"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, March 12, 2006

What Planet are They On?

Here's a story and some facts about America's Competitiveness Initiative as Democrats and Republicans fall all over themselves to convince constituents they care about educating the next generation of scientists and engineers. It's enough to make an astronaut throw up:

NASA to Cut Science Education Program
Between 2004 and 2005, the amount of grant money Langley gave local colleges dropped nearly $5 million. NASA's spending on education remained flat in 2005 and 2006 at $167 million. Bush's proposed spending for the 2007 budget year, which begins in October, calls for a 5.6 percent, or $14 million, drop in funding. NASA's overall budget is expected to increase by about 3 percent.
Meanwhile, the American public appears to be buying it hook, line and sinker:

A year ago, the debate on competitiveness could have been held in a phone booth. Now there are three sets of bills offered in both houses, and they are quite bipartisan. The Senate PACE (Protecting America's Competitive Edge) bills have nearly 60 co-sponsors, half Republican, half Democrat. The thrust of all of this legislation is to improve the American educational system, particularly K-12; increase federally funded basic research in the physical sciences (money that goes predominantly to our universities); encourage our children to enroll in more math and science classes; and improve math and science teaching throughout the country.

Many congressional members, Republican and Democrat, are astonished at how enthusiastically this competitiveness agenda is being received in their districts. The positive message of investing in the next generation resonates with people who understand that American pre-eminence in the global economy cannot be taken for granted. Unfortunately, this only ratchets up the pressure to try to hoard all the credit.
However, physics professor, Randall Caton doesn't understand all of this -- he must be from another planet:

Randall Caton doesn't really understand it.

For six years, the Christopher Newport University physics professor has participated in a learning initiative at NASA Langley Research Center that provides engaging science lessons to children and adults nationwide. Free videos, Web exercises and teleconferencing through the NASA Center for Distance Learning help students see how science and math are used in the real world. Teachers love them. Adults appreciate them. Businesses use them for training.

The educational videos, which a local company produces, have won several Emmy awards and are shown on public broadcasting stations.But despite the center's acclaim, it will shoot its last video in June. The end of production means the elimination of five full-time positions, Caton said.NASA headquarters in Washington told the staff in January that money wasn't available to continue the center, Caton said."We've had a lot of people disappointed that these are coming to an end because they have been very valuable for teachers," Caton said.

"We feel it's a big loss, but it's a decision way above us. "Educators and administrators at local colleges say they've seen NASA headquarters and Langley Research Center funding shrink in the past few years for programs designed to prepare more scientists and engineers, something critics say the United States is failing to do adequately."We're not preparing our kids for the jobs of the future," said Bill Thomas, director of governmental relations for Hampton University.

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