Remarks for the Chemical Sciences Roundtable Dinner
The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson
U.S. House of Representatives
I am excited to be here to discuss science and technology with you. Science and technology have transformed the face of everyday life in the United States. As important as these fields are to the world today, their value will only increase in the new millennium. That is why the work of the Chemical Sciences Roundtable and the National Research Council is so important and why I am happy to join you today.
I am really very stimulated by science and technology and all that scientists have brought us. I stand here as a result of scientific research because I am a two-time cancer survivor. Without scientific knowledge, early intervention probably would not have taken place. I know that the knowledge had to come from somewhere, and it came out of people like you in this room.
We have progressed rapidly. When I came to Washington almost 8 years ago, I was told that we were in an age of technology. Then we were in the information age. Now it is the digital age. In less than a decade we have changed our titles because we have been so influenced by the rapidity with which we have had to change with the technology, and the stock market reflects that. The state of the art changes almost daily, and if you don't believe that, invest in technologies and you will find out.
What you and I have to do is influence the Congress to make investments in the future of science. Our most research-intensive industries have been growing at about twice the rate of the economy as a whole for the last two decades. I don't know where the economy would be if it were not for all of this innovation and the coming together of minds that take that research and make it into a reality that is marketable. As a recent report from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy observes, “Technology is transforming the very basis of competition—enabling small businesses to perform high-quality design and manufacturing work that previously required the resources of big business, while allowing big businesses to achieve the speed, flexibility, and proximity to customers that were once the sole domain of smaller firms.”1 I am from an area that is in that environment, and it is so fascinating that the new CEOs don't wear these dark suits and white shirts and ties. They are in sneakers,
Office of Science and Technology. 1997. Science and Technology: Shaping the Twenty-First Century. A report to Congress.
khakis, and T-shirts. They have no gray hair. It is absolutely amazing to see all these very rich young people who have thought of something that the rest of us are just catching on to.
Although the rapid pace of technological change can be unsettling, most people in the United States seem to appreciate the benefits of technology and have an insatiable appetite for more. Perhaps this is due in some part to the growing public belief that much of our current economic boom is being fueled by technology.
That belief is well founded. Studies indicate that as much as 50 percent of the economic growth of the United States over the past 50 years is due to technological innovations spurred by investments in R&D. Our most research-intensive industries—aerospace, chemicals, communications equipment, computers and office equipment, pharmaceuticals, scientific instruments, semiconductors, and software—have been growing at about twice the rate of the economy as a whole over the past two decades.
Even such a cautious observer as Alan Greenspan has acknowledged that investments in information technology have made today's low-inflation, high-employment economic boom possible. Only through the higher productivity generated by information technology can such growth be sustained.
On the surface, then, all would appear to be well for the future. Public support for science and technology appears to be strong, policy makers are crediting our investments in science and technology for the current economic prosperity, and even the Congress has put aside its usual partisan squabbling and agreed on the importance of science investments. So, should we have any concerns about the nation's future prosperity?
Last fall, the House Science Committee, on which I serve, heard testimony from Professor Scott Stern of MIT on a disturbing new study. Stern found, as have others before him, that our current economic prosperity is due in part to technological innovations spurred by past investments in science and technology. But looking at recent trends, Stern concluded that U.S. leadership in the future was by no means assured. As one sign of this, he pointed to the decline in the national talent pool: since the late 1980s, the nation's scientific and technical workforce has been declining as a share of the total workforce, and graduate school populations are flat or declining.
Moreover, a recent survey supported by the Sloan Foundation reports that there are now trends showing that the best and the brightest students are avoiding graduate science and engineering degree programs. Over the past 10 years, those taking the Graduate Record Exam intending to pursue science and engineering have declined by 16 percent. Among students scoring near the top—that is, over 700—the decline is even greater. The only bright spot is that high-scoring minority women are entering science and engineering in greater numbers.
A skilled workforce is the essential fuel to propel the economy and ensure a high quality of life. Many types of science and engineering jobs are among the fastest growing in the U.S. workforce. Now, however, we hear about shortages of highly skilled workers in some fields. Political pressure continues to grow for increases in visa quotas to allow more technically skilled foreign workers into the country.
The basic question is, Why are sufficient numbers of U.S. students not attracted to careers in science and engineering, particularly since the opportunities seem to be so great? I believe this is largely due to demographic trends and to the state of K-12 science education.
Historically, non-Hispanic white males have made up the predominant population group supplying U.S. scientists and engineers. According to Census Bureau projections, this segment of the workforce population will decline, from 37 percent in 1995 to 26 percent by 2050. These projections imply that this group will not provide the needed scientists and engineers, particularly since participation rates in these fields are also level or declining.
