|Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline|
Strategic Directions for Education, Scientific Freedom, and the Environment
Having offered to work with other agencies and stakeholders while overseeing the Foundation (which was growing in accord with its 1995 NSF strategic plan), the Board spelled out its own priorities and work plan. The National Science Board Strategic Plan was produced in 1998 during the chairmanship of economist Eamon M. Kelly, president emeritus of Tulane University.
Eventually, the NSB plan and earlier NSF plans would serve as the basis of a new NSF strategic plan in 2000. The new NSF strategic plan was intended to guide the Foundation in meeting its goals of upholding U.S. "world leadership in all aspects of science and engineering," in "promoting discovery, integration, dissemination and employment of new knowledge in service to society," and in achieving "excellence in U.S. scientific, mathematics, engineering and technical education."
Kelly, the first social scientist to be elected as NSB chair, shared Zare's vision of an active national policy board and drew up an ambitious set of objectives. Beyond oversight for the Foundation, the Board's own strategic plan called for the Board to "provide advice to the President and Congress on major issues" (especially in federal research priorities, education, and public understanding and enrichment). The Board will also take into account the globalization of scientific issues. At the heart of the plan was the idea that the Board could best influence national policy by fostering "cooperation with other stakeholders," including other federal agencies, universities, industries, and public groups.
After the strategic plan was released, the Board became more active in policy matters. In 1998 the Board responded to TIMSS, the Third International Math and Science Study, which showed U.S. fourth-grade students near the top internationally but middle and high-school students faring progressively worse: U.S. twelfth-graders ranked nineteenth of twenty-one industrial nations. In a statement, "Failing Our Children," the Board declared its "special responsibility to enlist the science and engineering community as a precious resource" to support and improve "local programs."
The need for national education standards-a "common core of mathematics and science knowledge"-was pounded home the next year in Preparing Our Children. The report, prepared by a Board task force chaired by Mary K. Gaillard of the University of California at Berkeley, suggested that a core science and mathematics curriculum could counter the disadvantages faced by children who frequently change schools.
In 1999, when the Kansas State Board of Education decided evolution would no longer be required in courses and tests, the Board called the move "a retreat from responsibility." The Board condemned the removal from school curricula of such a key piece of scientific knowledge "at a time of already profound concern about the quality of mathematics and science education in our Nation's schools."
In September 2000, the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century released its report, Before It's Too Late, which reinforced the recommendation made by the Board in 1998. The Commission, chaired by Senator John Glenn (D-OH), stated that "the future well-being of our Nation and people depends not just on how well we educate our children generally, but on how well we educate them in mathematics and science specifically."
Also in 2000, a Board Committee on Communication and Outreach, chaired by M.R.C. Greenwood, Chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz, urged the science and engineering communities to establish a broad-based public information group to increase public appreciation of science and engineering and urged Board members to increase their activities as "personal ambassadors" for science, engineering, and NSF. Such efforts would further the Board's strategic goal of helping the general public understand "the joy and fascination of science as well as its utility."
The Board reaffirmed its role as a defender of open scientific communications by protesting ill-conceived and restrictive policies in connection with espionage charges against a scientist, a naturalized U.S. citizen, at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Discouraging scientists and engineers from working in world-class facilities for reasons of national origin, ethnicity, or citizenship...could undermine our long-term security interests," the Board said, and "deny American science and engineering the benefits of openness and excellence."
By 1998, private groups were lobbying for a new institute for environmental research, possibly to be housed with its own board at NSF. Many at the Foundation feared that adding a separate vertical structure would cripple the agency's ability to sponsor work across disciplines, one of its strengths. Kelly appointed a Board Task Force on the Environment under Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University, an authority on sustainable ecology and past president of the AAAS. The goal was to define a future-oriented environmental research portfolio for the agency.
The task force took inventory of NSF's current efforts and interviewed other agencies about their environmental projects. The survey uncovered "enormous gaps," says Lubchenco, in the research, education, and scientific assessment that should be done and the technologies that should be deployed. In 2000, the Board unanimously approved a new vision for NSF contained in its report, Environmental Science and Engineering for the 21st Century: The Role of the National Science Foundation. The report recommends that Foundation support for environmental research should grow by $1 billion over the next five years-a hefty jump from the $600 million the agency was currently spending. The report also recommends that NSF create new mechanisms for enabling environmental activities.
PCAST warmly welcomed the report and endorsed the plan for NSF to become a leader of federally funded basic research in the environmental sciences. Rita R. Colwell, who became the first woman to head the Foundation in August 1998, has since established a major initiative in the area of Biocomplexity in the Environment.