Science and Technology Forum
October 21, 1999
Dr. Neal Lane
Thank you for those kind words. I want especially to thank Rodney Nichols and Allison de Cerreño for inviting me today. I'm honored to be here.
The last time I had the pleasure to visit the Academy was in March of 1995, I talked about “Leading the NSF into the 21st Century.” It's amazing what one can learn in four years. My role has changed somewhat – I am now trying to provide some leadership for a much broader S&T portfolio. But one thing that has not changed – and that is my optimism about the contributions our S&T enterprise can make to national prosperity and well-being in coming decades. And my commitment – working with the President, Vice President and Congress to strengthen it.
Many New Yorkers don't truly recognize it's October unless the Yankees are in the World Series. Well, many Washingtonians don't believe it's October until they start living from one continuing resolution to another. The Congressional appropriations process is another reason I'm pleased to be in New York today. The current squeeze on science and technology appropriations reminds me of one of Yogi Berra's pearls of wisdom: “A nickel isn't worth a dime today.” Or was it the other way around?
As you know, it has been a season of great uncertainty for science and technology. DOE science programs received a disappointing mark – particularly the Spallation Neutron Source – and Congress continues to turn a deaf ear to calls from industry and academia for strong and stable funding for energy R&D. Their decision to zero-out funding for GPS modernization – just as the Europeans announce their plans for a potentially competitive system called Galileo – is completely baffling. The situation was so alarming that John Podesta, Presidential Chief of Staff, gave a rousing speech entirely on S&T at the Press Club. The continuing resolution that has kept NIH in business for the past few weeks expires today, but Congress still has not settled on a plan for FY 2000 funding for biomedical research, although progress was made yesterday, as the Senate moved to add 2 billion to NIH for FY2000 – but don't have confirmation of House agreement.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when – at the urging of Jack Lew and John Podesta – the conference rejected the House marks for NSF and NASA and brought in budgets close to the President's request. Although NASA's budget is loaded with earmarks for favorite projects and institutions – once again a growing problem. The President signed that bill yesterday. But how did we reach a point where investment in science and technology – investment that creates jobs, strengthens our position as a world leader, and improves the quality of life – is something we have to rescue from the brink of disaster? Could it have anything to do with the absence of Newt Gingrich?
Many of you have been involved over the years in the ongoing debate on the “right” level of funding for R&D. It's a good use of our time – even though finding that “right” answer eludes us every time. I certainly plan to spend a good deal of my time on this question as the FY 2001 discussions get underway, and I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and recommendations on the matter.
Today, however, I would like to talk about the sine qua non for creativity and innovation in America – math and science education. I don't claim that there's anything new here, but I want to get your thoughts. So, I'll start. I want to quickly do four things:
1. Review some of the reasons we need a technologically literate population;
2. Describe some of the symptoms of “technological illiteracy” that concern me;
3. Provide an overview of some of the Federal programs that address this concern; and
4. Put some questions on the table about other steps we might take to improve math and science education in America.
The Senate showed us one reason we need a technologically literate population last week with the poor quality of its debate on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Senate displayed an alarming disrespect for the American people in addition to disregard for national security. They did not have, nor did they seek, the scientific or technical information that would have supported the type of sophisticated debate we should have had on the treaty.
And the CTBT is just one example of political issues that require knowledge of science and technology. Democratically resolving many of the complex issues that we face in the next few years – from stem cell research, to mitigation of climate change, to production of genetically modified foods – requires a citizenry conversant in science and technology.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “Those who expect to be both ignorant and free, expect what never was and never will be.” We need to take Jefferson's words to heart and preserve our country's freedom by educating our people in all the essentials
Jobs are another reason we need a technologically literate population. According to the Department of Commerce, 60 percent of all new jobs in the year 2020 will require skills – technological skills – possessed by only 22 percent of our workers today. Obviously, individuals will succeed in our complex economy only if they understand and can use math and science – the concepts, the process of thinking, and the tools. And national prosperity depends on the success of individuals – many of whom never take a science course after high school.
Given that we need a technologically literate population. Now I would like to move on to the question of whether we're providing an education that leads to technological literacy. Several measures of our performance lead me to conclude we are not. For instance the Third International Mathematics and Science Study –TIMSS – examined the educational achievement of more than half a million students in 45 countries. It showed that our children are falling behind students from other countries in mathematics and science, particularly in the middle grades and high school. TIMSS has its imperfections, but we still take note of the results.
I'm also concerned that our teachers are not prepared for the challenges we give them. Many K-12 teachers wind up in front of math and science classes they have not been trained to lead. A large number of K-12 teachers lack math and science skills equivalent to the grade-level requirements for the children they teach. In addition, we are hearing ever-louder complaints from teachers that we've invested too much in the hardware of educational technology and not enough in software, curriculum development, or even basic maintenance of the hardware. For example 6 out of 10 teachers report having a “somewhat” or “very difficult” time finding the right products and Web sources to meet the needs of their classrooms. And in Fairfax County Virginia, teachers have to wait 3 to four days for computer repairs – a big disincentive to building educational technology into the daily curriculum.
Unfortunately, computer maintenance problems are just the tip of the iceberg for many schools. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently issued a report card on America's infrastructure and gave our K-12 buildings a grade of F. This has become a national problem, and it demands national action. We simply cannot ask our teachers to build up children in buildings that are literally falling down.
The last harbinger of technological illiteracy I will mention is our inability to interest a large and diverse group of students in careers in science and technology. The current direction of the U.S. economy clearly indicates that we will need more scientists, engineers, and people with technical training. Demographers tell us that the fastest-growing populations – minority populations – are not attracted to those fields. We have been fortunate that young people from other countries have come to the U.S. to study and, many, to stay. But we are projecting fierce international competition for workers in growth areas such as electronics and information technology. This concern makes it more crucial than ever that the United States meet its coming S&T workforce needs from within its own populace, rather than relying on increasing immigration.
