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House Science Committee Holds Hearing Featuring Sociologist Expert on Science Education

Subcommittee examines undergraduate science, math, and engineering education and teacher preparation, and why students leave or avert the sciences

MARCH 15, 2006, WASHINGTON, DC— The Research Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science held a hearing looking into the condition of teacher education in STEM areas (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The five-member witness panel included sociologist Elaine Seymour of the University of Colorado-Boulder. Seymour was the first to deliver her prepared statement. Other witnesses included Carl Wieman, the 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and a distinguished professor of Physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder; Daniel L. Goroff, Vice President and Dean of Faculty at Harvey Mudd College; John Burris, President of Beloit College in Wisconsin; Margaret Collins, the Assistant Dean of Science, Business and Computer Technology at Moraine Valley Community College, Chicago, Illinois.

Witnesses emphasized that a critical issue in successful STEM education (i.e., recruiting, retaining, and properly training STEM undergraduate students who want to pursue teaching or who become TAs) is quality, not quantity. Witnesses addressed STEM teacher preparation and in-service teacher professional development issues and identified NSF repeatedly for praise for its educational research programs. The witnesses touted NSF as the agency from which federal STEM education research and related activities should originate.

Seymour and other witnesses talked about changing the incentives to encourage the American culture and higher education/academic culture to learn to value teaching. Panelists also agreed that undergraduate science education efforts at NSF should double in alignment with the President’s proposal to double the entire NSF budget over the next ten years, beginning in FY 2007. The hearing also highlighted the need to maintain sufficient numbers of STEM graduates by encouraging and achieving higher participation by minorities and by women. The full testimony of each witness can be accessed on the House Science Committee website at www.house.gov/science/hearings/research06/march%2015/index.htm.

This hearing was part of the House Science Committee’s continuing discussion on innovation and U.S. competitiveness. In attendance were the following eight Representatives: Mark Udall (CO), Bob Inglis, Subcommittee Chair (SC), Vernon Ehlers (MI), Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Daniel Lipinski (IL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Todd Akin (MO), and Gil Gutknecht (MN).