Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
TIMSS-R Press Conference
J.W. Marriot Hotel
December 5, 2000
Secretary Riley, Commissioner Philips, my colleagues
on the podium with me (Susan Fuhrman and Margaret
Cozzens), friends and guests...good morning and thank
you for your dedication to this important cause, the
education of our children.
It's my pleasure to represent NSF here this morning.
NSF supported the TIMSS-R study, and the findings
provide a guide to accomplish our overall mission
of promoting progress in science and engineering.
We need to know what's happening to focus our efforts.
The NSF has a vital role in preparing our nation's
workforce for the 21st Century. In fact,
the NSF's vision statement speaks to this national
"Enabling the nation's future through discovery,
learning, and innovation."
Since our inception 50 years ago, we
have dedicated our investments in research and
education for the benefit of our nation.
A primary strategic goal is to invest in people; to
develop both the science and engineering workforce
and a well-prepared citizenry.
We fund programs that include everyone from pre-kindergarten
students through adult life-long learners. We call
this our "K through Gray" approach. We enable the
science and technology workforce of today and tomorrow.
Today's release is very important, especially in the
context of our changing times.
If we take a moment to look back, we see vast changes
have swept over our society during the last century.
In the early 1900's the horse and buggy was the state-of-the-art
means of personal transportation. Today automobiles
and airplanes are moving people faster than ever thought
Similarly in the world of medicine, a person in the
19th Century with diabetes faced a grim
prognosis for survival. At the turn of this century
people with diabetes enjoy healthy and productive
lives due to the commercial production of insulin.
These are both great advances, indicative of our ingenuity.
However, if we look into the classroom we see that
little has changed in the last 100 years. We are still
lining students up in rows of desks and failing to
fully engage them in the wonders of science and engineering.
It is imperative that all children be well
versed in science, mathematics and engineering to
be successful in today's technology-based society.
To truly meet our nation's demands for tomorrow, we
must tap into all of our available resources today.
This means engaging more of our citizens, especially
women and under-represented minorities, in science,
mathematics, engineering and technology.
All students need to be competent in science, mathematics
and technology to be productive citizens.
Today's release of data from the TIMSS-R study provides
a clear challenge we face in preparing a world-class
workforce for the 21st century. Other elements
of the study provide information we will use to structure
the NSF investment.
You may have heard that Congress recently approved
a 14% budget increase for NSF. This puts us on a trajectory
to double our budget in the next five years. But new
monies are needed for K-12 science, mathematics and
technology education. Currently we are only spending
$200 million a year, and this is not enough.
The findings from TIMSS-R will give us compass headings
to guide our investment.
Research in education, such as the first TIMSS report,
has already lead to a number of programs at NSF. Our
Centers for Learning and Teaching debuted this year,
and Science of Learning Centers are in development
for the next. Both types of centers partner universities
and local school districts towards improving K-12
NSF is also bolstering science and mathematics content
in the classroom with our GK-12 program and our instructional
materials development projects.
Looking towards the future, NSF is developing a mathematics
initiative to be implemented in FY 2002. K-12 education
will be an integral component of this new initiative.
TIMSS-R gives an in-depth examination of education
practices in the United States. Weaknesses are obvious,
especially in training our elementary and middle school
teachers. Strategies to address the weaknesses detected
in math and science education can thus be developed.
Today's results highlight the importance of teacher
quality. U.S. teachers of eighth grade mathematics
and science are less likely to have majors or minors
in the fields they teach than their counterparts abroad.
This finding is consistent with results from the 1995
We know that kids can't learn what their teachers don't
The previous TIMSS study also revealed the importance
of rigorous mathematics and science curricula for
high student achievement.
Both of these principles are being integrated into
NSF's education efforts. Lessons learned from the
TIMSS-R will shape future NSF investments.
It will take us time to digest the TIMSS-R findings
and draw statistically sound conclusions about the
patterns of student achievement presented in today's
report. We will very carefully scrutinize the underlying
data of the TIMSS-R report to identify correlations
between practice and achievement.
In the coming year, we will use the international video
studies and data from the 27 U.S. benchmarking jurisdictions.
These school districts and states engaged in the TIMSS-R
as if they were separate nations.
These additional components of TIMSS-R will be very
helpful in elucidating factors that contribute to
the declining achievement levels of our eighth grade
students--and there are many factors in the home,
community, and schools to be considered.
The TIMSS-R study data will be used over the next few
years to understand issues and trends in the teaching
of mathematics and science. NSF did support this study
and will use the resulting reports well.
In closing let me add one final point.
For the first time since Sputnik, education is the
number one issue on the national agenda.
The TIMSS-R results may not be startling or new, and
may even be a little depressing, but our response
should embody the idea of "sustained urgency." That
is, we need to strengthen our resolve to make the
wisest of investment for the future of our nation.