When the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and Congress end 13 years of support for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education (ENC) this fall, educators will lose free access to a highly regarded math and science curriculum resource.
ENC’s annual $5 million in federal support comes to an end Sept. 30. After that, schools will have to pay for access to the clearinghouse’s content: ENC officials are transforming the organization into a commercial entity, using subscriptions and advertising as a way to support their materials.
ENC was established through a contract with ED in 1992 under the administration of President George H.W. Bush. “We’ve been zeroed out for the last three years by ED,” said Len Simutis, executive director. “We’ve been able to get our project to continue by congressional support” through earmarked funding in the federal budget. Not so this year, however.
ENC’s mission has been to identify effective curriculum resources, create high-quality professional development materials, and disseminate useful information and products to improve K-12 mathematics and science teaching and learning.
Through its web site, ENC has developed a database of more than 27,000 K-12 math and science product and web site reviews. According to Simutis, 17,000 of those reviews now have research associated with them that demonstrates their alignment to state and federal standards.
The highly acclaimed ENC monthly selection of web sites for math and science education, known as the “Digital Dozen,” has been a consistently popular web resource among educators looking for math and science content online. Educators also will lose free access to ENC’s month-by-month classroom calendar filled with online math and science resources that pertain to the month’s events; links to lessons and activities; a guide to creating personal professional development plans; and “ENC Focus,” a magazine written for and by classroom teachers and linked to online discussion forums.
With the emphasis the government is placing on science and mathematics under the No Child Left Behind Act, including the addition of science to the standardized testing required under that act, many wonder why the department would eliminate a directly related clearinghouse that has been in development for so many years and has proven its value to educators.
“ENC is such a valuable resource for young teachers of mathematics and science at a time when so much is at stake,” said Mark Klawiter, chemistry and physics teacher at Ladysmith High School in Wisconsin and an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow.
“Those of us who have come to rely on ENC for daily educational news, for curriculum resources, for innovative classroom strategies, and sometimes for moral support in our careers realize the importance of making this resource available in the future,” Klawiter said.
Simutis, who said the ENC web site gets 175,000 unique visitors each month, said it’s unfortunate that ED has chosen not to fund the project. “It’s not like we’ve solved the achievement issues for math and science in this country,” he said. “There are going to be very few resources available for [these disciplines] provided by the department.”
C. Todd Jones, ED’s associate deputy secretary for the budget, said part of the reason ENC lost its funding is because President Bush does not believe in providing funds for a small program that does not provide the kind of return to be gained from larger programs.
He added that, in these difficult budgetary times, “the president is seeking to move federal resources toward broad pools of funds” that can be used as local agencies deem appropriate. He noted that, as a matter of policy, the president “does not believe that earmarked programs should be continued.”
“Congress appropriates hundreds of millions of dollars in these kinds of programs,” Jones said. The president, he said, “does not believe it’s an effective use of funds to earmark money for programs that are not authorized under law.”
Jones said it’s up to the discretion of individual states and school districts to fund or seek the services of comparatively smaller programs like ENC. “Technical assistance programs should be aligned to local needs. If regional boards ultimately establish that these kinds of activities are useful, they’ll fund them; if they do not, they will not,” he said.
After September, ENC will be available at a new internet location, www.goENC.com. As of then, ENC will be a private source of technical assistance for local governments. It will cost schools an annual subscription fee of $349 for access to the clearinghouse’s extensive resources and expertise. This fee covers all educators in the subscribing institution–and subscriptions ordered before June 1 will be available for a reduced price of $299 per school. Simutis said ENC hopes to continue to offer its free print magazine to educators, too, except with advertisements.
The change will mean a substantial reduction in force for ENC as it transforms into a commercial enterprise; the organization will go from its present staff of 50 full-time employees to “no more than 8,” according to Simutis.
“We will need to have a lot of freelancing done to provide the editorial content and … product reviews,” said Simutis. “If we meet our subscription targets for the first year, we can start to add more staff early in 2006. But we are effectively a startup with no venture capital and are trying to bootstrap the operation.”
Besides offering access to its database of more than 27,000 math and science product and web site reviews, www.goENC.com also will offer thousands of lesson plans to support standards-based teaching; articles covering teaching ideas; and success stories and additional resources.
Simutis said goENC.com will be fortunate in that the venture is starting with a mature product and an established audience: “We can largely continue our production processes rather than having to spend a lot of money and time on building a market and product testing.”
He added: “The usual process here is to receive regrets from people, then go away. We don’t want to do that.”
Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education