Clearly, it will be necessary to attract greater numbers of women and minorities to careers in science and engineering in order to avoid devastating consequences for the future. Some progress has been
made over the past two decades, but much remains to be accomplished. On the basis of the 1980 and 1990 census figures, the percentages of women in the scientific and engineering labor force have increased in nearly all fields, although often from a low base level. Similarly, the proportion of female Ph.D.s in science and engineering has been growing. For example, before 1973 only 0.2 percent of Ph.D.s in the engineering labor force were women, but of the workforce graduating between 1983 and 1992, 9 percent were female. This is still a small number, but a big increase.
In 1995, women constituted 50 percent of the U.S. population between 18 and 30 years old; blacks accounted for 14 percent and Hispanics for 13 percent. In that same year, 46 percent of science and engineering bachelor's degrees were earned by women; 7 percent, by blacks; and 6 percent, by Hispanics. The proportions of doctorates were even smaller: 36 percent, by women; 3 percent, by blacks; and 3 percent, by Hispanics.
Further progress in increasing participation by women and underrepresented groups in science and engineering will require strengthening K-12 science education for all students, with the emphasis on all. Clearly, all students need a basic grounding in science and math to function in an increasingly complex world and to lead fulfilling lives. To meet the goal of ensuring a full pipeline of students moving toward careers in science and technology, it will be necessary to stimulate interest among demographic groups now underrepresented in these fields.
Most workplaces are becoming increasingly technological, while our society is becoming increasingly diverse. We run the risk of a widening gulf between those with the training to thrive in this new work environment and those lacking the basic skills to qualify for the high-tech workplace. To help address this problem, I introduced the Mathematics and Science Proficiency Partnership Act last year. I want to thank the American Chemical Society for its endorsement of the bill. It has now been incorporated into a broader science education bill, the National Science Education Act, recently introduced by Congressman Vern Ehlers.
My bill is a targeted measure. It seeks to bring schools with large populations of economically disadvantaged students and businesses together to improve science and math education and to recruit and support students in undergraduate education in science and technology fields. The components of the partnerships include support to the schools for teacher training, educational materials, and equipment. It also supports the establishment of college scholarships for promising students and on-the-job internships with industry.
The National Science Foundation will be authorized to award partnership grants. The awards will be based on how effectively the schools and businesses have forged their alliances and on the level of resources the private sector partners will provide.
Businesses participate by setting up college scholarships for promising math and science students, establishing job-site mentoring and internship programs, and donating computer software and hardware to participating schools. Schools participate by providing innovative training for their math and science teachers and informing their students of career opportunities in science and technology fields. Reform of K-12 science education is an enormous undertaking, and I recognize that my bill would make only a small contribution. I would like to conclude my remarks by commenting on what I see as a necessary component to achieve the overall goal.
In 1995, the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology formed a panel to study applications of technology in K-12 education. Two years ago, the House Science Committee heard testimony on the findings of the study from David Shaw, who chaired the panel.
Two major themes that emerged from the Shaw panel's report were the inadequacy of funding for education research and the absence of activities connecting research to effective learning strategies in the classroom. The Shaw panel decried the anemic funding for education research, pointing out that less
than 0.1 percent of the national K-12 education budget is allocated for research. It recommended ramping up the national investment in education research to $1.5 billion per year.
Reasonable people may disagree on the appropriate level for funding education research. But the current level of education research is grossly inadequate. We cannot hope to educate tomorrow's employees and managers without more basic research into what works in the classroom. Our technology-based society is undergoing constant change, and additional research will help us master these changes.
Another prominent recommendation of the Shaw panel was for a major federal investment in large-scale, rigorous, well-controlled empirical research aimed at determining which educational approaches are most effective in practice.
The Shaw report was a major impetus for the Administration's Interagency Education Research Initiative started last year, involving NSF, the Department of Education, and NIH. I believe this is a valuable research undertaking, but I cannot help observing that the first year's funding totaled only $28 million. This is a very small first step toward the Shaw report's call for a major research initiative and for a greatly expanded research investment.
Of course, funding is only one part of the equation for instituting an effective program of education research. And by effective, I mean research that will actually result in improved learning in classrooms across the nation. Current education research activities appear to be uncoordinated, and practitioners largely ignore the research findings. Adding money to do more of the same does not appear to be a fruitful approach.
Consequently, I am very interested in the proposal from the National Research Council for a strategic education research program. The scale and focus of the proposed program seem to be consistent with the goal of identifying the policies and practices that will lead to improved student learning in all schools. The question is whether the framework of the proposed research program is feasible and whether it will lead to the kinds of collaborations required among researchers, practitioners, funding agents, and policy makers.
