NSB 99-31

Approved February 17, 1999

An NSB Report on Mathematics and Science Achievement

Executive Summary

National Science Board

The National Science Board (NSB) consists of 24 members plus the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Appointed by the President, the Board serves as the governing body for NSF and provides advice to the President and the Congress on matters of national science policy.

NSB Members

Eamon M. Kelly, NSB Chairman; President Emeritus and Professor, Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer, Tulane University

Diana S. Natalicio, NSB Vice Chairman; President, The University of Texas-El Paso

John A. Armstrong; IBM Vice President for Science & Technology (Retired)

Pamela A. Ferguson; Professor of Mathematics, Grinnell College

Mary K. Gaillard; Professor of Physics, University of California-Berkeley

Sanford D. Greenberg; Chairman and CE, TEI Industries, Inc.

M. R. C. Greenwood; Chancellor, University of California-Santa Cruz

Stanley V. Jaskolski; Vice President, Eaton Corporation

Anita K. Jones; University Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Virginia

#George M. Langford; Professor, Department of Biological Science, Dartmouth College

Jane Lubchenco; Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology, Oregon State University

Eve L. Menger; Director, Characterization Science & Services (Retired), Corning Inc.

#Joseph A. Miller Jr.; Senior Vice President for R&D & Chief Technology Officer, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

Claudia I. Mitchell-Kernan; Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs and Dean, University of California-Los Angeles

NSB Members (cont.)

#Robert C. Richardson; Vice Provost for Research and Professor of Physics, Cornell University

Vera C. Rubin; Staff Member, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington

#Maxine Savitz; General Manager, AlliedSignal Inc. Ceramic Components

#Luis Sequeira; J.C. Walker Professor Emeritus, Departments of Bacteriology and Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Robert M. Solow; Institute Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bob H. Suzuki; President, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

Richard A. Tapia; Professor, Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics, Rice University

#Chang-Lin Tien; NEC Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California-Berkeley

Warren M. Washington; Senior Scientist and Head, Climate Change Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research

John A. White Jr.; Chancellor, University of Arkansas

Member Ex Officio

Rita R. Colwell; Director, National Science Foundation


Marta Cehelsky; Executive Officer, National Science Board

# NSB nominee pending U.S. Senate confirmation


Task Force on Mathematics and Science Achievement

The Task Force on Mathematics and Science Achievement, or "TIMSS Task Force," was created in March 1998 by then-NSB Chairman Zare in the wake of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. The Task Force reported to the NSB Committee on Education and Human Resources (EHR).

Task Force Members

Mary K. Gaillard, Chair, Task Force Claudia Mitchell-Kernan Richard Tapia Vera Rubin Bob H. Suzuki, Chair, EHR Committee (ex officio)

Daryl E. Chubin, Executive Secretary

NSB 99-31


An NSB Report on Mathematics and Science Achievement

Executive Summary

In a culture dedicated to opportunity for all, nothing is more important than preparing our children for the future workplace. For a mobile population, local schools are de facto national resources for learning.

The National Science Board (NSB), charged with advising the President and the Congress on national science policy, urges a nation-wide consensus on a core of knowledge and competency in mathematics and science. The Board believes it is both possible and imperative to develop national strategies that serve the national interest while respecting local responsibility for K-12 teaching and learning.*

In this report, the NSB offers four recommendations that promote student achievement in mathematics and science. Drawing on research and analysis, the report asserts that stakeholders working in their home communities can converge on what matters most:

* rigorous content standards,

* high expectations that all students can meet these standards,

* teachers well-prepared in the subjects they are teaching, and

* meaningful measures of accountability.

Further, the report suggests how scientists and engineers, both individually and through their institutions, can assist students, teachers, and schools.

Math and Science Standards in the National Interest

The future of the Nation depends on a strong, competitive workforce and a citizenry equipped to function in a complex world. That interest encompasses what every student in a grade should know and be able to do in mathematics and science. Further, the connection of K-12 content standards to college admissions criteria is vital for conveying the national expectation that educational excellence improves not just the health of science, but everyone's life chances through productive employment, active citizenship, and continuous learning.

Today's mobile society means that local schools have become a de facto national resource for learning. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one in three students changes schools more than once between grades 1 and 8. Such students are likely to be minority, living with one parent, or from a low-income family.

