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Policy Updates

Update on the continuing debate over the future of the MSP program and the role of the NSF in K-12 education.

The proposals for changes in the NSF MSP program continue to be debated in the Congress, in the Senate as well as the House. Reservations about the President's proposal, to phase out the NSF program, and to replace it with a competitive grant program for high school mathematics, as part of the Department of Education's MSP program, continue to be a feature of the debate. As the discussion has progressed, specific principles are being identified, whose significance reaches well beyond the MSP proposal itself, to include the role of NSF in K-12 education, and aspects of national education policy.

The National Science Board, and Senators such as Jay Rockefeller and Christopher Bond have identified several key issues that are raised bythe President's proposal. First, they argue that elementary and secondary education are important elements for the NSF's mission, and that the NSF in turn plays a key role in promoting the best math and science education at these levels, as well as at the college level.

The second point raised is that the MSPs address a hitherto missing linkage between the research community and the K-12 educational enterprise, by creating models for substantive and direct involvement of research mathematicians and scientists in K-12 reform.

Third, the NSF's competitive grant model stimulates innovation and the emergence of high-quality programs, and makes a unique contribution complementary to the formula-grant ED MSP program.

The National Science Board has issued a comprehensive statement of these points, placing them in the context of an urgent need for improvement in math/science education. Here is the text, which was signed by Board Chairman Warren M. Washington:

"Education is a core mission of the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF not only promotes research, but also shares in the responsibility for promoting quality math and science education as intertwining objectives at all levels of education across the United States. NSF's highly competitive peer-review process is second to none for openly and objectively identifying, reviewing, selecting, funding and providing stewardship for the very best science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) proposals and programs in research and education.

"Science and mathematics competency is becoming ever more essential to individuals and nations in an increasingly global workforce and economy. STEM education is a special challenge for the highly mobile US population, because it demands a sequential, cumulative acquisition of knowledge and skills. To raise US student performance to a world-class level, all components of the US education system must achieve a consensus on a common core of mathematics and science knowledge and skills. These core competencies must be embedded consistently in instructional materials and practices everywhere and at all levels, without precluding locally held prerogatives about the content of curricula.

"The NSF's Math and Science Partnerships (MSPs) are important tools for addressing a critical - but currently very weak - link between pre-college and higher education. This major new national initiative, outlined in NSF's 2002 Authorization Act, has received strong and broad support from Congress and was signed into law by President Bush. It provides for the collaboration between pre-college and college to promote excellence in teaching and learning; therefore facilitating the transitions for students from kindergarten through the baccalaureate in STEM disciplines. The added benefit for our nation is those students who do not choose STEM careers become the informed scientifically literate voting citizens we need for the 21st Century.

"We do not have the luxury of time for further political debate on how to bring our nation's education system up to a world-class level in science and mathematics - much less to achieve world leadership in these critical competencies. NSF has the mandate, depth of experience, and well-established relationships to build the partnerships for excellence in STEM education. The Board, therefore, strongly urges that continued, full funding of the MSP Program at NSF be sustained over the long term as an essential component of a coordinated Federal effort to promote national excellence in science, mathematics and engineering."

The entire NSB statement is available here (search for "closing remarks"):

For more information on these and other developments, see the FYI newsletter of the American Institute of Physics: