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Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
National Science Foundation

NSF Partnerships In -- And Out Of -- The Classroom
Drew University
Madison, New Jersey

October 15, 2007

I'm pleased to join Congressman Frelinghuysen and this distinguished audience to discuss how New Jersey educators can contribute to the science and technology enterprise through NSF support.

The Congressman is very familiar with how a small group with intimate connections can contribute to a region's success. New Jersey has sent six members of his family to Congress -- and others to the Executive Branch -- over the course of two centuries. And just look at how the state has prospered and grown over that period.

Congressman Frelinghuysen has been outspoken on the importance of building the science and engineering capacity that will allow our nation to thrive in the rapidly growing, global economy. He is a champion of NSF's contributions to this effort, and on behalf of NSF, I am most appreciative.

He is also a staunch supporter of math and science education as the foundation for developing a 21st Century workforce. I understand that he keeps close tabs on the schools in his district.

Our joint visit to Drew University is testimony to his commitment and personal involvement in these national goals.

At NSF, we are proud to count Drew University among our partners in several research and education projects. Just one example is a group of analytical chemists at Drew who are developing instructional materials for teachers.

Your role as educators who inform, instruct, and inspire is critical to both the region and the nation.

I cannot overstate the importance of educating all of our citizens in science and technology, and training a generation of scientists and engineers skilled in adapting to fast-changing knowledge and technology.

The National Science Foundation is your partner in these important endeavors.

NSF is a federal agency that supports fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. We have a second mandate: to ensure that U.S. students are adequately prepared to operate in an increasingly complex, technology-intensive society.

We fund almost 30 programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, at every level from kindergarten to post-doc. We stress the integration of research and education across all of our directorates and offices.

We also place a high priority on broadening participation in STEM education -- across gender, ethnicity, and geographic location -- so that our science and technology workforce reflects all segments of our population.

I would like to provide a sampling of the tremendous opportunities for making each of your schools and institutions part of the NSF family. And I'd like to describe some reasons for taking advantage of our resources.

Less than two weeks ago, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first Sputnik launch -- the spark that ignited an enormous drive for scientific discovery and innovation in the United States.

Sputnik was a single spark, although a landmark one. Today, the sparks of discovery and innovation are launched almost continuously, and they are flying in every direction. Knowledge emerges from many regions of the world and is shared instantly, with a few taps of a keyboard.

In this fast-moving, knowledge-centered environment, the nations that are getting ahead are those that invest heavily in research, education, and the development of a highly skilled science and technology workforce.

Collectively, India, China, South Korea, and Japan have more than doubled the number of students receiving bachelor's degrees in the natural sciences since 1975, and quadrupled the number earning engineering degrees. Since the late 1980s, the European Union has produced more science and engineering Ph.D.s than the United States.

These countries are hungry to succeed and increasingly capable of doing so. In this highly competitive environment, the United States faces the daunting task of supplying our own nation with capable science and technology workers.

Last year, the President underscored the importance of this task, when he said in his State of the Union address:

"...we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future, and our country is more competitive, by strengthening math and science skills."

He launched the American Competitiveness Initiative in part to strengthen science and math education.

Congress supports such reforms through legislation such as the America COMPETES Act, which expands NSF's education programs and pays special attention to the preparation and career-long training of the nation's teachers.

At NSF we have found that our best bet for achieving these lofty but essential goals is to form partnerships across all sectors of the economy and society, in order to maximize the gains from our respective efforts.

In education, as well as research, we must begin with the fundamentals.

NSF is working closely with the Department of Education to achieve a higher level of student achievement in science, technology, and mathematics through the Math and Science Partnership program. With its roots in the "No Child Left Behind" initiative, the MSP goal is to strengthen our national workforce by integrating the resources of higher education with those of K-12 schools.

The MSP program involves 52 successful partnerships among colleges and universities, school districts, and corporations. Kean University, not far from here, has partnered with the Merck Institute for Science Education and four New Jersey school districts to design and implement challenging instructional materials and train teachers to deliver them.

Each year, the MSP program reaches as many as 30,000 K-12 math and science teachers with up-to-date knowledge, inquiry-based teaching tools, and professional development activities.

