Science and Technology Education Testimony
SHIRLEY M. MALCOM, PH.D
DIRECTOR, EDUCATION & HUMAN RESOURCES PROGRAMS
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE (AAAS)
BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE
MARCH 17, 1999
Mr. Chairman & Members:
Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in these hearings focused on issues in science education raised by the Ehlers Report. The report, which represents the culmination of a wide ranging nationwide discussion, rightly points out our national interest in scientific and technical education in view of its importance to our workforce, our economy and the needs of our citizens. It is important to take stock and ask ourselves what is the extent of our needs in these areas and how well are we going about meeting these needs.
Last year the Congress approved legislation, later signed into law, that raised the ceiling for the number of H1-B visas to permit entry of additional highly skilled workers needed especially by the computer and information technology industries. (Chronicle of Higher Education 10/23/98, p. A32) Companies have been finding it extremely difficult to identify, recruit and place the number of employees that they need, who possess the requisite mix of skills, and are available for the job growth being experienced in those industries. In addition to the short term solution of raising the ceiling on immigration a strategy was put in place to collect fees to be used to support the education of more U.S. citizens to address the longer term issue of growing a human resources base sufficient for our country’s future workforce needs.
In the interim student enrollments and degrees in computer science and engineering have been in steady decline. The jobs for college and graduate trained computer scientists and engineers have increased faster than our rate of production of these workers despite the strong demand being seen in computer and IT fields for some while. Scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are a small but vital component of our workforce and our failures to respond to the need to grow this segment must be viewed with alarm. Here are good jobs with high salaries and excellent career potential. Are students unable to respond to the demand because of inadequate earlier academic preparation; unaware of the jobs because of inadequate career counseling; dissuaded because of uninspired teaching, inadequate instructional infrastructure or weak connection between these jobs and their academic preparation? It is essential that we determine where the barriers exist to producing adequate supplies of the personnel that we need if we are to sustain the economic growth and competitive edge that the United States enjoys in computing, telecommunications, biotechnology and other such fields.
As other nations follow our lead into knowledge based industries their own citizens will be less likely to come to the U.S. for graduate education and less likely to remain to fill our workforce needs. Importing highly talented people is not an optimal long term strategy to address U.S. human resources needs.
As our business, service, regulatory, transportation and other systems have become more technically based and scientifically connected the need for advanced scientific, quantitative and technical skills has diffused out into many other areas of the workforce. As rightly pointed out in the Ehlers report we need technicians as well as scientists, engineers and mathematicians to support SME functions in the workplace. But our lawyers, judges, pilots, air traffic controllers, legislators and business people increasingly need the knowledge, concepts and ideas of science, mathematics, engineering and technology as well. So too do the service men and women who must defend our country as they use and maintain tanks, planes, ships, trucks and weapons, or detect the presence of biological and chemical toxins. Those who monitor the safety of our water supply and our food, who track infectious diseases, who keep us healthy, who fill our prescriptions, who care for us in hospitals and nursing homes all need a much higher level of SMET knowledge, concepts and ideas.
There are few professions that have been left untouched by the scientific and technological revolution in which we find ourselves. Yet we send too many into this revolution unarmed, lacking the knowledge, skills and understanding they need to do the Nation’s work, to earn a living now and for the long term.
Earned Bachelor’s Degrees, U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents
|Computer Science (all)||30,963||24,405|
THE NEEDS OF CITIZENSHIP
We regularly allude to the idea of science, mathematics, engineering and technology for citizenship. But I believe that it is essential that we ground this notion in some concrete examples so that we all understand the stakes. How does the public respond to issues of nuclear power vs. coal generated power or genetically modified plants or animals? How do we have discussions about personal or family health choices without fundamental understanding of human biology? How do we handle threats (real or imagined) to our children from an Internet that they can navigate where we as parents cannot? How can we exercise our responsibilities as voters or members of a jury? What happens when DNA evidence is presented and our jurors have no clue about how to interpret competing arguments of scientific experts? These concerns strike at the heart of our family responsibilities and our democracy. I fear that we are being led to a legal system that depends on people being uninterested, uneducated or confused by science based evidence, a frightening threat to our system of laws.
