A bipartisan legislative package aimed at reforming K-12 science, math, and technology education was introduced into the House of Representatives in mid-April by Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

Collectively known as the National Science Education Acts of 2000 (NSEA), the legislation consists of three separate bills addressing the nation’s low performance in—and students’ low attraction to—math and science.

The package also tackles the need for recruiting and retaining top-quality high-tech teachers.

“It is vital that every effort be made to correct an unfortunate growing trend of inadequate interest and training in the science, math, engineering, and technology fields,” Ehlers said.

More than half the students who graduate from college with science and engineering degrees in this country are foreign-born, he said.

“The international comparisons that have been made show us to be lower in math and science,” Ehlers said, citing recent assessments that show American students don’t perform as well in these subjects as students from other countries.

The lack of interest among American students in pursuing a career in science or engineering could lead to limited prosperity and economic growth, he said. It also makes it difficult to fill technology-related jobs.

In a letter to fellow members of Congress, Ehlers wrote, “Evidence indicates that our schools aren’t preparing our students adequately for the knowledge-based, technologically rich America of today and tomorrow.”

Minimum prerequisites for entry-level jobs now require word processing, spreadsheet manipulation, and general computer skills, in addition to typing and basic math, added Johnson.

“All students need solid math, science, and technology training, regardless of their principal field of study,” she said. “Our nation will only be competitive if we can internally develop a generation of workers with the skills to compete in the digital global marketplace.”

Each of the bills in the legislative package is targeted at a different House committee. The legislation was designed this way to speed up the approval process in the short upcoming legislative session and to increase the chances of at least part of the legislation being adopted, Ehlers said.

The National Science Education Enhancement Act is targeted to the House Education and Workforce Committee. The National Science Education Act is targeted to the House Science Committee. The National Science Education Incentive Act is targeted to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Dan Lara, a spokesman for the Education and Work-force Committee, said it’s too soon to tell what the likelihood is of these bills passing. But he did say, “It’s always good to have a bill that’s bipartisan.”

Johnson has introduced some of the same language found in these acts before, according to her spokesman, Cedric Mobley.

Professional development

One of NSEA’s goals is to increase the opportunity and quality of professional development for math, science, and technology teachers.

“There are so many teachers that have gone through college without learning an adequate math or science background,” Ehlers said.

Fred Frelow, director of national affairs for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, agreed. “Over half the [K-12] teachers who are teaching math and science do not have degrees in those areas,” Frelow said.

The bill would set up peer-reviewed summer professional development institutes to ensure comprehensive, long-term, content-based, and focused teacher professional development.

It also would provide grants to K-8 schools to hire “master teachers” for helping other teachers develop lesson plans and use hands-on science materials.

In addition, the bill would provide teachers with instructional materials to help them use technology in the classroom. It also would ensure that all middle school teachers in the United States are trained in technology, so they can make sure their students are technology-literate before they enter high school.

The National Science Foundation would award professional development grants to help teachers effectively use computers and other technology.

College students with technology expertise would get a work-study credit in exchange for tutoring K-12 teachers, and businesses would be eligible for a tax credit for letting teachers attend their work-force training workshops.

Enhancing programs, materials, and equipment

NSEA also aims to enhance math and science programs by incorporating new ways to teach these subjects. Math and science lessons should be more than just memorizing facts, theories, and results, Ehlers said. They should be experiment-centered and concept-based to instill excitement.

“It is very important to have interesting curriculum to maintain [students’] interest in science,” said Ehlers, who has a background in physics.

Under the bill, a working group would be formed to evaluate and endorse math, science, and technology programs that have excellent content and scope.

NSEA also calls for a study to evaluate the ways that technology is used in the classroom.

The NSF would be required to post its education programs on its web site, allowing teachers greater access to these programs.

The bill also would direct the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse (ENC), a federally funded program that collects and catalogs science and math curriculum materials, to provide evaluations and a comprehensive database of its programs. ENC also would develop a web-based search engine that links its programs to classroom demonstrations, teacher reviews, materials, vendors, curricula, and textbooks.

NSF would provide grants to rural schools for science, math, technology, and engineering distance-learning programs, because rural schools don’t have the same access to museums and laboratories as urban schools.

The bill would create federally funded, after-school science daycare programs.

NSEA also would create a competition for high school and college students to use their abilities to develop educational software. This software would help meet the need for better content in the classroom, Ehlers said.

Under the bill, school, technology, and laboratory supply companies would be eligible for tax breaks for donating equipment to schools. Private companies would get a tax credit for contributing their expertise in work-force training to K-12 science and math students.

The bill would establish a pilot program in which information technology (IT) companies would contribute to IT programs at high schools that can’t afford expensive IT training.

Recruiting and retaining teachers

Lastly, NSEA addresses the need to hire and keep teachers skilled in math, science, and technology. Many high-tech teachers are being lured away from teaching by companies offering them more money and prestige, Ehlers said.

The bill would encourage students to become science, math, or technology teachers by creating a program that lets high school students know which courses they would need to prepare for college.

To attract top students to the teaching profession, NSEA would offer a tax credit to K-12 science, math, or technology teachers who graduate from rigorous, content-based preparation courses. This tax credit would cover 10 percent of their total college tuition, up to $1,000 each year for 10 years.

To help retain rookie teachers, new teachers would get mentors to provide extra assistance for their first few years.

Since grade school teachers often aren’t thought of as experts in their fields, the bill aims to generate respect for teachers by encouraging them to participate in research. Science, math, or technology teachers would be able to participate in their fields of expertise through “externships.” The bill also would create a national scholarship to reward teachers for participating in science, math, engineering, or technology research.

To accomplish these tasks, NSEA would try to leverage private-sector funding. “The private sector has resources that the government doesn’t have,” Mobley said.

Ehlers’ office said it estimated a combined cost of $660 million for the first two NSEA acts. No estimate has been attached to the third bill, the National Science Education Incentives Act.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich.

http://www.house.gov/ehlers

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas

http://www.house.gov/ebjohnson

National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future

http://www.tc.columbia.edu/~teachcomm

National Science Foundation

http://www.nsf.gov

Eisenhower National Clearinghouse

http://www.enc.org