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Image of space 1992 End of Cold War NSB Chair Duderstadt - NSF Director Massey
The National Science Board - A History in Highlights, 1950-2000
Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline

Systemic Change

One of Erich Bloch's last initiatives as director was also among his boldest. In 1990, following his departure, the Board approved the Foundation's program for Statewide Systemic Initiatives (SSI) in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education. The era of "systemic reform" began in 1991 as SSI agreements were made with selected states to bring different parts of their education apparatus into alignment with reform. A second version known as Urban Systemic Initiatives funded agreements with large-city school districts that proposed to use Foundation turnkey funds to deliver better teaching to these mostly minority student populations. Rural Systemic Initiatives, which crossed state and school district boundaries, came later.

Bloch's successor, physicist Walter E. Massey, long-time director of Argonne National Laboratory, credits the Board's Education and Human Resources Committee for close work with NSF staff on defining the new initiatives' goals. Board involvement assured that these were cooperative agreements, not grants, with ongoing obligations as well as continuing technical advice.

Though NSF's funding for these and other ambitious K-12 programs remained tiny compared to the Department of Education's portfolio, "the Board was supportive because these could be so important to the country," says James J. Duderstadt, a nuclear engineer and president of the University of Michigan who was Board Chair from 1991 to 1994. Educators widely applauded NSF for "sticking its neck out," in the words of one SSI participant. Nobody, they said, had asked them to "think systemically" before.

Meanwhile, the Foundation underwent a systemic change of its own when a new Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences was created in 1991. The social sciences were coming into their own, and had bearing on vital national issues. Massey recalls that the Board neither opposed nor championed a separate directorate, though some Board members did warn that social sciences on their own might be more vulnerable to political attack, as they had been in the past.

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