Email Print Share
NSF & Congress


Dr. Neal Lane

Dr. Neal Lane
National Science Foundation

Before the House Science Committee
July 23, 1997

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear today, together with Secretary Riley, to discuss the role of the federal government in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) education. We have a long history of working with the Department of Education to sustain and improve our country's educational systems.


America's system of higher education sets a world standard for excellence and inclusiveness. Yet even this outstanding system faces challenges in preparing students for dealing with the rapidly changing scientific and technological landscape. The continued involvement of the federal government in SMET education is important to instigate the major changes required for preparing U.S. students for the twenty-first century. States and local school districts evolve slowly and often are unable, on their own, to take the necessary difficult steps and accept the risks inherent in major systemic changes. By sharing the costs and disseminating vital information with respect to the development of new curriculum materials, assessment instruments, and models for reforming and renewing educational systems, the federal government stimulates and helps enable schools and school districts to provide world class education to all students. Furthermore, through human resource development in partnership with teachers, workers, state and local government, academia, and business, the federal government ensures quality and equality of educational opportunity. These commitments are central to producing the finest scientists and engineers needed to maintain U.S. leadership across the frontiers of science in the twenty-first century.


Guided by its long-standing commitment to the highest standards of excellence in the support of discovery and learning, the National Science Foundation (NSF) aims to provide the leadership and stewardship necessary to achieve excellence in U.S. science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education at all levels. Proficiency in essential skills and understanding of basic concepts in mathematics and science will be critical to the earning power of individuals and to the nation's economic competitiveness and quality of life in the twenty-first century. NSF strives to assist in the development of such proficiencies in all disciplines of science and mathematics and at all levels of education through our long-standing competitive processes based on expert peer review. Through catalytic, integrative investments in the work of a dynamic, creative and diverse community of researchers and educators, NSF can help the Nation meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

NSF is helping to address these challenges by supporting innovative, systemic approaches -- improvements in the entire delivery system -- of education and training at all levels. NSF-funded science and mathematics education projects are conceived of and carried out by individual investigators -- researchers, teachers and administrators representing higher education, school districts, states, and, occasionally, the private sector -- and are selected by a competitive process using expert peer evaluation. NSF science and mathematics education programs support, as do all NSF programs, cutting-edge, high-quality experiments, designed to foster the natural connections between human learning and the process of inquiry and discovery. As these new ideas become the basis for broader-based educational programs, NSF-supported new science and mathematics education initiatives can have a far-reaching impact.

NSF has realized for many years the potential of technology to improve education at all levels, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 (preK-12) and on through graduate programs. In line with one of the recommendations of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in its Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in the United States, the Foundation's new Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence initiative -- or KDI -- extends NSF's 15- year history of supporting research and implementation of high-risk, high-payoff initiatives designed to improve how we use learning technologies. One example of NSF's educational technology efforts, sponsored also by the Illinois State Board of Education/Eisenhower Program, the Learning through Collaborative Visualization (CoVis) project, enables students to study environmental and atmospheric phenomena through networked, interactive visualization software - such as that used by weather forecasters - modified to aid student learning. CoVis also works one on one with schools and districts to help them establish physical connections to the Internet. Thus, NSF's educational technology programs aim to build new, systemic and lasting changes in the nation's educational infrastructure. The Foundation strives to increase the use of educational technology and build a solid research base that helps us understand how students use technology to learn.


NSF has long been recognized for its leadership as a federal partner in improving K-12 science and mathematics education. It has leveraged intellectual and fiscal resources and forged partnerships to meet emerging challenges and extend its impact nationally. Through its systemic reforms, NSF promotes sustained, intensive reform that focuses on substantive change in the classroom. NSF's Teacher Enhancement and Teacher Preparation programs are key pillars of systemic reform efforts. They strive to strengthen teachers' knowledge and pedagogical skills and create a network of teachers who are better able to foster reform. Moreover, NSF's Instructional Materials Development (IMD) Program promotes the development of materials and strategies to enhance learning and to encourage students' positive attitudes towards science, mathematics, and technology. By incorporating investigative, hands-on science and mathematics, these materials facilitate changes in the basic delivery of classroom instruction. Finally, NSF is taking on the challenge of helping to develop a robust set of standards-based assessment instruments and procedures.

