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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: The Education and The Workforce Committee Hearing on the National and Economic Importance of Improved Math and Science Education, and on H.R. 4272, the National Science Education Enhancement Act

September 21, 2000

The Education and The Workforce Committee held a hearing on September 21, 2000 on the national and economic importance of improved math and science education, and on H.R. 4272, the National Science Education Enhancement Act, sponsored by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI). Dr. Alan Greenspan, Chairman, Federal Reserve System, was the sole witness for the discussion of the national and economic importance of math and science education. For the discussion of H.R. 4272, witnesses included Dr. Leon Lederman, Resident Scholar, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy,, Aurora, IL; Dr. William Haseltine, CEO, Human Genome Sciences, Inc., Rockville, MD; Dr. Diane Bunce, Chair, Chemical Education Division, ACS, Washington, DC; Dr. Diane J. Briars, Assistant Director for Mathematics Unit of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pittsburgh, PA; and Dr. Craig R. Barrett, President, Intel Corporation, Chandler, AZ.

Dr. Greenspan noted that we are in a period of rapid innovation, which is changing the way goods and services are produced and delivered. He said markedly elevated skills are necessary for this increasingly sophisticated capital stock to function effectively in the years ahead. He noted that these pressures are not unlike those we faced a century ago with the acceleration in technological innovation. That, he said, brought on a greater emphasis on value added from new ideas and concepts, rather then labor. The acceleration of information technology has only accelerated this shift in skill requirements. He said the pressures for increased learning are ongoing as is evident by the major expansion of the role of community colleges in teaching skills required to address new technologies and the dramatic increase in on-the-job training. He said that while the human intelligence level has not changed over the years, today's economy requires using a greater proportion of intellectual capacity which, in turn, means that K-12 students need to broaden their skills in M&S. Early experience with problem solving enhances the self-esteem of young people and encourages them to engage in more complex reasoning. He said that by enhancing self-esteem and providing a strong curriculum and effective teaching, students will find themselves rising to a level of analytic capability beyond their expectations. He noted further that addressing the issue of raising the analytic competency of graduating high-school seniors is crucial to the future of the nation. In addition to increasing the intellectual specialization requirements of the newer technologies, he also emphasized the need for a liberal education He stressed that significant exposure to a liberal education broadens intellectual awareness, enhancing the ability to reach across disciplines to forge new ideas.

During questioning, Dr. Greenspan noted that there needs to be a closer look taken at what is required to teach because, he said, teaching the subject matter and knowing the subject matter are intertwined. He said we need to find a way to bring in more retirees who bring both technical knowledge as well as life knowledge. This is a large untapped resource which is of great value to children. In response to other questioning, Dr. Greenspan noted that children need to conceptualize a concept in order to learn, and that the use of high technology at a very young age prevents this initial structure from taking place. He said, we need to be careful about giving children too many crutches. In response to questions concerning the need for engaging more women in S&T, Dr. Greenspan said that there is a clear deprivation of intellectual resources which exists because of intimidation - it is a cultural issue. He said that M&S degrees for woman need to significantly increase, especially in the hard sciences, and that this group probably represents the major source of technical expertise. He attributed these same remarks to minorities.

The remainder of the hearing focused on H.R. 4272. The discussion focused on the general issues surrounding M&S education - economic and social status of teachers, early learning of M&S, hands on learning, teachers trained in the content area and, among other things, continued professional development. NSF was noted by Dr. Briars as having provided that extra push to make the Pittsburgh system successful. She said that because of the competitive nature of NSF grants, this money is not available to everyone. She stated that both Eisenhower and NSF funds are needed, but the start should be with Eisenhower funds because of the competitive nature of NSF grants. She noted that these funds are not needed forever but, rather, as a jumpstart.