NSB Urges Response To Poor Achievement In Math & Science Education

July 31, 1998

The National Science Board (NSB) urges all stakeholders in kindergarten through twelfth grade education to develop a nation-wide consensus on core knowledge and competency in mathematics and science. Responding to the U.S. twelfth grade student performance on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the NSB made four recommendations for accomplishing this goal in a statement released this week titled "Failing Our Children: Implications for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study."

Nationwide consensus on core competencies is critical, emphasized NSB Chair Eamon Kelly. "Given the high degree of population mobility and the demands of the economy, all localities are preparing students for what has become a national workforce."

Kelly added that increasing mobility of Americans has resulted in shallow education for some students. "We must share core competencies in order to overcome the effects of mobility," explained Kelly. "It is ironic that a crisis in math and science education should erupt in the midst of this golden age in science and technology," he added.

The board statement describes changes that need to be made at the grass-roots level, involving the entire community of stakeholders in math and science education. Specifically, the board hopes to help reverse the below-the-international-average performance of U.S. high school students on science achievement.

In particular, the board recommends: developing a much-needed consensus on a common core of math and science knowledge and skills to be embedded consistently in instructional materials; building a system of rewards and incentives for well-trained teachers; establishing college admissions criteria that reinforce high standards; and supporting partnerships among various stakeholders to ensure access to effective programs in math and science education.

"No nation can afford to tolerate what prevails in American schooling: generally low expectations and low performance with only pockets of excellence," said Mary K. Gaillard, Chair of the NSB TIMSS Task Force. "It will not suffice to be satisfied with a small, elite cadre of highly educated engineers and scientists while the balance of our citizens remain scientifically illiterate," she said.

The National Science Board is composed of 24 members who represent the leadership of U.S. science and engineering. They are appointed by the President to oversee the National Science Foundation and to monitor the health of science in the nation. The statement reflects the board's responsibility in national science and technology policy.

Attachment: NSB Statement: Failing Our Children: Implications of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study

Editors: NSB papers and other materials are available at: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents (The policy paper titled "Failing Our Children: Implications of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study," which appears below, is posted on the web also.)

The National Science Board (NSB) was established by Congress in 1950 to serve both as an independent national science policy body and to oversee and guide the activities of the National Science Foundation.

Failing Our Children: Implications Of The Third International Mathematics And Science Study

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reports disturbing findings about the performance of U.S. secondary school students in science and mathematics, ranking them well below the international average. Together with an array of related national data, the TIMSS results raise serious concerns about the state of U.S. education.

No nation can afford to tolerate what prevails in American schooling: generally low expectations and low performance in mathematics and science, with only pockets of excellence at a world-class level of achievement. Formal education has traditionally been the path to productive careers, upward mobility, and the joy of lifelong learning. If we do not arm our children with appropriate tools, we fail them.

It is the conviction of the National Science Board that world class achievement in science and mathematics education is of critical importance to our Nation's future. In the new global context, a scientifically literate population is vital to the democratic process, a healthy economy, and our quality of life.

The National Science Board urges all stakeholders in our vast grass-roots system of K-12 education to develop a nation-wide consensus for a common core of knowledge and competency in mathematics and science.

The TIMSS report and other studies of education practices here and abroad make a compelling case for rigor and depth as essential components of mathematics and science instruction. A clear message of the data is that in-depth study of a few topics within a subject each year yields far better results than the broad, repetitive, superficial coverage of many topics that characterizes current U.S. curricula.

For a mobile population, local schools are de facto national resources for learning. Students often move several times during their K-12 education, encountering varying curricula and instructional materials that cover an increasing number of topics while sacrificing depth and rigor. Student access to exemplary teachers and support also suffers. Without better coordination across districts and States on common elements in each year of schooling, progress in students' mathematics and science knowledge and skills will not be achieved.

K-12 mathematics and science education is a shared responsibility that requires coordination and dialogue among all stakeholders. This dialogue must include parents, teachers, and principals, as well as State and local education officials, political leaders, the scientific community (including experts in educational research and cognitive science), universities and colleges, business and industry, the media, the National Science Foundation, and other Federal agencies.

Working collectively, stakeholders in every community need to address issues such as:Over the past decade, many school districts throughout the U.S. have acted to reform and invigorate teaching and learning for all students. The National Science Board applauds these efforts. They have yielded models for how the Nation might move toward more coherence in demanding and rewarding excellence in K-12 mathematics and science.

The National Science Board has a special responsibility to enlist the science and engineering community as a precious resource - both individually and through their employing institutions and professional associations - in support of local programs. Aided by a series of regional field hearings already in progress, the Board will solicit the views and analyses of stakeholders as an input to a report on possible strategies for raising student achievement.

The National Science Board affirms that rigor and depth of content will enable world-class achievement in the mathematics and science education of all citizens. These are matters of national priority, of shared responsibility, and of rededication to the American ethic of education for all. The 21st century demands nothing less.

Program contact: Daryl Chubin, (703) 306-2000, dchubin@nsf.gov
-end-


National Science Foundation

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