Mathematics

States Seek More NSF Financing For Math and Science

By David J. Hoff — February 28, 2001 4 min read
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States have made significant improvements in their mathematics and science instruction during the past decade, but they still want federal help in targeted areas to aid their progress, a report suggests.

For More Information

The report is available for $10 from the Council of Chief State School Officers, 1 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20001; (202) 336-7016.

In the 10 years since the National Science Foundation started a program to improve states’ classes in those subjects, the report says, financing of $325 million from the independent federal agency has assisted states in their efforts to set their own math and science standards and tailor teaching to them.

But state education officials say they still need the foundation’s subsidies so they can improve state tests and ensure that students have teachers capable of helping them reach the academic standards, according to the report released last week by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Gordon M. Ambach

“The job clearly isn’t done,” said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the council. “What we’ve drawn out are very particular recommendations for next steps to be pursued.”

Among the top priorities, according to the CCSSO’s report, are:

Helping states review their standards and testing programs to ensure they match;

  • Helping states review their standards and testing programs to ensure they match;

Establishing a set of skills and a body of knowledge that high-quality math or science teachers need, and specific goals for all new teachers to reach at certain points in their careers;

  • Establishing a set of skills and a body of knowledge that high-quality math or science teachers need, and specific goals for all new teachers to reach at certain points in their careers;

Teaching educators how they can examine test-score data and learn their implications for policies and classroom practices; and

  • Teaching educators how they can examine test-score data and learn their implications for policies and classroom practices; and

Offering examples of how disparate groups—from state education agencies to business organizations to colleges—can work together on improving math and science instruction.

  • Offering examples of how disparate groups—from state education agencies to business organizations to colleges—can work together on improving math and science instruction.

Midcourse Changes

The report is one of several evaluations of the NSF’s “state systemic initiative,” or SSI, that the foundation has commissioned. It summarizes the findings of other evaluations and includes recommendations from state officials who ran the program during the past decade.

Judith S. Sunley

The recommendations will be considered as the National Science Foundation decides how it will change the program, according to Judith S. Sunley, the interim assistant director for the NSF’s education and human resources directorate.

Over the past decade, about half the states and Puerto Rico received about $2 million annually under the initiative. To win the competitive grants, the states promised to set academic standards that outline what their students would learn in science and math and then create tests linked to them.

The initial awards promised five years of funding, but the NSF cut off several states because they failed to deliver on their promises. (“NSF Cuts Off Funds to D.C.,Three States,” Oct. 2, 1996.)

While most states had five years of aid, seven states and Puerto Rico continued to receive money for 10 years.

The science foundation also provides financial aid for school districts in urban and rural areas that are redesigning their math and science programs. Last year, it committed $89 million over five years to 13 cities, including Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala.

In the state initiative’s next phase, Ms. Sunley said, the NSF will continue its strategy of underwriting large-scale projects in which states attack several issues at the same time. Foundation officials are contemplating how to address the recommendations in the CCSSO report and similar ones from other sources, and they expect to publish guidelines explaining the program’s future in the next year, Ms. Sunley said.

“There are lots of challenges remaining, even in states that have had 10 years of SSI funds,” she said at a press conference held here where the chiefs’ council released the report, “Summary Findings From SSI and Recommendations for NSF’s Role With States.”

“We believed that states are an important part of the equation, and the SSI has validated that,” Ms. Sunley said. “Many different approaches work. If you try to mandate a specific approach, you will fall foul of the many, many differences between the states.”

Staying Systemic

For the report, the CCSSO reviewed research conducted by the state programs’ evaluators and convened a focus group of state officials who had participated in the initiative.

The state officials clearly said they want continued NSF support that allows them to address the issues on many fronts in a comprehensive way, Mr. Ambach said.

“It’s a lever that you can use to get more out of putting the pieces together than if you don’t put the pieces together,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as States Seek More NSF Financing For Math and Science

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