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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee of Science Reviewing Science, Math, Engineering and Technology Education in Kindergarten Through 12th Grade and H.R. 4272, The National Science Education Enhancement Act

June 13, 2000

On June 13, 2000, the Science Committee held a hearing on the "National Science Education Enhancement Act" (H.R. 4272), introduced by Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI). Witnesses included Dr. Len Simutis, Director, Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education, Ohio State University; Dr. Diane M. Bunce, Associate Professor, Chemistry Department, Catholic University of America; Dr. Audrey Champagne, Professor of Chemistry & Science Education, State University of New York at Albany; and Dr. Janice M. Gruendel, Executive Director, Connecticut Voices for Children.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Ehlers noted that it is important to enhance professional development for science education teachers by establishing effective training and retention programs. This will, in turn, improve educational opportunities for students as they become more interested in science, math, engineering and technology.

While all witnesses agreed that mentoring programs for teachers are crucial in order to achieve optimal balance between content and pedagogy, Dr. Simutis stressed the importance of providing educators technology-based professional development resources.

Dr. Bunce recommended that summer mentoring activities be linked with the Master Teacher program proposed in H.R. 4271. Linking summer institutes to university degree programs and developing short-term workshops affiliated with institutes would allow teachers to earn college credit. This also motivates teacher's participation by building confidence and encouraging them to get involved in long-term academic programs. She also expressed her support for the After-School Science Day Care provision for its innovative approach to teaching science.

Dr. Champagne noted that participation of all teachers can be achieved only if continuing education is an integral part of teacher's work year and workday. Equal emphasis on understanding science principles and effective means of teaching those principles will supply the nation's youth with teachers who can provide an opportunity to learn science well. She also spoke about the NSF Centers for Learning and Teaching as models for pre-and in-service education to science teachers. This center incorporates both the science education and science department, which maintain close ties and bring the most recent research to education.

Dr. Gruendel emphasized that although the United States leads in technology development, our education system results in too few scientists. She said that resource allocations are not sufficient to meet the changing demands of the current technology based economy. Valuable and necessary training can be obtained through community service and work-study programs she said, and in these environments students learn to apply fundamental skills to problem solving in the real world.

Rep. Ehlers questioned witnesses on how to best implement effective measures to enhance teacher professional development, and how to implement follow-up education programs. Dr. Bunce responded by emphasizing the importance of constantly training teachers so they could develop a higher order of thinking. She also mentioned that the main reasons for teachers not attending summer workshops are family obligations during the summer and embarrassment over poor college preparation.

Dr. Bunce noted the importance of funding programs for both NSF and the Department of Education (DOED). She emphasized that they answer to two different constituencies. When teachers are learning about the process of requesting funding they first go to DOED she said, but when they know how to request money for their research they approach NSF.

Rep. Jackson then asked about ensuring continued training for teachers. Dr. Simutis responded that we need to understand the most effective way to train teachers. We can look to industry for an example--they tend to provide and give expertise constantly throughout an employee's tenure.

*Members Present, Republicans: James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (WI), Chairman; Sherwood Boehlert (NY), Connie A. Morella (MD), Ken Calvert (CA), Nick Smith (MI), Judy Biggert (IL). Democrats: James Barcia (MI), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Lynn Rivers (MI), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Bob Etheridge (NC), John B. Larson (CT), David Wu (OR), Dennis Moore (KS).