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Washington Spotlight January 2008


Dismal FY2008 Omnibus Spending Bill for STEM Education and Research Signed into Law by President

Congress recently approved and the President signed into law approximately $560 billion for an omnibus spending package (H.R. 2764) to fund all of the domestic agencies and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House had previously issued a statement of administration policy (SAP) stating that additional funding for the Iraq war was paramount to the Administration’s support. Log online to view this SAP.

The Omnibus fell well short of the increases originally proposed in the newly enacted bipartisan America COMPETES Act, the Administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), and the Democratic Innovation Agenda (all of which SWE supported), with the federal investments in research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in 2008 failing to meet expectations. Additionally, after a moratorium in 2007, the omnibus bill contains $927 million in R&D earmarks in 2008. However, this figure is still down from $1.5 billion in domestic R&D earmarks in 2006.

House Science and Technology Chairman Rep. Bart Gordon summed up the somber mood in the science and engineering community over the figures in the budget by stating that "The overall budget predicament forced appropriators to make some tough decisions. Despite our best efforts and intentions, COMPETES programs--and many others--are feeling a lot of pain."

For example, the FY2008 omnibus bill provides $725.6 million for the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account at the National Science Foundation (NSF), reflecting only a four percent increase over FY2007.* While the bill does allocate an additional $5 million to the Noyce Scholarship program for FY2008, it leaves many of the final EHR funding levels to NSF’s discretion, i.e., merely stating that the Math and Science Partnerships (MSP) program “remain a high priority of the committee.” In the bill, the Foundation is also urged to provide funding at the requested level for several programs, including:

  • Undergraduate/Graduate Student Support account and the Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12;

  • The NSF Academies for Young Scientists;

  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs);

  • The HBCU Undergraduate Program;

  • The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP);

  • The Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP); and

  • STEM Talent Expansion program.

More information about this bill, including a section-by-section review of H.R. 2764, is available on both the Senate and House Appropriations Web sites.

* This projected increase reflects the transfer of the EPSCOR program in FY2008.

New NRC Report Says That NASA Education Programs Need New Approaches, Education Expertise

The National Research Council will soon release a report entitled, “NASA’s Elementary and Secondary Education Program: Review and Critique.” Although this report acknowledges that NASA is uniquely positioned to interest students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subject areas, it finds that the elementary and secondary education programs of NASA's Office of Education are not as effective as they could be.

Among the report’s recommendations are encouraging NASA to partner with outside experts in education, as well as restructuring of some of its existing programs to capitalize on the agency's own expertise and on new technologies. Review the pre-publication copy of the report online.

Latest PISA Results Show U.S. Students Falling to 25th in Math, 21st in Science

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released its 2006 Programme for International Student Assessments (PISA), which compares 15 year-old students from 57 countries. In this assessment, U.S. students rank 25th in mathematics and 21st in science, falling two places in each subject since 2003.

Interestingly, the following global trends of the study showed that students, in general, were motivated to learn science, but only a fraction aspired to a career involving science:

  • 72 percent said it was important for them to do well in science;

  • 67 percent enjoyed acquiring new knowledge in science;

  • 56 percent said science was useful for further studies;

  • 37 percent said they would like to work in a career involving science; and

  • 21 percent said they would like to spend their life doing advanced science.

View the OECD briefing note that analyzes the U.S. 2006 PISA results.

NAE Announces Recipients of Prestigious 2008 Engineering Honors

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has announced the recipients of two of engineering’s highest honors: the Charles Stark Draper Prize; and, the Bernard M. Gordon Prize. The awards will be presented at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 19, 2008.

Rudolf Kalman will receive the Charles Stark Draper Prize, a $500,000 annual award that honors engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society. Dr. Kalman is being recognized for "the development and dissemination of the optimal digital technique (known as the Kalman Filter) that is pervasively used to control a vast array of consumer, health, commercial, and defense products." The Kalman Filter is a mathematical technique that removes "noise" from series of data, revolutionizing the field of control theory and becoming pervasive in engineering systems.

Lawrence E. Carlson and Jacquelyn F. Sullivan will share the Bernard M. Gordon Prize, a $500,000 award issued each year that recognizes innovation in engineering and technology education. The recipients are being recognized "for the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program that infuses hands-on learning throughout K-16 engineering education to motivate and prepare tomorrow's engineering leaders." The ITL program at the University of Colorado-Boulder uses interdisciplinary, hands-on learning in an innovative environment to develop future engineering leaders.

Additional information on the awards and the 2008 recipients can be found online.

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