Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Approaching | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends March 1. Register today.
Law & Courts

Conferees Assess Progress on Math, Science Education

By Sean Cavanagh — May 05, 2008 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
We must look for ways to capture the public’s imagination on this, and have them feel it at the kitchen table.”

Members of Congress looked last year to the recommendations of a widely circulated report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” for inspiration when they approved legislation that authorized a host of new federal programs in mathematics and science education.

But so far, lawmakers have not risen to the task of actually paying for those programs.

The disconnect between those math and science education proposals, signed into law by President Bush last summer, and federal officials’ inability to fund them was a central topic at a summit of corporate leaders, scientists, and a select group of lawmakers who met here last week.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what has or has not been accomplished in the 2½ years since the release of the congressionally chartered “Gathering Storm” report, in late 2005. That report warned that U.S. students’ apathy toward math and science, as well as the nation’s lack of federal investment in cutting-edge scientific research, posed a serious economic and national-security risk to the country.

For business and elected officials, the “Gathering Storm” report became a prime reference document. It also served directly as a blueprint for many of the math- and science-related education, research, and energy proposals included in the America COMPETES Act, which Congress overwhelmingly approved last summer. Mr. Bush signed it into law shortly afterward.

“We’re not on track—not by a long shot,” U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., told the attendees at the April 29 event, summing up the law’s impact so far.

“We must look for ways to capture the public’s imagination on this, and have them feel it at the kitchen table,” Mr. Holt said. If that can be done, he said, “Congress will follow.”

Funding Lags

The report was published by the National Academies, a nonpartisan advisory group of scientists chartered by Congress and the sponsor of the Washington event.

The America COMPETES Act calls for $43 billion in new spending across several agencies, according to congressional estimates. The bulk of that money is to be devoted to new research and development, but it also calls for about $840 million to go toward school and college math and science efforts, according to estimates of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

Those measures included the establishment and expansion of scholarships for new math and science teachers, as well as teacher-mentoring and -training programs.

After a protracted budget standoff between the president and Congress last year, most of those provisions were not included in the federal government’s final 2008 spending plan.

Their fate for fiscal 2009 remains unclear. Mr. Bush has proposed new spending on some, but not all, of the education priorities identified in America COMPETES, within the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation. He recommended $95 million, for instance, to create Math Now, a program to promote “research based” math programs in schools, and $70 million for training teachers to lead Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes.

Some members of Congress have said they hope to include new math- and science-related funding in a supplemental fiscal 2008 spending measure for the Iraq war effort, though administration officials have resisted increasing the cost of that budget package.

Powering a New Sputnik

Part of last week’s conference focused on how to increase public understanding of what the speakers see as a troubling link between poor student achievement in math and science, lack of student interest in those subjects, and the nation’s future workforce and economy.

Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of the Intel Corp., was one of several speakers who pointed to demand for energy—specifically clean energy—as an obvious wake-up call for the public and students, given the issue’s potentially dramatic impact on the American economy and national security.

Energy will be “the Sputnik of the 21st century,” Mr. Barrett told the audience, referring to the Soviet Union’s launch in 1957 of an Earth-orbiting satellite, which stunned Americans. The dual challenges of climate change and rising demand for fuel underscore Americans’ need to nurture new scientists and a more scientifically literate society, he said.

“There is a softball that is teed up for someone to hit,” Mr. Barrett said, “and no one’s even got a bat in their hands.”

The weak skills of many math and science teachers and the link between uninspired teaching and lack of student interest in those subjects were also common concerns.

Francis M. “Skip” Fennell, whose term as president of the 100,000-member National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recently ended, drew a round of applause when he spoke of the potential of schools’ using “specialists” at the elementary level to teach math, as opposed to generalist teachers. Outside the event, Mr. Fennell said math specialists could work in many middle schools, too.

Using specialists could amount to “taking an old-time model and breaking it apart,” he explained. “Let’s create people who are ambassadors for the subject.”

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Supreme Court Declines Case on Selective High School Aiming to Boost Racial Diversity
Some advocates saw the K-12 case as the logical next step after last year's decision against affirmative action in college admissions
7 min read
Rising seniors at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology gather on the campus in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 10, 2020. From left in front are, Dinan Elsyad, Sean Nguyen, and Tiffany Ji. From left at rear are Jordan Lee and Shibli Nomani. A federal appeals court’s ruling in May 2023 about the admissions policy at the elite public high school in Virginia may provide a vehicle for the U.S. Supreme Court to flesh out the intended scope of its ruling Thursday, June 29, 2023, banning affirmative action in college admissions.
A group of rising seniors at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology gather on the campus in Alexandria, Va., in August 2020. From left in front are, Dinan Elsyad, Sean Nguyen, and Tiffany Ji. From left at rear are Jordan Lee and Shibli Nomani. The U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 20 declined to hear a challenge to an admissions plan for the selective high school that was facially race neutral but designed to boost the enrollment of Black and Hispanic students.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Law & Courts School District Lawsuits Against Social Media Companies Are Piling Up
More than 200 school districts are now suing the major social media companies over the youth mental health crisis.
7 min read
A close up of a statue of the blindfolded lady justice against a light blue background with a ghosted image of a hands holding a cellphone with Facebook "Like" and "Love" icons hovering above it.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts In 1974, the Supreme Court Recognized English Learners' Rights. The Story Behind That Case
The Lau v. Nichols ruling said students have a right to a "meaningful opportunity" to participate in school, but its legacy is complex.
12 min read
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William O. Douglas is shown in an undated photo.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, shown in an undated photo, wrote the opinion in <i>Lau</i> v. <i>Nichols</i>, the 1974 decision holding that the San Francisco school system had denied Chinese-speaking schoolchildren a meaningful opportunity to participate in their education.
AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Declines to Hear School District's Transgender Restroom Case
The case asked whether federal law protects transgender students on the use of school facilities that correspond to their gender identity.
4 min read
People stand on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
People stand on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP