American science and math competitiveness couldn’t be a hotter topic in Congress right now if it were made in a fusion reactor.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush highlighted science and math research and education as the keys to keeping America competitive in the global economy, and senators soon fell in line, proposing billions for science education .
Now the push to keep the United States ahead of China and India is gaining momentum from an eight-part bill from the House Committee on Science that will be introduced this week.
The legislation would have the National Science Foundation get to work on cultivating science and engineering majors at the college level, and providing extensive professional development for pre-college science teachers.
Experts have frequently lamented huge cuts in the president's budget proposal for the 2007 fiscal year -- which would preclude any new activities -- to the NSF Math and Science Partnership program, which matches colleges with schools.
But one part of the new bill to be introduced seeks to create a program at NSF that would give grants -- up to $2 million per year -- to science and engineering departments at colleges and universities so that they can create training programs for school teachers.
The call by experts for professional development for science teachers has been loud in the halls of Congress, and the bill seeks to have ongoing training for teachers, including instruction on incorporating lab experiences into the classroom.
The bill would also establish a program at NSF to give grants to college and university departments of science, math or engineering to help create “Centers for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering” that would be devoted to improving the quality of teaching in undergraduate science courses. The grants could be used for, among other things, pedagogy research, and implementation of experimental curricula.
The bill would require that at least 1.5 percent of the money appropriated to the science foundation for Research and Related Activities be spent for the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program. IGERT gives money to colleges to provide interdisciplinary research experiences for science and engineering undergraduate and graduate students.
The bill also calls for the minimum scholarship for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which gives money to science, math and engineering college students who commit to teaching after graduation, to be raised from $7,500 to $10,000.
One of the two parts of the bill not directed at NSF calls for a comprehensive evaluation of the professional science master’s degree, addressing how well the degree prepares students for emerging fields, and whether the degree helps attract underrepresented minorities.
The bill would also establish programs at the Department of Energy that give scholarships or fellowships for professional development for teachers and research experiences for undergraduates.