NSF & Congress
Summary: House Science Committee Hearing
on Why and How You Should Learn Math & Science
March 17 , 1999
On March 17th the House Science Committee
held the first in a series of hearings on the state
of U.S. math and science education, focusing on the
need to ensure a better prepared workforce for the
future. Witnesses included Dr. Vera Rubin, NSB member,
Dr. Rodger Bybee and Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy of the
Center for Science, Math and Engineering Education,
Ms. Amy Kaslow of the Council on Competitiveness,
Dr. Shirley Malcom with AAAS, and Mr. John E. Harrison
In a lively discussion, witnesses expressed their dismay
at the lack of a structured system in the U.S. to
adequately prepare students in areas of math and science
necessary for the workplace. Dr. Rubin focused her
comments on the recently released NSB report entitled
Preparing Our Children: Math and Science Education
in the National Interest, which calls for a seamless
education system in math and science for Kindergarten
through college. Dr. Rubin stated that the high mobility
of families necessitates a standards-based system
of education. Her comments centered on three areas
where federal funds can help: instructional materials,
teacher preparation and college admissions.
Dr. Bybee said students need to learn both the concepts
of science as well as the process of scientific inquiry.
Agreeing with earlier comments made by Rep. Ehlers,
Dr. Bybee noted that skills learned through science
and math education apply in other areas of the school
curriculum as well. This sentiment was echoed by Dr.
Mundy who noted two ways federal programs can help:
basic research on how math and science learning transfers
to other areas of the curriculum, and research on
teacher learning and development. Dr. Malcom drove
home the point that with the pervasiveness of technology,
society must have an understanding of science and
technology just to survive in today's world.
Ms. Kaslow stated that when the K-12 system fails,
it affects the workforce. Educationally qualified
foreign workers can "displace" American workers who
are not qualified. This sentiment was echoed by Mr.
Harrison who noted that with the start-up of his company,
of 800 resumes reviewed, no American worker was found
to be qualified. He said until the education system
makes math and science a requirement (a recommendation
in the Rep. Ehler's House Task Force Science Policy
Report) -- not an option, immigration laws need to
be loosened. Rep. Lamar Smith sharply questioned Ms.
Kaslow about the "displacement" of American workers
by foreign workers. Outdated immigration laws, he
felt, make it easier for foreign workers to enter
the U.S. workforce with less than a high school education.
Ms. Kaslow made the point that American workers will
not realize proper wages because of their lack of
Rep. Ehlers questioned Drs. Bybee and Mundy on how
to make math and science relevant to other subjects.
Dr. Mundy emphasized the need to teach the practicality
of these subjects from the classroom to the workplace.
Vice Chairman Ehlers also asked how federal programs
can improve teacher training, as well as how to enhance
in-service training of existing teachers. Dr. Mundy
said colleges of education should focus on teaching
careers as commitments to lifelong learning. Rep.
E.B. Johnson commented on legislation she introduced
last year (H.R. 3496) creating demonstration projects
through business partnerships in urban areas to encourage
interest in science and math. She plans to reintroduce
a similar version in this Congress focused on rural
areas. All witnesses agreed that the involvement of
the business community is critical for students to
understand the correlation between books and real
Rep. Etheridge asked how to get to groups of students
not being reached, especially since algebra is a "gatekeeper"
for funneling of students. Dr. Rubin noted that the
NSB report states that standards should be for all
and all students should be held to high expectations.
Rep. Wu expressed concerns about continued support
from federal agencies for K-12 education, to which
Dr. Bybee noted that agencies have made extraordinary
contributions to math and science. Dr. Malcom said
that while it may be difficult for mission agencies
to sustain support for math and science education,
they must be involved in human resource development.