FEd Spring 2002 Newsletter - No Child Left Behind? – Teaching Science and the Department of Education Budget– Good Intentions, Political Realities, Unintended Consequences

Spring 2002



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No Child Left Behind? – Teaching Science and the Department of Education Budget– Good Intentions, Political Realities, Unintended Consequences

Kenneth J. Heller 

With a great flourish Congress passed and the President signed the law authorizing funding the Department of Education for 2002, the “No Child Is Left Behind Act of 2001.” Its primary goal seems to be to give States greater flexibility in spending Federal education money and to hold them accountable for results by measuring student performance on a yearly test. The multifaceted nature of the Federal budget mirrors the complexity of our country’s educational problems. As physicists, however, many of us feel a special responsibility to improving the level of science teaching in our schools. We know the survival of our society depends on having a steady flow of young people into science and technology. We also believe that the funding of research in this country requires an increasingly scientifically literate population to support it. Our political leaders are familiar with the problem and often state it as a National Security issue (see for example the report of the U.S. Commission on National Security http://www.nssg.gov/Reports/reports.html. )

“The nation is on the verge of a downward spiral in which current shortages will beget even more acute future shortages of high-quality professionals and competent teachers. The word “crisis” is much overused, but it is entirely appropriate here. If the United States does not stop and reverse negative educational trends—the general teacher shortage, and the downward spiral in science and math education and performance—it will be unable to maintain its position of global leadership over the next quarter century.”


The difficulty is that the consequences of science education are in the future while schools have to survive the present. Overcrowded classrooms, drugs, weapons in schools, teacher shortages, multilingual classrooms, special education, etc, etc, are the focus of attention. As they say in Florida: “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember you’re trying to drain the swamp.” Within Congress, there are two strong voices in the House of Representatives calling attention to the importance of Federal funding for improving science teaching in our schools: the physicists, V. Ehlers (R, Michigan) and R. Holt (D, New Jersey). The Congressional Record shows they fought hard in the losing battle to keep the federal funding targeted for improving science teaching. Now the Eisenhower grants that many university and college physics departments used to provide professional development to science teachers have been eliminated. Funding still exists that the States could use for this purpose but they can also be used for other needs. If we believe federal funds should be used to support improved science teaching, physicists, in cooperation with other science and technology professionals, must become more engaged in guiding State and local school funding. There are tools that remain in the law, described below, that can be useful.


The good news is that the 2002 budget of the Department of Education increased about 15% to 51.4 billion dollars with about 2/3 going directly to the states. The law that determines this federal spending comes in three different parts. The first part is the authorization law. This is H.R. 1 or the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” signed into law as P.L. 107-110 (public law number 110 from the 107th Congress). It sets forth policy but only gives guidelines for allocating money. The second part is the appropriations law H. R. 3061 signed into law as P.L. 107-116.  This is the law that actually allocates the funding and as such modifies the policy set forth in the authorization law. The third part is the Congressional Conference Report 107-342. This report is attached to the appropriations law to specify how Congress intends the budgeted money to be spent. All of these documents are available from the Library of Congress Web Site, Thomas (http://thomas.loc.gov)


Good Intentions


The “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” contains the good intentions of Congress and the President. There are two parts of the Act that most directly impact science teaching. First, the Act requires the testing of students for mathematics and reading proficiency beginning in 2002 and science in 2007;

“Each State plan shall demonstrate that the State educational agency, in consultation with

local educational agencies, has implemented a set of high-quality, yearly student academic assessments that include, at a minimum, academic assessments in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science that will be used as the primary means of determining the yearly performance of the State and of each local educational agency and school in the State in enabling all children to meet the State’s challenging student academic achievement standards, except that no State shall be required to meet the requirements of this part relating to science assessments until the beginning of the 2007–2008 school year.”

