specialists in elementary classrooms for a few years now, and the programs look promising. Many schools seem to benefit from these master teachers or science specialists that can help elementary teahcers set up and do experiments with the kids, get the right professional development, and provide mentoring when needed. WE think this is definately a program worth watching.

Question from Joe Rueff, President, Eye2theWorld:
The President is to be commended for his emphasis on recruiting both additional qualified science teachers and adjuncts. However, exemplary science instruction is also capital intensive, i.e. lab space and more and more sophisticated equipment is needed. How many schools are sufficiently equipped to have courses that are truly ‘science courses’ and don’t just teach about science from traditiional texts?

Jodi Peterson:
Far too many schools do lack the necessary equipment and resources for exemplary science instruction, especially the low income schools. I dont have specific numbers, but we would like to see additional funding or grants to schools specifcally to use for these resources added to the PResident’s ACI proposals or to the current PACE legislation in the Senate.

Question from Linda Potts, Curriculum Director, Merritt Academy:
As a small private school in Fairfax Co., VA., we strive to offer competitive classes in both math and science throughout the school (K-8). Will this initiative offer any funds for private schools to remain competitive with public schools?

Jodi Peterson:
I know that NCLB requires that private schools work with the public schools in their area and are involved with specific programs (Title I I think), but too soon to tell with these programs

Question from Jim Barrington, gifted advocate:
Define a strategy to develop a national culture similar to space race to Moon via J. F. Kennedy speech after USSR Sputnik launch to induce more kids to want to take Math/Science and pursue it in college? (Many pure science, engineering, and R&D jobs have dried up which discourages kids from studying those more demanding subjects.)

Jodi Peterson:
The $64,000 question. Advocates for STEM educaiton have been waiting for another Sputnik for some time now, maybe the American Competitivness Initiative is it.

The fact that math and science education were part of the STate of the Union address and are now getting serious consideration in several bills before Congress is a start. A great start.

We need to continue the dialog with the science, engineering, business, high tech, and all others with an interest in K-12 STEM education, and generate a 21st century Sputnik with the American public. The facts and data are there, but we need to do more to really capture the attention of the public on this issue.

Question from Deborah Perkins-Gough, Senior Editor, Educational Leadership:
What do you think of proposals to change the order of the high school science curriculum or to integrate biology, physics, and chemistry in more creative ways? Are there schools currently doing this, and if so, with what results?

Jodi Peterson:
I encourage you to visit the Physics First site for more information on that.

Question from Marty Solomon, Retired Professor, University of Kentucky:
It seems to me axiomatic that far too many children develop math anxiety in elementary schools. This is because many teachers were college students that migrated to education versus engineering, computer science, etc because they, themselves were math averse. Then these same teachers teach math---which is something they often do not like, appreciate or understand---and voila, an anxiety that carries over to high school and college. As a college advisor, I cannot tell you how many new college students want to avoid math like the plague. Could you comment?

Jim Rubillo:
My primary comment is that this analysis may be true in many cases. What do we do about it? One root cause might be the mathematics learning experiences that these folks experienced. Professional development programs and pre-service programs must try to “undo” this anxiety by presenting mathematics in a manner that will build both confidence and competence in teachers. This may be a place that we as a community can learn from business. If a vital and useful product is not selling well, business analyze the entire situation ad seek solutions. My comment- let’s try to change it.

Question from Peter Kinahan, Title I Math Teacher, Stamford Public Schools:
Name your favorite resource for finding current math and science research, and how should I go about creating a study or doing research? I am participating in the 1st Connecticut Dept of Ed. Data Showcase in April, sharing Data Walls. But I really wish to learn more about sharing information with colleagues, and finding Best Practices to give to educators in my building and district.

Jim Rubillo:
Of course I want to say NCTM, but the Council is faced with the same problem that you state- not just finding a list of studies, but an analysis of the overall meaning of the results and an interpretation of the link to classroom practice. In a response to an earlier question, I outlined the products that we hope to produce.

My favorite one-stop source? Colleagues in the research community who keep abreast of the field.

Question from Seth Derner, Education Specialist, National FFA Organization:
How do you see career and technical fields (like agriculture education, industrial technology, etc) contributing to the future discussions about high school math and science education?

Jodi Peterson:
Engineering and technology educaiton are emerging areas in many science and math educaiton curriculums. As we look to make changes across the board in K-12 science and math educaiton we cant overlook the math and science provided in career and technical fields since they play a big roll in developing our future workforce.

Question from Mary Kemp, Distance Learning Coordinator- WLRN ITV Services in Miami Florida:
How do you think funding will be impacted for educators who are already certified and want to get advanced graduate degrees in Science or Mathematics? I think it is important to make some kind of supplement or grant available for teachers who want to now be educators in these core areas. What are your thoughts? To Jim Rubillo

Jim Rubillo:
You have hit upon one of my great concerns- retaining and supporting the certified teachers now in the classroom. One of the approaches that I have been suggesting to federal policymakers is enacting a program that will provide teachers in areas such as math and science with a federal income tax credit for each year they are engaged as a full-time teacher. This could provide direct benefit to teachers. A federal tax credit of $2,000 is just about as good as a $6,000 pay raise.

Question from Dr. Louise Bogart , Professor, Chaminade University of Honolulu:
My concern is that is sounds like the President is referring to high school courses. We all know that students need a strong background at the elementary school if they are to do well in advanced math courses. Therefore, how can we insure a focus on conceptual learning in elementary curriculum, which is presently contraindicated by NCLB requirements?

Jodi Peterson:
The President wants to extend NCLB accountability and interventions to the high school with his propsed h.s. reform program, but there is also a Math Now program geared to both the elementary and middle school levels that the President hopes will strengthen the instruction and curriculum provided at those grades as well.

Question from lou rosenblatt, science teacher, park school:
Urban areas like Baltimore face extra-ordinary problems...drop out rates for 16 year olds that exceed 50%, and graduation rates for those who remain that struggle to reach 50%. Strengthening our ap or ib programs seems so far removed from these basic realities. Shouldn’t we be looking at more profound alternatives in the way we are teaching science and mathematics? Isn’t there more promise in such notions as integrated STEM programs rich in design projects and tinkering?

Jim Rubillo:
Yes we need a systemic approach to build meaningful programs for all students. The current attention to AP and IB programs does set high expectations for the end of the K-12 journey, but we must get students to that level first. In the upcoming months we will reminding policymakers that these teachers (when on the scene) should be expected to teach students at all levels and help prepare students for this goal. From my point of view, the issue here is first do a better job of teaching mathematics better for all students. It is clear that we are not doing as well as we should. You hit a important idea- we must examine the entire system, not just the last step.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this excellent discussion. And a special thanks to our guests. This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on