In School Year 1996-97, NSF's 59 Statewide Systemic Initiatives (SSI), Urban Systemic Initiatives (USI), Rural Systemic Initiatives (RSI), and Comprehensive Partnerships for Mathematics and Science Achievement (CPMSA) provided direct benefits, such as professional development, curriculum changes, and new assessment procedures, to approximately 56,000 teachers serving 7.7 million students in about 13,000 schools in 38 states. Furthermore, NSF's FY 1997 funding of approximately $115 million in systemic initiatives is being matched by over $520 million in state and local funding, as well as indirect funding through local bond initiatives used to upgrade scientific and technological equipment and facilities. All sites use some or all of the resources provided by the U.S. Department of Education's Eisenhower Professional Development State Grants in support of their reform plans. They also make use of other funding sources, including the Department's Goals 2000, Title I and Carl Perkins funds, as well as state and local funds, to provide such support. Moreover, in most sites, major corporate partnerships have been established.

Systemic initiative projects have reported increasing enrollment in, and completion of, science and mathematics courses and increasing numbers of students participating in, and passing, advanced placement mathematics and science. Furthermore, they have provided evidence of increased student achievement and declining gaps in achievement between historically underserved students and their peers. Most of the state school systems supported by NSF through the SSI Program have developed and adopted standards-based frameworks to guide local school district mathematics and science curriculum implementation. Many sites have integrated curriculum sequences so that the fundamental ideas of higher-level science and mathematics are mastered at earlier grades than has occurred historically.

For example, the Miami/Dade Urban Systemic Initiative, using NSF and Eisenhower funds, provides professional development every year to about 4000 or over 50% of the school-based instructional and administrative personnel in the district. At almost all grades, student scores on the mathematics section of the Stanford Achievement Test have increased every year of the initiative. Furthermore, there are consistent increases in enrollment and completion of higher-level mathematics and science classes among all ethnic groups in every year of the initiative. For example, in the second year of the initiative, there was an 26 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students passing the advanced placement examination in physics and a 34 percent increase in those passing the advanced placement examination in biology.


As we approach the twenty-first century, our nation's need for cutting-edge research and world-class education standards has never been greater. These needs for excellence in research and education are not separate and independent -- they are linked and interdependent. The National Science Foundation has always recognized the importance of promoting synergy between the research and education missions of colleges and universities, and the Foundation continues to seek new ways to promote their integration at all levels.

NSF's close involvement with academic institutions gives it the ability to promote the closer coupling of research and education. The Foundation aims to engage researchers and educators in a joint effort to infuse education with the joy of discovery at every level. NSF's Recognition Awards for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE), made to ten research-intensive universities earlier this year, were designed to stimulate new thinking at colleges and universities on how to better link research with education. One of the recipients, Carnegie Mellon University, has established a Center for Innovation in Learning that encourages and supports faculty efforts to use problem-solving as a vehicle for learning. Students are able to pursue independent research and study through courses, paid work-study, senior honors programs and internships. So, the students encounter and solve real world problems and learn science and engineering as a result.

Thus, through innovative, ground-breaking, systemic approaches, NSF is changing the nature of how our education systems, at all levels, link learning with inquiry and discovery. NSF has stimulated reform of undergraduate curricula in mathematics, chemistry and engineering; fostered collaborations of two- and four-year colleges, and secondary schools to strengthen the science and mathematics preparation of students preparing for the advanced technological workplace; and instigated new models of teacher preparation that partner disciplinary and education departments. For example, NSF's Advanced Technological Education program has supported the cooperative efforts of the Eastern Iowa Center with the Partners for Environmental Technology Education, a national infrastructure of community colleges, industries and high schools. The Center is identifying knowledge and competency requirements for high school graduates entering environmental technology programs and has developed a profile of technical skills for the environmental technician through a national validation program.

