Subcommittee Chairman John Ensign (R-Nev.) will preside.
Senator John Ensign
Hearing on, “Fostering Innovation in Math and Science Education”
April 26, 2006
Welcome to today’s hearing on, “Fostering Innovation in Math and Science Education.”
The past two years have seen an unprecedented amount of activity and interest in math and science education. First, the Council on Competitiveness unveiled the National Innovation Initiative. Following that, the National Academies released a report entitled, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” Each of these reports lists specific recommendations to Congress that are designed to increase the competitiveness of the United States, in the areas of math and science education.
These reports have elicited numerous legislative proposals. Senator Lieberman and I introduced the National Innovation Act. Senators Alexander, Bingaman, and others introduced three different bills that make up the Protecting America’s Competitive Edge, or PACE, Acts. President Bush unveiled his American Competitiveness Initiative earlier this year.
While we might differ in our approaches, all of us agree we need to help better prepare our nation’s students in math and science education.
This country has a long-standing history of being one of the most inventive and innovative countries in the world. We have also fostered competition and attracted scientists, engineers, and mathematicians from across the world. I feel, however, that we are losing that competitive edge.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to look at what is working in the fields of math and science education. Each of the witnesses here today is part of the solution to a vexing problem. The problem is how do we get more students interested in math and science classes and how do we make good math and science classes available to every student?
When drafting the National Innovation Act, I was appalled to learn that less than one-third of U.S. fourth grade and eighth grade students performed at or above proficient in math. American fifteen-year-olds ranked 24th out of the forty countries that participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) examination. That examination measured a student’s application of mathematical concepts to real-world problems.
It is no wonder that while China graduated approximately 350,000 engineers, computer scientists, and information technologists with 4-year degrees in 2004, the United States graduated approximately 140,000 students with 4-year degrees in these same fields. We need to do better.
The National Innovation Act does three things to help improve America’s competitiveness: it increases research investment; it increases science and technology talent; and it develops an innovation infrastructure.
Today, I would like to focus on how the National Innovation Act increases science and technology talent. Specifically this legislation increases the number of graduate fellowships and graduate traineeships at the National Science Foundation. This would help students pursue graduate degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The National Innovation Act also encourages the development of Professional Science Master’s Degree Programs as a means of increasing the number of highly skilled graduates entering the science and technology workforce.
My legislation also supports the Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Expansion Talent program (commonly called the Tech Talent program), which provides funding to universities to increase the number of graduates with degrees in math and science.
Finally, the legislation extends the Department of Defense’s Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship program which supports individuals pursing doctoral and master’s degrees in relevant fields.
I believe that the federal government needs a four-pronged approach to improving STEM education and truly fostering innovation in math and science education. First, I believe that math and science related programs need to be housed and supported in agencies that have proven track records in providing effective math and science education programs, both for teachers and for students. Second, it is vital that we take stock of all current federally-funded programs as we move forward with comprehensive legislation. Third, it may be necessary to create some new federal programs to support programs that have been proven effective in the field. Congress must ensure that we do not hamper these efforts, but enhance them. Finally, it is absolutely imperative that we include metrics – measurements of effectiveness – for current and new programs.
The National Innovation Act is a great step towards meeting these goals.
I am going to work with my colleagues on the Commerce and HELP Committees to come up with common sense solutions to these problems. In doing so, we hope to work with each of you here today and draw on your expertise.
By working together the Federal Government can help ongoing projects and solutions and graduate more students in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fields.
Today, we are pleased to have a distinguished panel of witnesses with experience across the spectrum and who are on the front lines working with our students every day. I look forward to all of our witnesses’ testimony and their response to questions of the Subcommittee.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Mary Ann RankinDean of the College of Natural SciencesUniversity of Texas at Austin
Mr. Paul DuganSuperintendentWashoe County School District
Mr. Thomas N. McCauslandPresident and CEOSiemans Medical Solutions USA, Inc.
Click here for a copy of Mr. McCausland's testimony.
Dr. Ioannis MiaoulisPresident and DirectorMuseum of Science in Boston