Committee on Science and Technology
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Member Speeches :: February 10, 2006

Prepared Remarks by the Hon. Mark Udall for the National Science Board Meeting on Science Education

University of Colorado
Boulder, Colorado

Good afternoon. I want to thank the National Science Board for inviting me to participate in this event and share some of my thoughts about NSF and STEM education from a Congressional point of view.

As many of you know, I represent the Second District of Colorado - which includes the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as many of our mountain communities within Clear Creek, Summit, Grand and Eagle Counties. Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District includes both high plains and high tech and is a great example of the economic potential of the West.

Because Colorado has the 4th largest space economy in the country, I am proud to serve as the Ranking Member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee. I am also co-chair with Representative Vern Ehlers the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - or STEM - Education Caucus.

With the NOAA and NIST labs, important scientific research being performed at our Universities, and many leading high-tech companies based in the area, the STEM disciplines are crucial in driving Colorado’s economy.

Scientific innovation is, therefore, a particularly relevant issue for Colorado and the district I represent. Most important of all, scientific research and innovation are the lifeblood of America’s economic future.

As some of you may know, the National Academies - a most distinguished group of leaders in science and industry - were asked by Congress to report on the top priorities facing our nation in the 21st Century. That report, entitled The Gathering Storm, is sobering. It should be required reading for every politician, every teacher, every business leader in the country. I will talk more about this report and its clarion call to action a bit later.

Suffice it to say this report makes clear that the world’s economic borders are shrinking, and America’s ability to remain competitive hinges on our commitment to research and development.

This is not just a matter of our economic health. Leading the world in scientific innovation is a matter of national security. For these reasons, we must make necessary investments and provide ample support to STEM education.

The trends for students in math and science are not encouraging. We are graduating fewer and fewer students in STEM fields and we are investing less and less in these areas. What are we going to do about it? I would like to outline two areas I believe our nation should focus on as we evaluate methods to encourage the study of STEM subjects and the role of NSF in this process.

First, we need to maximize the potential of our community and technical college system. Community and technical colleges play a key role in ensuring that Americans have an opportunity for a quality education to establish depth in our workforce. Historically these institutions have been the leaders in training workers for technical industries.

The National Association of Manufacturers has continually found community colleges to be the preferred training institutions to supply workers to the workforce, and community colleges have taken important steps to provide the training for their students to successfully enter the workforce. Community and technical colleges are often overlooked in STEM education. This is an area where NSF could have greater involvement. The Advanced Technological Education program - or ATE - is the only program at NSF that is specifically geared toward two-year institutions.

ATE is an effective model because it engages businesses in the community to work with the colleges to develop curricula that serve the local economy. In other words, students that graduate from these schools have the skills needed to enter the local workforce with little transition. This is cost-effective for businesses and yields a great return for a student’s investment in their education. We should expand this program and give it greater focus. In the FY06 budget, this program was funded at $45 million; however, in order for it to support just a quarter of the proposals it receives, this program needs $70 million.

I sought to increase funding to this program in an amendment to the Manufacturing Technology Competitiveness Act. My amendment came within two votes of passage, so I plan to continue to support greater funding of this program in an effort to see the interaction between NSF and community colleges grow.

The second area I would like to address is greater use of the science community in the classroom. The scientific community has the knowledge and resources to make sure that training and teaching is engaging, informative and cutting-edge.

NSF is in a unique position to facilitate greater communication between the scientific and education communities because of the research it supports in these areas. I believe we can do more to support content training and professional development for teachers of STEM subject.

Congress passed far-reaching NSF reauthorization legislation in the 107th Congress that included funding for science education at all levels. I’m pleased that the bill also included provisions of my own legislation to provide scholarships to students or professionals who have a degree in science or engineering. The scholarships will enable them to take the courses they need to become certified as science or math teachers.

I would like to highlight two programs supported by NSF that are operating in my district that demonstrate successful interaction between educators and the scientific community. The first is the Rocky Mountain Middle School Math and Science Partnership. The only Math and Science Partnership in Colorado, it works with seven school districts and four institutes of higher education in the state. Many schools in Colorado and throughout the country are struggling to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements under No Child Left Behind.

With a motto of "15 months to HQ" - or "Highly Qualified" - this program has created rigorous coursework developed among the universities and the school districts to provide teachers with content knowledge and challenging curricula to take back to their classrooms. This program focuses on middle school, an important transitional time for many students, and seeks to train current teachers as well as recruit for the future.

The Math and Science Partnership has proven results and is an effective model for other programs linking academia to K-12 teachers. The past two years I have worked with my colleague, Mr. Ehlers, to increase funding for this program both at NSF and the Department of Education, and will continue to do so in the FY07 budget.

Another program that I believe successfully engages the scientific community is "Hands on Optics." This program links optics professionals with teachers at 18 different schools participating in MESA - or Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement - schools. MESA supports minority and female students in their study of STEM subjects.

Hands on Optics provides a unique opportunity for students to participate in hands-on optics activities to see how science is put to use in the optics industry, thus providing practical use of their knowledge.

These are just two programs that I believe can be used as models as we develop an enhance STEM education program.

Since the release of the Gathering Storm report, Congress has been active in setting forth several different proposals to increase our investment in STEM education.

Representative Gordon has introduced legislation that would directly implement the recommendations of this report. I am a cosponsor of these bills and hope they will initiate debate about how we can best serve innovation in our country. These bills will strengthen our economy by ensuring students have the resources necessary to successfully compete in the global marketplace.

In the end, I believe because NSF has close ties with the scientific community it could play a unique role in developing and providing support services to enhance our country’s math and science education programs and I support increased resources being directed to education within the agency.

I would like to thank you for providing the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and I eagerly await your report next year.

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