Status Report

AIP FYI #57: Marburger Discusses Science Teaching

By SpaceRef Editor
May 10, 2002
Filed under , ,

Teaching is the most important human activity, because so many
things essential for survival need to be learned from others.” –
John Marburger, Presidential Science Advisor

John Marburger, the President’s Science Advisor and Director of
the Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke about the
teaching of science at the National Science Teachers Association
Convention in March. He discussed his own science teaching
experiences, compared teaching to his previous role as Director
of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and answered a Q&A from
science teachers, in which he addressed the Administration’s
budget request for programs to improve math and science teaching.
Selected portions of his remarks are quoted below:

“In safety management, you decide what you want to do, plan the
work, identify the hazards, authorize the work after everyone
agrees on the safest way to do it, and then you check to see if
the way the work actually got done was what you expected. If it
was not, then you change how you do it the next time so you get
better each time you do it. The management experts call this a
‘continuous cycle of improvement.’ There’s a slogan that goes
with it: Plan, Do, Check, Act.

“Sound familiar? It sounded to me like the way we do science:
Hypothesize, conceive and plan an experiment, perform the
experiment, check to see if the result matches expectations, if
not change the hypothesis and start over. It works! It works
for science, and it works for management, and it ought to work
for teaching too. But sometimes the steps are difficult to
perform. In teaching, they are often very difficult. But we
have to do them.

“President Bush cares passionately about teaching and learning,
and he is also a businessman and a successful executive. That’s
why he established the President’s Management Agenda to encourage
his agencies to adopt good management principles as they conduct
the government’s – that is, the people’s – business. I agree
with the concept that every productive activity can be managed in
the same general way, and the core elements of that way are
summarized in ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act.'”

“Any of us could give a lecture, or write a book, about each one
of these challenges, but I would like to conclude with a word
about the fourth step in the cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act.
Action has always been the most difficult, but it is also the
most important. It is the step that closes the loop; The step
that justifies the enormous investments required for the other
three. All four steps are linked together. What good is
assessment if we do not use the data it produces to make things
better? What good is teaching if we do not take pains to discover
if people are learning? What good does it do to invest in the
accumulation of knowledge if we do not pass it on?

“In our huge system of education, action requires a culture
change vastly greater than anything I was asked to do at
Brookhaven. But the ingredients are the same. One of those
ingredients is leadership. I joined President Bush’s team
because I was impressed with his willingness to provide
leadership in the big issues confronting our society. And his
leadership in the improvement of education is matched only by his
leadership and determination to win the war against terrorism.
He has established a very high level of expectation for us, and
it is up to us to take advantage of the conditions he is creating
to effect change in this most difficult and complicated system of

Marburger also responded to a series of questions submitted by
NSTA members. Below are portions of his responses addressing
federal programs for math and science education:

“The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to have a highly-
qualified teacher in every public school classroom by the end of
the 2005-2006 school year…. While reaching this goal will
require reform of pre-service training, which is usually
conducted in colleges of Education across the country, it will
also require more effective in-service training and professional
development for teachers in the classroom already. To help
states meet this goal, states, districts and schools will be
eligible to receive in 2002 about $3 billion for teacher
training, recruiting and hiring. This represents an increase of
more than 30 percent over the 2001 levels of funding. President
Bush has proposed to sustain this level of funding in his 2003
budget. Although the categorical Eisenhower program has been
eliminated, these funds continue to exist in the state teacher
training grants, and may result in the expansion of teacher
training and professional development opportunities available to
math and science teachers.”

“In his Education Blueprint, No Child Left Behind, the President
proposed a new type of Math and Science Partnership (MSP) that
brings together scientists and mathematicians from institutions
of higher education with teachers and administrators from our
primary and secondary schools to address what needs to be done to
revise and strengthen how these subjects are currently taught in
our schools…. It builds on the nation’s dedication to
educational reform through support of partnerships that unite the
efforts of local schools districts with science, mathematics,
engineering and education faculties of colleges and
universities…. In 2002 the National Science Foundation (NSF)
received $160 million and the Department of Education (ED) $12.5
million to begin the MSP program. In 2003 the President requests
an additional $40 million for this program for NSF ($200 million
total) while keeping the ED request at $12.5 million.”

Marburger also highlighted other “exciting new or expanded” NSF
education programs, including a new Science, Technology,
Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program, a new
Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, and requested increases for the
Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12 Education, Graduate
Research fellows, and Integrated Graduate Education and Research
Traineeship programs.

The full text of Marburger’s remarks at the March 27 NSTA
Convention can be found at
and the Q&A at

A number of Members of Congress are working to increase the FY
2003 funding for the Education Department Math and Science
Partnerships substantially above the FY 2002 level of $12.5
million. A future FYI will address these efforts.


Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094


SpaceRef staff editor.