The needs of the mobile student population beg for some coordination of content and resources. Student mobility constitutes a systemic problem that demands systemic solutions. For U.S. student achievement to rise, no one can be left behind. A consensus on standards of content, from classroom to statehouse, must be forged.

The Board believes that stakeholders must develop a much-needed consensus on a common core of mathematics and science knowledge and skills to be embedded consistently in classroom teaching and learning.

Imparting core competencies neither defines an entire curriculum nor precludes locally-held beliefs and prerogatives about the content of that curriculum. For example, NSF, NASA, and other agencies have funded instructional materials development that reflects professional consensus on what constitutes teachable and rigorous content in mathematics and science. The evaluation and distribution of such materials help districts, teachers, and administrators make informed choices among innovative resources. In short, implementing standards creates opportunities to change both the conditions for learning and the performance of U.S. students.

Areas for Action

The recommendations below speak to effective implementation of the Board's core belief. Of special emphasis are areas of action in which the science community can collaborate to advance the consensus on core competencies. The NSB proposes three areas for consensual national action to improve mathematics and science teaching and learning: instructional materials, teacher preparation, and college admissions.

Instructional Materials

According to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. students are not taught what they need to know. Most U.S. high school students take no advanced science, with only one-quarter enrolling in physics, one-half in chemistry. From the TIMSS analysis we also learned that mathematics and science curricula in U.S. high schools lack coherence, depth, and continuity, and cover too many topics in a superficial way. Most of our general science textbooks in the U.S. touch on many topics rather than probe any one in depth.

Without some degree of consensus on content for each grade level, textbooks will continue to be all-inclusive and superficial. They will fail to challenge and motivate students to be curious and use mathematics and science as ways of knowing.

Recommendation 1: To implement its principal recommendation through instructional materials:

i. The NSB urges (a) broad adoption of the principle of citizen review; (b) active participation on citizen advisory boards by educators and practicing mathematicians and scientists, as well as parents and employers from knowledge-based industries; and (c) use of public forums to foster dialogue between textbook publishers and advisory boards in the review process.

ii. Accompanying this process should be an ongoing national dialogue on appropriate measures for evaluation of textbooks and instructional materials for use in the classroom. The NSB urges professional associations in the science community to take a lead (a) in stimulating this dialogue and (b) in formulating checklists or content inventories that could be valuable to their members, and all stakeholders, in the evaluation process.

Student achievement should reflect the value added by schooling. Asserting that "all children can learn" reflects the power of standards and accountability. Through district-level policy changes in course and graduation requirements, all students can be held to the same high standard of performance. At the same time, teachers and schools must be held accountable so that race, ethnicity, gender, physical disability, and economic disadvantage can diminish as excuses for subpar student performance.

Teacher Preparation

With education experimentation blooming across the U.S., the Washington Post noted last Fall that "class size, physical resources, local administration - can help. But good teaching is the vein of gold. To mine it, we'll have to pay more to attract and keep the best. And we'll need to be sure we get our money's worth by requiring strong preparation, and performance up to measurable standards."

According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, as many as one in four teachers is teaching "out of field." The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification reports that only 28 states require prospective teachers to pass examinations in the subject areas they plan to teach, and only 13 states test them on their teaching skills. Codified, widely shared goals and standards in teacher preparation, licensure, and professional development provide mechanisms to overcome these difficulties.

We cannot expect world-class learning of mathematics and science if U.S. teachers lack the confidence, enthusiasm, and knowledge to deliver world-class instruction. While updating current teacher knowledge is essential, improving future teacher preparation is even more crucial.

Recommendation 2: To implement the principal recommendation through teacher preparation and professional development:

i. The NSB urges formation of three-pronged partnerships: institutions that graduate new teachers working in concert with national and state certification bodies, and local school districts. These partnerships should form around the highest possible standards of subject content knowledge for new teachers, and aim at aligning teacher education, certification requirements and processes, and hiring practices.

ii. Mechanisms for the support of teachers, such as sustained mentoring by individual university mathematics, science, and education faculty, as well as other teacher support mechanisms, such as pay supplements for board certification, should be implemented through the three-pronged partnerships.

Ensuring the best possible teachers for our schools poses a formidable policy dilemma: how to juggle competing pressures on besieged districts, schools, and classroom teachers? The community partners of schools - higher education, business, and industry - share the obligation to heighten student achievement.

