PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(162.000,0,” “,)> Hardly a week passes without some dire pronouncement about the state of education in the United States — how other nations are surpassing us in developing their work force and their technology base, and what debilitating consequences await our industry and our nation if we do not take action. The Glenn Commission, the Walker Commission, the Moon-to-Mars Commission and the recent Augustine Commission (“The Gathering Storm” report) have all concluded that the future of the republic is in jeopardy. High-tech titans like Bill Gates, Craig Barrett and others have issued similar warnings.
PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(162.000,0,” “,)> While this sense of urgency is long overdue, the theme is no stranger. Rather, it has echoed throughout virtually every conference and symposium the Space Foundation has hosted over the past half-dozen years. It resonates in our research and analysis work, and we see its very real manifestations in our work with schools, teachers and students.
We understand the problem. It is time for action.
That is why the Space Foundation is making a serious recommitment to our education mission. Over the past 20 years, we have provided tools and training for nearly 40,000 teachers representing all 50 states. While that might sound impressive, it’s really only a drop in the bucket of the nearly four million K-12 teachers and more than 50 million students in the nation. We must do more, and we will need the assistance of everyone we can rally to our cause.
Recently the Foundation received the largest education grant award in our history, a No Child Left Behind grant made to the Foundation and the North Kona, Hawaii, school district by the U.S. Department of Education. This district is one of the most challenged in the nation, with staggering percentages of disadvantaged students, teen pregnancy, substance abuse problems and students for whom English is a second or third language. We will be training the teachers in this district for the next three years in an attempt to cause a paradigm shift so significant it borders on intervention.
The basis of this work is our prior success in training teachers in the district. This success can, in turn, be attributed to a focused effort launched in 2001 to reinvent our education enterprise. Among other things, the effort has led to an entirely new body of curriculum now accessible to teachers for free via the Internet (www.sciencestandardslessons.org ). This new body of curriculum was produced by teams of outstanding teacher graduates of our Summer Institute program, and is indexed by federal standards, state standards, grade level and subject area. It is already being accessed by thousands of teachers. Particularly exciting, a new charter school in Colorado Springs, the Star Academy, is being launched with a space theme and 75 percent of its curriculum drawn from the Space Foundation.
Strong, space-inspired curriculum is only part of the solution. Teacher training and support is key. Accordingly we have re invented our five-week Summer Institute program, and participants now rate it as one of the most effective summer learning experiences for educators in the world. We also have launched the world’s first master’s degrees in Curriculum and Instruction-Space Specialist and nearly 100 teachers have already obtained their Space Specialist M.A. Finally, what is working so well in West Hawaii and other areas is a radical new, proprietary teacher training methodology called the Integrated Science and Literacy Model .
These new tools, and the efforts of our teacher liaisons in 46 states, are making a difference. But our team is small. To truly have national impact, we must scale up.
That is why our board of directors has set a new education strategic vision for the Space Foundation: To inspire, enable and propel tomorrow’s explorers.
This vision means we — the entire space community — need to inspire all Americans to become excited about our future and to become motivated to prepare themselves through education. It means we must work with teachers and students all across the country to provide the kind of education that will enable them to lead the h igh-tech work force of the future. And it means we must propel those inspired and enabled people into the space and aerospace communities — industry, government and academia.
It’s a big vision, but we are prepared. What we need now are additional partners, resources and a sense of national commitment to the future.
The Vision for Space Exploration provides a great launch pad. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that when America is exploring space in a big and urgent way, interest and enrollment in advanced science and engineering programs accelerates. NASA’s new imperative of exploration can play a big role in the “inspire” part of this equation.
However, while the Bush administration’s strong support of NASA is a welcome respite after years of neglect, agency funding of just six-tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget falls far short of what is needed to rekindle greatness. Congress needs to provide additional resources, and NASA itself needs to get better at allocating its $153 million education budget to achieve real impact in our classrooms.
Nor can the Pentagon be excused. The future technology and human resources requirements of the Department of Defense demand a national defense education effort measured in billions of dollars — an order of magnitude increase over current Pentagon proposals.
Companies, communities and individuals also need to step up to the plate. While the Space Foundation and our colleagues in the nonprofit sector are grateful to those who have supported our education enterprise in the past, we must redouble our efforts and bring additional champions to our cause. As we have heard time and again, the future of the nation could be at stake.
If you share our concern, and are willing to join us on this journey, we’d like to hear from you. To learn more about our education enterprise, visit http://education.spacefoundation.org.
PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(162.000,0,” “,)> Elliot G. Pulham is president and chief executive officer of the Space Foundation.