Second, it authorizes Congress to appropriate $450M for mathematics and science partnerships. This funding was to replace the Eisenhower grants that were previously used to fund professional development for mathematics and science teachers. In the new law the partnerships have the following set of authorized activities:


“An eligible partnership shall use funds provided under this part for one or more of the following activities related to elementary schools or secondary schools:

(1) Creating opportunities for enhanced and ongoing professional development of mathematics and science teachers that improves the subject matter knowledge of such teachers.

(2) Promoting strong teaching skills for mathematics and science teachers and teacher educators, including integrating reliable scientifically based research teaching methods and technology-based teaching methods into the curriculum.

(3) Establishing and operating mathematics and science summer workshops or institutes, including follow-up training, for elementary school and secondary school mathematics and science teachers that—

(A) shall—

(i) directly relate to the curriculum and academic areas in which the teacher provides instruction, and focus only secondarily on pedagogy;

(ii) enhance the ability of the teacher to understand and use the challenging State academic content standards for mathematics and science and to select appropriate curricula; and

(iii) train teachers to use curricula that are—

(I) based on scientific research;

(II) aligned with challenging State academic content standards; and

(III) object-centered, experiment-oriented, and concept- and content-based; and

(B) may include—

(i) programs that provide teachers and prospective teachers with opportunities to work under the guidance of experienced teachers and college faculty;

(ii) instruction in the use of data and assessments to inform and instruct classroom practice; and

(iii) professional development activities, including supplemental and follow-up activities, such as curriculum alignment, distance learning, and activities that train teachers to utilize technology in the classroom.

(4) Recruiting mathematics, engineering, and science majors to teaching through the use of—

(A) signing and performance incentives that are linked to activities proven effective in retaining teachers, for individuals with demonstrated professional experience in mathematics, engineering, or science;

(B) stipends provided to mathematics and science teachers for certification through alternative routes;

(C) scholarships for teachers to pursue advanced course work in mathematics, engineering, or science; and

(D) other programs that the State educational agency determines to be effective in recruiting and retaining individuals with strong mathematics, engineering, or science backgrounds.

(5) Developing or redesigning more rigorous mathematics and science curricula that are aligned with challenging State and local academic content standards and with the standards expected for postsecondary study in mathematics and science.

(6) Establishing distance learning programs for mathematics and science teachers using curricula that are innovative, content-based, and based on scientifically based research that is current as of the date of the program involved.

(7) Designing programs to prepare a mathematics or science teacher at a school to provide professional development to other mathematics or science teachers at the school and to assist beginning and other teachers at the school, including (if applicable) a mechanism to integrate the teacher’s experiences from a summer workshop or institute into the provision of professional development and assistance.

(8) Establishing and operating programs to bring mathematics and science teachers into contact with working scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, to expand such teachers’ subject matter knowledge of and research in science and mathematics.

(9) Designing programs to identify and develop exemplary mathematics and science teachers in the kindergarten through grade 8 classrooms.

(10) Training mathematics and science teachers and developing programs to encourage young women and other underrepresented individuals in mathematics and science careers (including engineering and technology) to pursue postsecondary degrees in majors leading to such careers.”


Political Reality


An authorization law giveth and the appropriations law taketh away. The appropriations law is almost impossible to understand from a simple reading. This is probably because it is designed to amend existing law and because, in this case, it was passed before the authorization bill. It creates a category called “School Improvement Programs” funded at a level of $7.8B. The Conference Report attached to the appropriation law clarifies what is really to be funded and is summarized by tables at the end of the Report. The appropriation reduces science and mathematics partnership funding from $450M to $12.5M. This amount is clearly too little to be distributed to States and in no way replaces the $375M Eisenhower grants allocated last year. However, under “School Improvement Programs” the Conference Report has a section called “Improving teacher quality” funded at $2.85B. The report states:


“Grants for Improving Teacher Quality consolidates and streamlines the Eisenhower Professional Development program and the Class Size Reduction program to allow greater flexibility for local school districts. The purpose of this part is to provide grants to States, school districts, State agencies for higher education, and eligible partnerships to: (1) increase student academic achievement through such strategies as improving teacher and principal quality and increasing the number of highly qualified teachers in the classroom and highly qualified principals and assistant principals in schools; (2) hold districts and schools accountable for improvements in student academic achievement; and (3) hold districts and schools accountable so that all teachers teaching core academic subjects in public elementary schools and secondary schools are highly qualified.”


