Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=64619
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 5:58:43 AM CST
WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers expressed support Wednesday for a wide-ranging national council to coordinate science and math education from preschool through college, much to the dismay of some educators, who say the money would be better spent on labs and curriculum development at the local level.
The proposed council, comprised of representatives from federal and local agencies as well as school districts, would work independently of other federal programs to create national guidance on science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.
Such policy decisions have traditionally been left to states and the nation’s 14,000 local school districts, but concerns about the country’s lagging competitiveness in science education have created bipartisan support in Washington for a national plan.
“There’s no magic bullet out there, but what’s a better approach,” said Science and Technology subcommittee chairman Brian Baird, D-Wash., after reviewing the National Science Board’s recommendation for a national council. He said the goal of Wednesday’s hearing of the research and science education subcommittee was to find a way to balance education across districts so that the opportunities students have are consistent.
But Judy Jeffrey, a representative of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said existing panels already allow inter-state coordination. Jeffrey questioned whether a national council would have influence with local districts that, she said, would perceive this as an effort to take away their traditional responsibility.
“We face competing requirements and priorities from different federal programs and efforts,” she said. “The last thing we need is more bureaucracy.”
The committee’s top Republican, Rep. Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, acknowledged that the increased federal role would be controversial, but said agreement on national standards is essential for the sake of consistency among school districts. American families move on average every four years, he said.
“At the top of the list (of competitiveness) are small, homogenous countries that have the same curriculum throughout the country,” Ehlers said of the leaders in science and math. “There’s a real urgency to this.”
Susan Traiman, director of education policy for Business Roundtable, an advocacy group representing chief executives of 160 corporations, agreed with supporters of the national plan that “It’s absurd for each local community to make these decisions.”
But Traiman sided against the proposal, saying that federal intervention is so controversial, it would slow state-level efforts already under way to improve science and math standards.
Robert Gropp, director of public policy for the American Institute of Biological Sciences, said in a telephone interview university teachers are often frustrated by “hodgepodge” of what local schools are teaching. He expressed hope that this decades-long debate may finally move forward.
A national council could make university-level teaching easier, since national standards could provide a more consistent pool of math and science skills among incoming freshman students.
Daniel Stabile, a former history and English teacher, supports the National Science Board’s proposal, but said council members must be chosen carefully.
“The bottom line is it is the state’s right and responsibility to develop education programs,” he said in an interview. “This (national) council cannot be direct, and it can’t tell states what to do. That will never work.”