The issues raised here are not new ones and the solutions that have been presented in the past are still relevant today. We must educate all students to much higher levels in science, mathematics and technology. We must tackle the challenge, no matter how difficult of re-education of the adult population who long ago left K-12 education. We must develop broadly based nationwide scientific and technical capacity for the long term. This means that resident in every state we must have public health, agricultural, transportation , statistical and other science and technology capabilities to ensure that the distributed nature of our data collection, reporting, controls and regulation do not jeopardize the interstate nature of our interactions, as people, food, water, air and services flow across state boundaries.
We must address the basic educational needs of all our people ¾ the needs of those who will become SMEs as well as of those who will encounter SMET in other work. Common to all these ends is our compulsory education system. But we do not have a common system; we have 15,000 systems, locally controlled and autonomous. These systems must perforce act on behalf of our national needs for an S&T prepared workforce and technically prepared defense system.
Those of us in the science community have recognized the need to provide guidance and tools to these independently operating systems so that the core ideas that are commonly needed will be locally adapted and delivered. AAAS developed Science for all Americans in 1989 as a statement of these learning goals in science, mathematics and technology and Benchmarks for Science Literacy in 1993 to guide the teaching of core ideas across the grade span. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics developed mathematics standards in 1989, and have recently revised these as Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, a Discussion Draft. The National Academy of Sciences published the National Science Education Standards in 1996. We now also have emerging technology standards developed by International Society for Technology in Education. We as scientific, mathematics and technical societies have no power or authority over school jurisdictions. We have hoped to influence states and localities by the quality and thoughtfulness of our work, openness of our processes and wide range of sectoral involvement. We can only urge districts towards rigorous standards that can support our national need for a next millennium workforce and citizenry. AAAS has developed other tools to assist districts as they assess the quality of their textbooks or of their efforts to promote learning for all student groups regardless of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sex or disability.
In March 1999 the National Science Board (NSB) issued a very important report Preparing Our Children: Math and Science Education in the National Interest. The report recognizes that “it is both possible and imperative to develop national strategies that serve the national interest while respecting local responsibility for K-12 teaching and learning.” The NSB offers four recommendations that promote student achievement in mathematics and science urging that “stakeholders must develop a much – needed consensus on a common core of mathematics and science knowledge and skills to be embedded consistently in classroom teaching and learning.”
I was a member of the task force that generated this report in the wake of the release of the TIMSS reports until the end of my tenure on the NSB in summer 1998.
While I no longer serve on the National Science Board I want to add my support to the recommendations they made urging a nationwide conversation and effort at developing consensus around standards and core learnings in science, mathematics and technology. The report points out that one in three students will move and thus change schools during their elementary and secondary years and that mobility alone argues for our making room for some common understandings within our traditions of local control.
I support local control of schools, and I also support national standards. I believe that the 15,000 roads that lead to the production of our Nation’s human resources must to be guided by a road map that at least helps us understand the destination. Our standards must guide the way toward local derived and globally competitive curricula. I would add a quote from a recent NSB hearing by Board Vice Chair Dr. Diana Natalicio: “One of the things that I try to talk to people in school districts about…..is that while we are all respectful of their desire for local control, they seem to forget that they are not preparing their graduates to work or live locally. We are talking about a global competitiveness, and it seems very hard to square those two.”
Increasingly post – secondary education is an essential element needed for our workforce. It will increasingly be 2 and 4 year colleges & universities that will deliver the last formal science and math courses that most people ever take. The view of science and mathematics, the concepts and ideas people take away with them, will be conveyed by the faculty of our higher education institutions. It is essential that we remember this, especially as it relates to the preparation of our K-12 teaching workforce. That 21st century teaching workforce will be the vanguard who will shape the national workforce of 2020. I hope that our foresight is 20/20 in recognizing that they must be provided the best that we can offer – the knowledge, skills and ideas delivered using appropriate technology and other equipment. For it is they who ultimately keep America the world’s great economic power.
The Congress has recognized the need to support the development of this teaching workforce as well as to help current teachers in a process of education and renewal. We must retain the integrity of programs established to ensure our national capacity in SMT education; when our health, our defense, and our quality of life are at stake we must insist on accountability for the use of resources that support education in the new basics of science, mathematics and technology.
TEACHERS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Most of us who have gone on to pursue study in science, mathematics or engineering fondly remember those teachers who inspired, challenged and encouraged us. They expected much from us and gave much to us.
Most of my teachers in high school were actually prepared in the subjects that they taught us and, in those post Sputnik years, they had opportunities for summer study to extend and support their learning. Despite lack of equipment and facilities they approached science and mathematics teaching with eagerness.
