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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


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 mandate:

"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 possible.

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 student achievement.

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 TIMSS study.

We know that kids can't learn what their teachers don't really understand.

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.

Thank you



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