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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Science Committee Hears From NSF and Department of Education

July 23, 1997

On July 23 the House Science Committee heard testimony from Neal Lane, Director of NSF, and Richard Riley, Secretary of Education, on their agencies' programs aimed at improving the quality of math, science, and technology education.

Secretary Riley emphasized the need for improving math, science, and technology education to prepare people for high-tech jobs that require these skills. Some encouraging news can be found in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) which showed 4th grade students scoring above the international average. The less good news is that 8th grade students were below the international average. Among the lessons learned from TIMSS are the need for high expectations of students, explicit performance standards, and a curriculum that progresses from arithmetic to algebra and geometry in the 7th and 8th grades.

Secretary Riley emphasized the joint activities of NSF and the Department of Education in a number of areas to encourage states to develop standards. He highlighted the various programs to assist educationally disadvantaged students (Title I) and to improve the application of technology to education (Technology Challenge Innovation Grants), as well as successful administration efforts to provide discount rates to allow schools to hook up to the internet.

Dr. Lane testified on NSF's leadership role in science, math, engineering and technology education. NSF seeks the best ideas for curriculum development, technology applications, teacher enhancement, and increasingly, systemic educational reform. In the most recent school year NSF supported 59 systemic reform activities directly affecting over 7.7 million students in 38 states. NSF's $115 million in support of these activities was matched by over $520 million in state, local, and private sector funds. Dr. Lane also outlined a number of joint NSF/Department of Education activities.

Two themes dominated questions of the witnesses - the role of technology in education and the appropriate role of the Federal government. It is agreed that parental involvement, community support, and quality teaching are critical for improving schools, but the federal role is mostly reserved for teacher training and enhancement. Agencies have also been active is helping establish voluntary standards for teaching math and science. Several member lamented the wide gap in the quality of facilities available to students, even within a single congressional district. Both witnesses pointed to programs their agencies funded (Title I funds are directed at improving equity; Urban and Rural Systemic Initiatives focus on areas with the most pressing educational needs) to help remedy this disparity, but admitted that ultimately it was a responsibility reserved by the state and local school systems.

See also: Testimony from Dr. Lane.