The importance of K-12 education to the nation's future is without question, and the national investment of well over $300 billion per year is consistent with this importance. To derive the maximum benefit from this substantial investment, it is past time to end the apparent disconnect between educational practice and basic research on human development and learning. Educational reform will have a much greater chance to succeed if informed by quantified knowledge of what works.
The nation must take advantage of the human resource potential of all our people if we are to succeed in the international economic competition of the 21st century. This will require that reform efforts in science and math education be founded on educational materials and practices that are derived from rigorous research. We must engage and cultivate the interest of all children. Thank you very much for your attention.
Participant: I know you are doing something about education. Could you tell us a little about it?
Congresswoman Johnson: Actually the effort is about making sure that there is opportunity for more enhancement of teachers' skills and, also, trying to bridge education and industry, setting up partnerships and internships for teachers and students. We are doing a lot of this in Dallas, and that is where I got the idea, but I think it works. We have to remove the mystery surrounding industry for educators,
letting them see the environment and understand it so they will know what they are preparing students for. That is one component.
The other is simply to strengthen the curriculum and make it sounder and to strengthen the skills of our teachers, building partnerships, opening dialogues, integrating these various skills so that our young people will know what it is like to be a scientist in a lab or a scientist in industry and know what that environment is. The important thing is to be able to read about, think about, and understand intricacies that we never thought about in the past. Think about the better investment of time. I remember when I was growing up—and this will tell my age —we talked about the long hand and the short hand to tell time. It has been many years since we talked about that because we don't have to do that anymore. You just look at your watch, and it tells you what time it is, but that is where we have to leap. We have to go with our young people so that we can close that gap and use that valuable time for something more updated.
Participant: With regard to young scientists, what would you do?
Congresswoman Johnson: That is kind of unfair in a sense since I am on this side, but if I were you, I would write letters. I would visit my legislative representative periodically. I would also include students and bring students with me to further that dialogue. Even when the legislator cannot understand all of the science, he or she can understand enough to know that things really are changing and that we have got to let that change happen, and it has got to happen with our support.
I remember I put a statement similar to this on several pieces of legislation, but one of the ones that I remember so clearly was telecommunications reform. It seemed so simple at the time, and I said that I understood it enough to know that I shouldn't be against it. I couldn't explain why I was for it, but I knew enough to know that I couldn't stand in the way, and that is really about where we are in terms of moving forward. We don' t know what else we can learn from the universe, but we know that we must not stand in the way of exploring that universe.
Participant: There was a resolution passed last fall specifically to address the issue of women and minorities in science. Can you tell us a little bit about where that is and what progress has been made?
Congresswoman Johnson: You know we have always had committees like this, but we have never had to bring results and recommendations, and that is the one thing we added this time: to bring not just a report but also recommendations, so that we could try to address them. We are getting that report, I think, in about 2 weeks. I hope some of you have been involved in some of that.
Richard C. Alkire, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: I know the future is always hard to predict, but we have before us the President's budget, which was one of the most remarkable budgets for science in decades, and I wonder if you could comment on the sense of what might occur?
Congresswoman Johnson: In terms of the authorizing committee you are in good shape. Now, in terms of the appropriators, that is the next story. It is somewhat hard to predict, although I think each of us on the committee has done our own private lobbying to try to convey how important it is, and that we realize how difficult it is to address.
When you are on that committee you hear so many stories and every issue becomes important. You just never have enough money for all of it, and that is where the bottom line will be. I think that you can help with that. The appropriators are highly responsible people, but—as you know—they are subject to
influence like anyone else. I hope all of you have written about the importance of scientific research, or called someone, or e-mailed somebody, but if you haven't done so, get the list of who is on those committees and start to influence them. It will make a difference. They need to understand.
It is so interesting: probably the strongest lobby in Washington is AARP. They don't have a PAC, but they have all the time in the world.
Keep this in mind. Try to do what AARP does. Keep the issues on the minds of those appropriators, because they have the final say-so. The President has really taken the lead in emphasizing the need for more scientific research and for more dollars going in that direction. So, he has taken the lead. Many of us help to spread the word; the push in that direction was a bipartisan effort. The Science Committee has supported that, but we only can authorize. We don't appropriate. So, it is the appropriations process that we must complete before we go home. That is the only really essential thing we have to do before we leave, and that is where you can help them understand the importance of keeping our country on course and keeping this prosperity going. The only way we can do that is with the help of people like you, and we cannot do it standing still.