College Admissions

Quality teaching and learning of mathematics and science bestows advantages on students. Content standards, clusters of courses, and graduation requirements illuminate the path to future advantages. They smooth the transition to college and the workplace by forming a foundation for later learning and drawing students' career aspirations within reach. How high schools assess student progress, however, has consequences for deciding who gains access to higher education.

College definitions and predictions of student "success" also remain a matter of contention. Longitudinal data on 1982 high school graduates point to course-taking or "academic intensity," as opposed to high school grade point average or SAT/ACT scores, as predictors of completion of baccalaureate degrees. Nevertheless, short-term and readily quantifiable measures such as standardized test scores tend to dominate admissions decisions. Such decisions promote the participation of some students in mathematics and science, and discourage others.

Data suggest, too, that the cumulative disadvantages of family income will be compounded by admissions criteria that apply the wrong filters and restrict opportunities. A Southern Education Foundation report lauds some state efforts to create a "seamless" education system: K-12 schools and colleges work together to set standards and curricula, and to hold colleges accountable - much as schools already are - by tying state resources to performance.

Recommendation 3: To implement the principal recommendation through the college admissions process, the NSB urges:

i. institutions of higher education to form partnerships with local districts/schools that create a more seamless K-16 system, increasing the congruence between high school graduation requirements in math and science and undergraduate performance demands; and;

ii. faculty and student incentives that motivate interactions to reveal linkages between classroom-based skills and experiences and the demands on thinking and learning in the workplace.

Acting as "all one system" means that the strengths and deficiencies of one educational level are not just inherited by the next. Instead, they become spurs to better preparation and opportunity for higher learning. Partnering by an institution of higher education demands adjusting the reward system to recognize service to local schools, teachers, and students as instrumental to the mission of the institution.

Research Informing Practice

The role of research and evaluation in informing - and changing - education practice has itself become a policy issue. Policymakers, business leaders, and parents increasingly ask if American students are achieving academically as much as they can. Clearly, an agenda such as the one examined in this report is a cogent justification for research: What do we need to know and how best can we engender reliable and usable knowledge about, for example, which tests should be used for gauging progress in teaching and learning, and how children learn in both formal and informal settings? What organizational arrangement would attract the participation of the requisite research communities? How can an interagency portfolio of research that goes beyond extant programs be devised?

The National Science Board sees research as a necessary condition for improved student achievement in mathematics and science. Further, research is best supported at a national level and in a global context.

Recommendation 4: To implement the principal recommendation through research:

i. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Education must spearhead the Federal contribution to science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education research and evaluation.

ii. Overall, the investment should increase - by the Federal government, private foundations, and other sponsors - in research on schooling, educational systems more generally, and teaching and learning of mathematics and science in particular.

iii. To focus and deepen the knowledge base, an interagency Education Research Initiative, led by NSF and the Department of Education, should be implemented. It should be distinguishable as a joint venture within the agencies' respective research missions, and cooperatively funded.

Research on "what works" should inform those seeking a change in practice and learning outcomes. That includes teachers. Like other professionals, teachers need support networks that deliver new information and help to refine and renew their knowledge and skills.

Conclusions: A Shared Responsibility

A generation ago, the NSB Commission on Precollege Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology advised: "Our children are the most important asset of our country; they deserve at least the heritage that was passed to us . . . a level of mathematics, science and technology education that is the finest in the world, without sacrificing the American birthright of personal choice, equity and opportunity."

The health of science and engineering tomorrow depends on improved mathematics and science preparation of our students today. But we cannot delegate the responsibility of teaching and learning mathematics and science solely to teachers and schools. They cannot work miracles by themselves. And we cannot expect instant results.

There is no greater need than equipping the next generation with the tools of the workplace and citizenship. This will require a greater consensus among stakeholders on the content of K-16 teaching and learning. Improved student performance in mathematics and science will be short-lived if the conditions for schooling do not change and our strategies are uninformed by research. These needs transform the national interest into a national imperative. We must see educational excellence as a shared responsibility and, above all, a tractable challenge to us all.

* The National Science Board first articulated this belief in Failing Our Children: Implications of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, July 31, 1998, NSB-98-154 (hereafter referred to as the "July statement").

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