The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century released its final report today. That Commission, chaired by Senator John Glenn (and also known as the Glenn Commission), makes only a few straightforward points, but it makes them urgently and insistently.
FIRST, at the daybreak of this new century and millennium, the Commission is convinced that the future well-being of our nation and people depends not just on how well we educate our children generally, but on how well we educate them in mathematics and science specifically.
From mathematics and the sciences will come the products, services, standard of living, and economic and military security that will sustain us at home and around the world. From them will come the technological creativity American companies need to compete effectively in the global marketplace. "Globalization" has occurred. Economic theories of a few years ago are now a reality. Goods services, ideas, communication, businesses, industries, finance, investment, and jobs, the good jobs, are increasingly the competitive currency of the inter-national marketplace.
Beyond the world of global finance, mathematics and science will also supply the core forms of knowledge that the next generation of innovators, producers, and workers in every country will need if they are to solve the unforeseen problems and dream the dreams that will define America's future.
SECOND, it is abundantly clear from the evidence already at hand that we are not doing the job that we should do, or can do, in teaching our children to understand and use ideas from these fields. Our children are falling behind; they are simply not "world-class learners" when it comes to mathematics and science.
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tested the students of 41 nations. Children in the United States were among the leaders in the fourth-grade assessment, but by high school graduation they were almost last. Here at home, the National Assessment of Educational Progress basically substantiates our students' poor performance.
In short, our children are losing the ability to respond not just to the challenges already presented by the 21st century but to its potential as well. We are failing to capture the interest of our youth for scientific and mathematical ideas. We are not instructing them to the level of competence they will need to live their lives and work at their jobs productively. Perhaps worst of all, we are not challenging their imaginations deeply enough.
THIRD, after an extensive, in-depth review of what is happening in our classrooms, the Commission has concluded that the most powerful instrument for change, and therefore the place to begin, lies at the very core of education?with teaching itself.
The teaching pool in mathematics and science is inadequate to meet our current needs; many classes in these subjects are taught by unqualified and underqualified teachers. Our inability to attract and keep good teachers grows. As a result, newer, technologically oriented industries are having trouble finding enough qualified employees from among those teachers' students. Worse, creativity atrophies and innovation suffers.
The Commission is of one mind in its belief that the way to interest children in mathematics and science is through teachers who are not only enthusiastic about their subjects, but who are also steeped in their disciplines and who have the professional training, as teachers, to teach those subjects well. Nor is this teacher training simply a matter of preparation; it depends just as much, or even more, on sustained, high-quality professional development.
FOURTH, the Commission believes that committing ourselves to reach three specific goals can go far in bringing about the basic changes we need. These goals go directly to issues of quality, quantity, and an enabling work environment for teachers of mathematics and science. For each goal, The Commission report offers specific action strategies for achieving that particular goal, ideas on who should implement them, and how. Specifically, the report offers suggestions on how to:
. Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12;
. Increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation; and
. Improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers.
In the end, then, the message of this report is a simple one. The time has come to move from the information and analysis we have gathered to the resolution we need. We are summoned to answer a stark question. As our children move toward the day when their decisions will be the ones shaping a new America, will they be equipped with the mathematical and scientific tools needed to meet those challenges and capitalize on those opportunities?
These are our children, and the choice is ours. We know what we have to do; the time is now, before it's too late. ------------------ Both the full text of Before It's Too Late and the report's executive summary are available online now at http://www.ed.gov/inits/Math/glenn/ ************************************************ -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org