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NSF & Congress

Hearing 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 of Ecutel.

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 education.

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 life.

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.