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Investing in Professional Development:: It's Not Rocket Science

To see the impact of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) contributions to education and innovation, look no further than the Oxford English Dictionary, where the verb “Google” was added to the global lexicon last year. The company’s founders (both products of public high schools) met at Stanford where they studied computer science under an NSF-funded faculty member.

Math and science educators nationwide owe part of their success to professional development from organizations like NSF. Professional development, says veteran teacher Becky Pringle, helps tap into students’ curiosity, which is the key to understanding and achievement.

“It was through professional development that I learned and developed techniques to bring science alive for my students, so they could understand both the content and its relevance,” Pringle, an eighth-grade science teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and NEA Executive Committee member, said in testimony to the House Science Committee last year. “NEA believes that improving professional development is the single most critical factor in strengthening math and science education. No single change will make a bigger difference in helping students reach high academic standards than ensuring quality teachers.”

To bolster professional development, NSF’s Math and Science Partnership awards grants to higher education institutions and K–12 school systems that work together to pioneer advances in math and science education. The program also encourages some of the brightest science and math minds to enter the teaching profession through college and university scholarship programs.

Although Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative would increase funding for science and math, very little goes to professional development for teachers, and it doesn’t cover NSF’s education programs—the Administration’s proposed budget cuts NSF’s K–12 programs by about 7 percent. In fact, between FY 2004 and the FY 2007 request, funding for NSF’s main K–12 programs has declined by nearly half, from $283 million to $150 million.

“The business community and the Bush Administration are calling for better math and science education, and at the same time, they haven’t put funding where we need it,” says NEA educational policy analyst Andrea Prejean. “The math and science partnership elements of No Child Left Behind have also never been funded at the level they were authorized. If we want to improve math and science education in America, we need to make smart investments.”

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