A report on the impact of NSF's Math and Science Partnership program shows we are making headway. Since the program began in 2002, students in MSP school districts have made gains in math and science proficiency at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

A second NSF program in which institutions of higher learning partner with local schools is the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education, or GK-12. In this program, science and engineering graduate students collaborate directly with teachers in and out of the classroom to improve curricula and instructional techniques.

GK-12 Fellows from New Jersey's Montclair State University are paired with middle school teachers in five districts. Together they are creating learning environments that incorporate the latest information about the earth, other planets, ecosystems and the environment, and exciting and interesting chemical interactions.

Rutgers University is using GK-12 funding to support activities aboard the Science Explorer, a 40-foot mobile laboratory that provides up to 20 students at a time with hands-on learning. The GK-12 Fellows have developed popular lessons that focus on volcanoes, DNA and forensics -- including how to identify missing persons from their skeletons.

The benefits of these partnerships flow in many directions. Teachers get up-to-date information on scientific discoveries and technologies. Graduate students improve their communication and teaching skills. Students are exposed to the excitement of conducting real science and interacting with role models.

We are all winners when universities, with their rich mix of intellectual and physical resources, are involved in preparing our youth for higher learning.

Another important stakeholder in building capacity is business and industry.

By participating in NSF-funded research and education projects, industry representatives can more easily move research results and innovations into the marketplace. And, they can ensure that America's students are trained in skills that will keep the nation at the forefront of emerging fields and competitive technologies.

The nation's largest corporations recognize that education is the foundation for a robust economy.

ExxonMobil has partnered with the U.S. education community to scale up a program for pre-service science and math teachers known as U-Teach, first funded by NSF in 1999.

In Texas, where the program began, U-Teach certifies more than 70 undergraduate students per year to be high school math, science, and computer science teachers -- more than double the number certified prior to the program. More than 92% of the graduates go on to teach those subjects.

The ExxonMobil initiative seeks to expand U-Teach to at least 50 colleges and universities across the nation.

At NSF we include two-year colleges in our education programs, because they are a vital link in transitioning students into higher level studies in science and technology. They are also an important player in preparing students to move directly into science and engineering careers.

Through NSF's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, over 320,000 community college students have been trained to become skilled technicians in the modern, high-tech fields that drive the U.S. economy.

Bio-Link, established with an NSF ATE grant, is a national center for training the biotechnology workforce -- an important staple in the New Jersey economy.

Ten of New Jersey's academic institutions -- including the County College of Morris -- have joined the Bio-Link network. Almost 100 of the participating companies are based in the state. The companies include names you know, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bradley Pharmaceuticals, and Novartis.

Clearly, we are making progress in creating partnerships that synergize and strengthen our effect on education. But we have a high hill to climb, and climbing it will require a sustained long-term effort.

We can maximize the impact of NSF programs by disseminating information and techniques across the country. Whether you're in Newark, New Orleans, or a small town in Nebraska, you need the same information -- how to access the resources of NSF and its many partners.

We have established MSPNet, an online resource center from the MSP program, where any teacher or educator across the country can find teaching, learning, and assessment tools; opportunities for partnerships; and guidance on professional development.

The National Digital Science Library is another clearinghouse for free, high-quality teaching and learning tools. In seven years, NSF has funded more than 200 library projects, from modular chemistry experiments to an online psychology laboratory to web-based seminars for teachers.

If we expect to realize further improvements in math and science achievement, we know that we also have to address the need for tools and metrics to evaluate learning.

It is difficult to measure success in education. NSF is engaged in an expansive strategy to learn what works and what doesn't. As more data emerge, we expect to improve our understanding of how to maximize student potential, and ultimately to identify the very best practices for math and science education.

These are just a few examples of the areas addressed by NSF education programs. There are many more, and I'm sure that one or more of them would speak directly to each of you.

I know that Congressman Frelinghuysen shares the message I want to leave with you -- that NSF is your partner in finding partners and resources. The important task of preparing America's students to participate in a fast-moving, global economy rests in our collective hands.

Thank you for your contributions to that task. And thank you for the opportunity to introduce you to some of our programs.