Reacting to reports that the United States has fallen in global competitiveness and warnings that jobs may be lost overseas if significant investments in science and math education are not made, last week the House of Representatives and the Senate each passed bills that aim to attract more individuals into science and engineering careers. The House passed the 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act (H.R. 362), and the Senate passed the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act (S. 761). Although NASSP has not taken a position on the comprehensive bills, the Association supports a number of the bills’ provisions to enhance elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education.
Both bills would authorize a competitive grant program for states to better align elementary and secondary education with the knowledge and skills necessary for students to succeed in higher education, the 21st century workforce, and the armed forces. States should use the grants to establish statewide preK–16 longitudinal data systems that will improve the rigor and quality of education requirements and assessments. Grants could also be used for developing extensive professional development for teachers, principals, and school administrators to enrich instruction and instructional support mechanisms.
The America COMPETES Act would address teacher quality by expanding internship programs for elementary and secondary school teachers at the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories and the National Science Foundation. In addition, both bills include grants to integrate programs of study for undergraduate students majoring in math, engineering, science, or a “critical” foreign language with education training so they can obtain a bachelor’s degree that leads to teacher certification. The Senate bill could extend this provision to master’s degree programs. The bills would also expand the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program by increasing the minimum scholarship awarded to undergraduate math and science majors from $7,500 to $10,000.
The Senate bill would authorize an initiative proposed by President Bush in his 2006 State of the Union Address, the Math Now for Elementary School Students and Math Now for Middle School Students programs. Under the programs, grants would be provided for school districts to improve math instruction for elementary and middle level students and to make targeted assistance available for students struggling with math. Grants would also be used to provide professional development for teachers, administrators, and other school staff members to improve their mathematical content knowledge and the use of effective instructional practices. NASSP was very pleased to see the Math Now program included in the legislation because passage of this provision was one of the recommendations for NCLB reauthorization that NASSP and several other education associations sent to lawmakers in April.
NASSP also was very pleased to see in both bills an emphasis on AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in high-need middle level and high schools, a recommendation included in the NASSP Legislative Recommendations for High School Reform (www.nassp.org). In particular, the Senate bill would increase by 70,000 over four years the number of teachers serving in high-need schools who are qualified to teach AP or IB courses in math, science, and critical foreign languages and would increase by 700,000 per year the number of students taking these courses.
President Bush has expressed “serious concern” over these bills. Bush pointed to the authorization levels for new and existing education programs, adding that these bills would overstep the federal government’s role in education. “The Administration also strongly objects to the provision of the [House] bill that creates a pilot program that would fund construction and maintenance of high school science laboratories, an activity that is not an appropriate role of the Federal government,” Bush said in a statement. In light of these reservations, the president has not threatened a veto on either bill.
A House and Senate conference committee will now meet to work out differences in the two bills, with compromise possible in the coming weeks.