In FY 1998, NSF is moving to involve all of its directorates in a new venture to initiate systemic reform efforts at the undergraduate level. This new venture is designed to prompt a re-examination of institutional priorities and practices, including the allocation of resources and integration of research and education. It builds on previous NSF curriculum and institutional development activities, such as the Course and Curriculum Development Program, which has included calculus, chemistry, and institution-wide reforms, and the Engineering Education Coalitions, which aim at reform of the entire engineering education process. The expected result will be significant improvements in the science and mathematics education received by all undergraduates.


The National Science Foundation actively collaborates on science and mathematics education programming with several federal R&D agencies. As a member of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Education and Training (CET), NSF participates in efforts to coordinate federal science education programs. For example, the Foundation aided in the design of the Technology Learning Challenge that forms the basis of the Administration's technology agenda. Likewise, NSF jointly designed, managed, and funded the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) of achievement and curriculum with the National Center for Education Statistics in the Department of Education. NSF works closely with other agencies concerned with strengthening teaching and learning in mathematics and science to ensure that its programs do not duplicate other agencies' programs, but rather complement, and link where appropriate, efforts to maximize the overall impact of federal support for SMET education.

Education programs at NSF and the Department of Education (DoED) are coordinated through an FY 1992 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU, targeted primarily at efforts from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, formalizes interactions for planning, information exchange, and collaboration at a number of management levels. Moreover, at the program level, agency staff collaborate on common areas of interest especially in the areas of professional development of teachers and educational technologies. This collaboration ensures that programs effectively complement one another and enables a sharing of expertise that benefits both organizations. For example, NSF-supported instructional materials are examined by DoED-established expert panels and included in information disseminated by the Department through means such as the Eisenhower Regional Consortia. Finally, staff from both agencies regularly participate in proposal review panels for each other's programs.

In a recent joint endeavor, the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation established a Working Group to Improve Mathematics and Science Education. The interagency group's mandate, by Presidential Directive, is to develop an action strategy to improve U.S. mathematics and science education in conjunction with a voluntary national test of mathematics achievement at grade eight. This group has met regularly with staff of the Domestic Policy Council, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and other federal agencies concerned with strengthening teaching and learning in mathematics and science, and the working group's strategy is now nearing completion.

Cooperation between the Department of Education and NSF in SMET education respects the different missions and approaches of the respective agencies. The bulk of the Department's funds are distributed to state and local educational agencies based on their meeting eligibility requirements for programs with very broadly-based educational objectives. On the other hand, the National Science Foundation's projects result from unsolicited proposals from individuals or organizations that survive the test of rigorous competitive merit review process in which proposals are evaluated by expert peer reviewers according to specific criteria.

These differences in operational structure can be used effectively as the two agencies cooperate and coordinate their activities. NSF's competitive process can provide the spark that state and local educational agencies may need in order to initiate change in their use of the Department's funds. Likewise, the Department's capabilities for getting information into the hands of teachers, parents, school administrators, and the public can help NSF get its messages about SMET education to a much broader audience. The progress made by the current working group on improving mathematics and science education can be codified in real operational agreements through updating the MOU, if appropriate.

In a democratic society that is highly dependent on science, engineering, and technology for its well-being, all federal agencies must collaborate to ensure that all Americans will have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly technological world. In SMET education, the link between inquiry, discovery and learning is omnipresent. By stimulating and sustaining ongoing professional development and teacher preparation, the National Science Foundation helps teachers across the nation to deliver the instruction necessary for an increasingly technological and competitive world. Furthermore, through building partnerships with educational institutions, businesses and industry, foundations, federal, state and local governments, the Foundation leverages resources to ensure that the U.S. continues to improve at the K-12 level and remains the best in the world in higher education.

Through innovative, systemic approaches to education and training at all levels, the National Science Foundation, by collaborating with the Department of Education and other agencies, has pushed the frontier of U.S. education, striving continually to ensure that all students are proficient in all disciplines of science and mathematics and at all levels of education. Using our respected competitive review process, NSF will continue to hold to the highest standards in supporting efforts to make the catalytic and systemic changes needed to best prepare Americans of all ages for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

See also: Hearing Summary