Educational progress – getting more people to the starting gates of the new economy – is the Clinton/Gore Administration's number one goal. And we are taking action aimed at K-12 education, lifelong learning, and diversification.
By far the largest math and science education programs in the Federal government fall under the Title 1 and Goals 2000 programs administered by the Department of Education. Thanks to those programs, 49 states have standards that spell out what all students need to know and be able to do in core subjects. The Education Department also supports high-quality professional development for K-12 math and science teachers through the Eisenhower program. And NSF's systemic initiatives support K-12 reforms tied to high standards in mathematics and science and that emphasize inquiry based learning. We are working with Congress to reauthorize many of these large programs, for much work remains to be done. The authorization process has been difficult, but it has been much smoother than this round of appropriations.
We have taken a number of steps to address the predicted shortage of K-12 math and science teachers. Under the leadership of former Senator and astronaut John Glenn, the new National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century will focus its work on making it possible for teachers to do their jobs. I am working with them in an ex officio capacity to develop recommendations on how to provide support throughout teachers' careers and on how to improve math and science teaching methods.
We have also recruited a relatively new player to this issue of teacher recruitment and retention – the Commerce Department's National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST has started a pilot program that partners school boards with local businesses to recruit math, science, and technology teachers and provide them with a yearlong salary for at least four years. Business leaders will guarantee summer employment for the teachers and support development of teaching methods that incorporate real-world experience. The program is just getting started, so we don't know how it will fare – but it promises to be an excellent way for the federal government and the event communities, and their schools to work together.
Improving education research remains a key area of interest for OSTP. I hope that many of you are familiar with the 1997 report by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on technology in K-12 education in the United States. The report pointed out that we invest less than 0.1 percent of the more than $300 billion spent on K-12 public education each year to examine and improve educational practice; by contrast, the pharmaceutical industry invests nearly a quarter of its expenditures on the development and testing of new drugs. PCAST called for dramatically increased investment in educational R&D, and for improvements in its quality.
As a result of the PCAST recommendations, and with the guidance of illustrious New Yorkers and PCAST members David Hamburg and David Shaw, we established the Interagency Educational Research Initiative. The ultimate objective of the IERI is to conduct large-scale, interdisciplinary research that will yield educational strategies that improve K-12 education.
For example, the IERI has recently funded an effort to scale up an automated reading tutor based on recent advances in speech recognition pioneered by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. This tutor displays stories on a computer screen, "listens" to children as they read aloud, and gives them hints and cues when they hesitate or make mistakes. The researchers will now be able to test the effectiveness of this tutor in preventing reading difficulties on a larger scale than ever before, and in comparison to human tutors and commercially available software programs.
This Administration has emphasized not just K-12 education, but the importance of lifelong learning. In the near future, perhaps already, a degree – high school, college, or even graduate level – will not be sufficient education for a lifelong career. Continuing education and training will become the norm for workers in all fields as technology advances. To help the Federal government prepare for this inevitability, President Clinton has issued an Executive Memorandum to ensure that the Federal workforce will receive up-to-date training and skills enhancement to improve their performance as public servants – and to enrich their overall educational experience.
The Federal government has also tried to address concerns about diversity in the S&T workforce. The Bridges Program at the National Institutes of Health, which helps students at two-year community colleges make the transition to four-year colleges,
But even with these impressive Federal programs, I wonder whether we can really expect to meet our goal of technological literacy without greater efforts by all the stakeholders. For instance, many observers have raised concerns about the poor quality of math and science teaching in colleges and universities for college students who are not Science & Engineering majors. Can we get universities to devote more resources and the faculty to pay more attention to educating non Science & Engineering majors.
More than a few observers assert that there's far too little interaction between faculty in the schools of education and scientists and engineers in other university departments. Can we get our future math and science teachers some help from the physicists, chemists, biologists, and mathematicians who rarely set foot in our schools of education?
Industry has a huge stake in the outcome of our educational process. Can we get industry to take a larger role in educating and training a diverse workforce? More efforts like those of Bill Gates – even if not on quite so grand a scale – would go a long way toward improving the outlook for the 21st century workforce.
I started out asking you for your views on the “right” level of funding for the nation's S&T enterprise. I also invite your views on the “right” ways to improve math and science education in this country – whether the actions need to come from the Federal government or from other partners in this vital endeavor. We have to work as partners.
In closing, I want to reiterate that math and science education prepares all of us for the responsibilities and the benefits of citizenship. You are among the best educated and most accomplished citizens in this nation, and I call on you to be “civic scientists.” Your opportunities to use your knowledge of S&T for the greater good can come in many forms. A fine example of civic scientists is the group of eight Nobel Laureates in physics who came to the White House on October 6 to stand with the President and me in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which nevertheless was rejected by the Senate.
Another example is embodied in one of your own active members, Dr. Joshua Lederberg, a tireless advocate for preparedness for bioterrorism. Josh has also played a leading role in the development of the Administration's policy on emerging infectious diseases. Josh exemplifies the civic scientist, who applies the lessons learned in research to the needs of society.
I urge all scientists and engineers to give up a little of their lab time, office time, or classroom time to go out and get involved personally in the national, state, and local issues that can benefit from their knowledge of science and technology. I believe the future of our nation – and the long-term health of the S&T enterprise – depend on it. I also have come to believe that in addition to our individual efforts, our collective voice needs to be heard, and that will require coordination and consensus building well beyond anything we have done before.
I thank you for all the great work you do through the New York Academy, and I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you here today.
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