WASHINGTON – Five top science education officials today outlined a coordinated federal effort to improve K-12 science and math education.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and top officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) outlined their efforts in testimony before the House Science Committee at an historic hearing marking the first time each of the science education agencies appeared together before Congress.  The testimony of the witnesses will help guide development of Committee legislation – to be introduced next month – that will build on the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. 

“We wanted to bring these five agencies together publicly to make a few key points,” said Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY).  “First, all five of these agencies have important roles to play in K-12 science and math education.  Second, they each need to design their programs by drawing on their unique strengths and resources; we need not, and indeed should not, have a single, monolithic way of approaching education.  And third, while we need a multiplicity of programs, those efforts need to be coordinated. 

“Coordination doesn’t mean that every program has to fit a single mold, and coordination doesn’t mean that agencies should not have some overlapping efforts.  As with research funding, a strength of our system is that more than one agency may be working in a field.  But coordination does mean that any overlap should be intentional and justified and that agencies should be drawing on each other’s expertise and experiences.”

To strengthen and coordinate federal math and science education efforts, Congress recently created the Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC).  Secretary Spellings, who chairs the ACC, explained that the program’s mission is to “identify all federal education programs with a math or science focus, determine the effectiveness of each program, identify areas of overlap, and recommend ways to efficiently integrate and coordinate in the future.”  The Secretary said that while there are “a thousand flowers blooming” throughout the federal government, there may also be “a few weeds.”

The ACC, which comprises all federal agencies with education programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), held its first hearing on March 6, 2006 at the White House.  “The Department of Education is now working with the Office of Management and Budget to form a working group with the appropriate senior staff from each of these agencies to begin taking inventories of their various STEM education programs,” Spellings added.

The Department of Education (ED) shares primary responsibility for science and math education with NSF.  Dr. Arden Bement, Director of NSF, described the Foundation’s various education programs, including the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program.  “MSP is a research program to develop and assess the impact of innovative partnerships between higher education departments of mathematics and science, schools of education, and local school districts on improving K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science.”  ED also runs an MSP program, but whereas the ED MSP distributes funding based on formulas, the NSF MSP program funds partnerships on a competitive, peer-review basis.

Bement also testified on the Robert Noyce Scholarship program, which originated in legislation authored by Chairman Boehlert, and achieves a key goal of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative by encouraging top students to pursue careers in science and math teaching at the K-12 level.

Dr. James Decker, Principal Deputy Director of DOE’s Office of Science, said, “The role of the Department and particularly the Office of Science in STEM education is complementary to the efforts of other federal agencies.  Our collaboration with NSF in various programs is especially productive and effective in bringing students from NSF funded programs to our National Laboratories; strengthening transfer of teacher research experiences to classrooms; curriculum development that strengthens our mission; and increasing science literacy.”

“Shortly after the State of the Union, the Assistant Secretary of Education, Henry Johnson, invited NASA and others to discuss potential collaboration opportunities,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.  “We are currently reviewing our portfolio of educational programs to assess NASA’s participation.”  Dale described a few of those programs, including the Educator Astronaut Program, which enables outstanding K-12 teachers to become permanent members of the astronaut corps, and the NASA Explorer Schools program, through which the Agency partners with schools of underserved or underrepresented communities to strengthen STEM education in grades 4-9.

Brigadier General John Kelly (ret.), Deputy Administrator of NOAA, testified, “NOAA’s education programs are focused on enhancing STEM education activities in subject areas where NOAA has unique expertise and where public responsiveness to warnings, forecasts, and stewardship efforts is important for meeting its mission…Because NOAA’s mission is highly applied and directly related to decisions people make day to day, our education programs can highlight relationships between science and resource management decisions and forecasts and warnings.” 

Offering an example of NOAA’s education programs, Kelly discussed Ocean Literacy, a “collective effort of numerous partners including NOAA and other federal entities…that resulted in a definition of ocean literacy comprised of seven essential principles, supported by detailed fundamental concepts, which educators can use to fulfill the eight national science education standards and meet the science requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, when those requirements take effect.”