Federal

Loss of Aid Stints Math-Science Resources

By Sean Cavanagh — November 15, 2005 4 min read
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Two popular programs that offered classroom resources for math and science teachers—via the Internet and other means—have lost their federal funding, forcing one of them to shut down and the other to charge for services it once provided for free.

The Eisenhower National Clearinghouse and the Eisenhower Regional Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education saw spending on their programs end this fall, in a combined $20 million in budget cuts supported by the Bush administration and Congress. The consortium has closed.

Administration officials have argued that the goals of the two programs—which worked together but were operated separately—will be better served through a newly created set of federally financed regional education centers, which will cover more academic ground.

But at a time when elected officials and business leaders are calling for a renewed emphasis on math and science instruction, backers of the Eisenhower programs say their decline will leave a void.

Len Simutis, the president of the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, oversees the effort to convert its Web site of math and science resources to paid subscription.

“Math and science are highly elevated in every reform conversation,” said Jim Kohlmoos, the president of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a Washington-based group representing education and research organizations, which had lobbied in support of the programs. “You would think, as a result, [these programs] would continue.”

Yet the cuts to the Eisenhower clearinghouse, in particular, also reflect the uncertainties facing many Web-based services for math and science teachers and for other educators, supporters of those programs acknowledge. Officials running a number of such popular Web sites say they are searching for ways to make them more profitable, as the initial money to launch them dries up.

“Teachers will always tell you how little time they have—they find a good resource somewhere, and then they go back and it’s not there,” said Kaye Howe, a director of the National Science Digital Library, a project funded at between $13 million and $24 million annually by the National Science Foundation. “Or the technology will change, and they can’t access it.”

The digital library is being funded by the NSF through the end of fiscal 2006. According to Ms. Howe, the library’s directors hope to receive more support from the independent federal agency, based in Arlington, Va., but they are also considering other ways to raise money, such as charging for subscriptions.

Shifting Priorities

For the 2005 federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, Congress went along with a Bush administration proposal to eliminate the two Eisenhower programs, which together received about $20 million in federal money annually. The administration had argued that the programs could be folded into new “comprehensive centers,” regional facilities financed by the Department of Education that provide information on many subject areas and issues of academic improvement to local school officials. Those centers, funded at $57 million in fiscal 2005, are also designed to provide technical assistance on carrying out the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

While the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse focused on math and science training, the comprehensive centers “will provide such information for all grades and subject areas,” the administration’s budget documents say. The Education Department did not respond to requests for comment about the changes.

Created in 1992, the Columbus, Ohio-based Eisenhower National Clearinghouse received its initial federal money under President George H.W. Bush, and it continued to receive $5 million a year in funding through the end of fiscal 2004.

The clearinghouse offered professional-development materials and classroom lessons through its Web site, and it drew about 175,000 unique visitors a month, said its director, Len Simutis.

Without the federal funding, the clearinghouse, now called enc Learning Inc., is trying to lure paid subscribers such as schools, which are asked to pay $349 a year to have services available to all their teachers.

“K-12 schools are really not accustomed to having a lot of subscriptions to online services yet,” Mr. Simutis said. “We’re confident we’ll be able to make the subscription model work. But it certainly won’t be at the scale we were able to accomplish with federal funding.”

A Central Source

The Eisenhower Regional Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education, which has now shut down, offered professional development to math and science teachers, and promoted information-sharing among teachers around the country.

The consortium, based in 10 offices nationwide, was authorized by Congress in 1990, and received funding of roughly $15 million a year through fiscal 2004.

Mr. Simutis argued that both programs offered specific math and science help that the Education Department-funded comprehensive centers cannot.

Gerald F. Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said the Eisenhower clearinghouse was popular among his Arlington, Va.-based organization’s 55,000 members. The NSTA has established its own online resources for teachers, including model lesson plans.

But Mr. Wheeler said his organization and others are becoming increasingly cautious about setting up Web-based resources, even those with outside grant funding, that would be hard to continue when the first pool of money is gone.

“We make sure we have a sustainable project,” he said.

To help bring in revenue, the NSTA has partnered with several educational publishers, which are printing access codes to the Web site in their textbooks.

Mr. Kohlmoos said he believes similar private and nonprofit services will grow in the years to come, though more of them, he predicts, will charge for access. Many math and science teachers would be reluctant to go through “so many hoops” in a search of information, he said.

“People get used to a particular service,” Mr. Kohlmoos said, “and they take it for granted.”

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