Although nothing in the purpose of the $2.85B mentions teaching science or professional development, the Conference Report continues with specific intentions about funding for mathematics and science teaching.


“The conferees believe that providing high-quality math and science instruction is of critical importance to our Nation’s future competitiveness, and agree that math and science professional development opportunities should be expanded. The conferees therefore strongly urge the Secretary and the States to continue to fund math and science activities within the Teacher Quality Grant program at a comparable level in fiscal year 2002.”


Referring to the $12.5 M for mathematics and science partnerships, the Conference Report goes on to state:


“The conferees note that, although this is a separate program designed specifically for the development of high quality math and science professional development opportunities, in no way do the conferees intend to discourage the Secretary and States from using other federal funding for math and science instructional improvement programs. The conferees strongly urge the Secretary and States to utilize funding provided by the Teacher Quality Grant program, as well as other programs funded by the federal government, to strengthen math and science education programs across the Nation.”


When reading the Conference Report, it is important to note that the Teacher Quality Grant program is not burdened by a special interest laundry list redirecting money to local projects that, however valuable, are not arrived at by allowing the local educational community to determine its priorities. This flexibility is carried even further since, from the authorization law, a State can redirect up to half of the grant to any other educational function funded by the law.



Unintended Consequences


The funding for the School Improvement Programs is to be distributed such that 95% goes to the local school districts, 2.5% is for State activities, and 2.5% is for local partnerships. “Strongly urge” is not the same as “require” but it does give the intent of Congress. However, local school districts must be convinced that allocating some funds for improved science teaching is in their interest. Instead of being recognized as a national priority by targeted funding, science teaching will now compete with other school needs drawing from a federal block grant to the States. This is a victory for those who believe in less federal control of educational policy. However, the playing field for the funding competition is not level. Mathematics and reading tests are mandated almost immediately but science tests will come, if at all, in the future. School districts, especially those in academically disadvantaged communities, will feel the pressure to spend all available money on math and reading basic skills.

One measure of the country’s current status in teaching science is the achievement of students on various national and international tests. None of these results show that science literacy is a solved problem so that educational effort can be directed elsewhere. For example, the Department of Education's 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) for science is given on the following table http://www.nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/science/results/:



4th Grade

8th Grade

12th Grade








Below basic





























There is the very real danger that the country will slide backwards in the preparation of its children for a technologically advanced society. It might be natural for school systems with already above average reading and math scores, typically suburban schools, to fund science teaching improvement while those that are below average, typically inner city schools, to fund only reading and math efforts. This could lead to a larger science and technology gap which, in turn, could lead to a larger gap in earning potential for the graduates of those school systems. 


On the other hand, it is not clear that we have been making great progress under the old scheme of Eisenhower funding either. Perhaps it is too early to tell or perhaps the tests are measuring the wrong thing. In any case we now have an opportunity to use the larger amount of funding available to improve teacher quality to significantly improve science teaching in this country. Science will no longer be an isolated item in a school district’s budget that teachers and principles view as not a “real” academic subject but is taught only because there is funding available. States and local school districts will now have to decide if science is important enough to compete for funding with other areas. In many places, science teaching will only survive in the schools if there is an effort of concerned citizens and teachers stressing its importance for children. The language of Congress in both the authorization law and the committee report accompanying the appropriation law can give weight to those efforts. It will clearly help if university and college groups in collaboration with school districts design professional development programs for science teachers that also help increase math and reading test scores.

Kenneth J. Heller is Past Chair of the Forum on Education and is a Professor of Physics at the University of Minnesota