One cannot help but contrast this with the current situation where teachers at the elementary level have had few post secondary opportunities to study and learn the science and mathematics they are expected to teach, possess minimal access to technology or the training needed to incorporate it as a teaching tool; where high school teachers of science & mathematics may likely be teaching out of the field of their major or minor with inadequate professional development opportunities, instructional equipment and laboratory facilities. The technology that will be integral to students’ work & lives may not yet be an embedded part of their learning environment.
Teachers shape the future as they prepare our children. And who will shape the teachers for the new roles they must face?
Have we considered the role that teachers must face in preparing the students in SMT for the various roles and jobs they will assume in life? They must manage to understand and incorporate an expanding content base. In addition we ask them to respond to the psychosocial and other needs of their students, manage classrooms with too many pupils and too few resources while teaching too many hours a day with no time for preparation, planning or learning, little respect and low salaries.
The kind of SMT savvy teachers that we want for our children can earn twice or more their salary in another sector. Our local approaches to developing new teachers for the 21st century has meant that we all face shortages, potentially resort to emergency credentialling of underprepared persons and to raiding the neighboring district.
We need a massive mobilization to ensure the production and movement of highly qualified SMT teachers into our schools from a nationally available pool.
Just as Ms. Goddard, Mr. Smoot and Mr. Burton gave me my mathematics and science base so too must we provide for our children and grandchildren the teachers who can guide, motivate and inspire learning.
THE EDUCATION OF CITIZENS
The overwhelming majority of the U.S. population are beyond the direct instructional reach of our schools and colleges. Yet they need SMT information as well. While their jobs might provide or require specific training, reawakening their sense of wonder, excitement and inquiry, making them open to learning about science, mathematics and technology means that we must employ strategies that attract them to SMT, helping citizens see the science and mathematics that may have become commonplace. Museums, science centers, Internet, television and radio have taken on some of this work as have libraries.
But these media are still not reaching broadly across all populations. We at AAAS determined that we must be unabashedly opportunistic in sharing science with the public. We have sought to find topics that compel attention, such as health, and to use these in multiple formats to impart science context as well as immediate information about the health topic¾ be it the science of addiction or the ethical, legal and social issues related to the Human Genome Project. We have been willing to deliver this message where ever people are or where they come together. So we have had efforts based in all sorts of places such as in libraries, churches and senior citizens facilities. We at AAAS review trade books, video material and software as a way to guide teachers and librarians to the best among those available. Science Books & Films (now SB&F and SB&F Online) has been the source for identifying quality books and materials for over 33 years, born as a post – Sputnik strategy to improve science learning by directing us to excellent science resources.
Another AAAS project has helped to stimulate the production of science communicators, assisting students of science, mathematics, engineering and medicine to gain journalism experience through placement in summer internships at print and broadcast media outlets. Roughly half of the more than 300 Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows produced in the 25 year history of the program have taken these skills into their work as scientists often while assuming increased roles interacting with media. The other half have shifted careers to become full time communicators, including such luminaries as Dr. Michael Guillen of ABC, Richard Stone, and Joe Palca of National Public Radio.
They reach the public through the media, bringing science stories into our homes and offices ¾ even informing our commute.
We find ourselves with a system of problems that, if taken together, threaten to overwhelm our ability to keep pace with the knowledge and skills needed to manage and maintain the technologically based society and economy we have created. Our need to import talent has been necessitated by our failures to develop talent, by expanding the talent base for technical and scientific fields. We have systematically underdeveloped women, minorities and persons with disabilities as crucial human resources for computing, engineering, telecommunications and biotechnology fields among many.
We need only to consider the extent of disruption predicted if we fail to address our Y 2 K problem to realize how embedded our technology and science have become ¾ power grids, ATMs, missile warning systems, 911 systems. Like fish we do not see the water.
Nor do we see that the science and technology in our lives that we so take for granted force us to pay more serious and systematic attention to traditional notions that we have enshrined that may no longer serve us well. Our communities have expanded beyond our neighborhoods; our collaborators as well as our competitors may reside on the other side of the globe. Our reach may extend even beyond our planet.
Addressing the needs for global stewardship and sustainable human development, meeting our personal health needs as well as those of our families, being informed citizens and wise jurors, all compel us to a heretofore unseen need for scientific and technological savvy.