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Duncan Hearing Mum on Science and Math Education

The National Science Board--the body that oversees the National Science Foundation--is so worried about the state of math and science education in U.S. schools that it sent President-elect Barack Obama a letter this week that lays out six ways to improve. But if yesterday's Senate hearing on the nomination of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education is any guide, the issue is low on the list of education priorities for both Congress and the Obama Administration.

Duncan, now CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was greeted warmly by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and he's expected to be confirmed without opposition. Members from both parties praised his efforts to reform the nation's third-largest school system and eagerly sought his advice on preschool programs, junk food, childhood obesity, high school dropout rates, higher teacher salaries, vocational training, and paying for and completing college. The only time science and math education came up during the 2-hour hearing, however, was when Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) informed the 44-year-old Chicago native that he expected "a yes answer" to all the questions he was about to pose. So when Roberts asked if Duncan supported improving the science and math skills of all students, the school chief dutifully replied, "Yes, sir."

In its 11 January letter to the Obama transition team, the National Science Board went into considerably more detail, imploring the next president to support developing national standards on what students need to learn, paying science and math teachers market salaries, and increasing funding for education research. At the same time, the board also recommended a "public awareness campaign" similar to those waged on such public health issues as eating right and getting enough exercise. Food for thought, you could say.