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Improving the Laboratory Experience for America's High School Students

Thursday, March 8, 2007 - 12:00am
Washington, DC

Opening Statement By Chairman Brian Baird

Good afternoon.  I want to welcome everyone and thank you for coming to this afternoon's hearing on Improving the Laboratory Experience for this afternoon's High School Students.

This marks the very first hearing of the Research & Science Education Subcommittee this Congress, and I want to take just a moment to express how pleased I am to be able to chair this particular subcommittee.

I want to thank Ranking Member Ehlers.  He has been a true leader on the Science Committee and has extensive knowledge on the important issues that will come before this subcommittee over the next couple of years.  I am pleased that he will be leading this subcommittee with me, and look forward to working with him closely.

I also want to acknowledge the great work of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who preceded me as the Democratic lead on this subcommittee.  I intend to continue her commitment to math and science education, particularly in underserved communities, and am pleased that she has decided to continue her service on this subcommittee.

Long before I was a member of Congress, I was a scientist.   Long after I complete my service in this body, I will still be a scientist. Science is in my blood, it is part of my being.  I value science not just for the astonishing discoveries and inventions it has produced, but as a method of making decisions and, in some ways, of leading one’s life.  Reason, informed by careful, critical evaluation of evidence, strikes me as the key not only to science, but to a successful personal life and - perhaps more importantly for our purposes here - to a successful republic.  That view, as members of this subcommittee will all know, was embraced by the founding fathers, many of whom were either practicing scientists in the world, or avid consumers of scientific research, as exemplified by Jefferson and Washington.

From that background, I approach the opportunity to chair this subcommittee with a mixture of profound excitement and some concern.  Excitement – because this committee will have the opportunity and responsibility to address some of the core government programs that support much of the most advanced research being conducted anywhere in the world.  To those of us who so passionately care about the scientific endeavor and who see that endeavor as holding the keys to some of our most vexing national problems, this is a thrilling prospect.

At the same time, because I have spent time in the scientific field, I recognize that we scientists are not perfect and that there is room for improvement in the science community.

Ultimately, government funded scientific research takes the hard earned money of taxpaying citizens, money that those citizens could otherwise put toward paying for their own health care, for their homes, for their retirement, for their children’s education, money that was not easily come by and is not easily parted with, and gives that money instead to scientists to pay for their research.  Government funded scientists need to appreciate this fundamental sacrifice and, thereby, the responsibility it carries.

Simply put, if someone cannot explain why it is worthwhile to take another person’s hard earned money to do a study, maybe the study should not be done.  That may seem shocking to say so directly, but I sincerely believe it is a matter of principle.

I recognize that in many instances, the government investment in science has paid off a thousand fold in ways not easily imagined when the core research was being funded or conducted.  At the same time, however, there is also much government funded research that provides very little return and yields only marginally used or applicable information.  I recognize that there are no easy answers to these questions, but I think it is important that this subcommittee at least consider these questions as we move forward with our work.

I also believe that scientists who receive government money have a special responsibility to ensure that the research they perform with that money is consistent with the highest standards methodologically.  Precisely because science and scientists are held in such high esteem by the public and policymakers, I believe they bear a special responsibility for honesty, objectivity, rigor and integrity.

Finally, before turning to today’s hearing, I wanted to say that I have always believed that there are good ideas on both sides of the aisle here in Congress.  I very much want this subcommittee to operate in a bipartisan manner.  I look forward to the input of members of both parties as we work together to further the important work of this subcommittee.

Today, we'll be hearing testimony on the use of the laboratory experience in high school science classrooms.  For a number of reasons which we'll hear about today, this part of the science curriculum is currently in disarray across the country.  I use the term “laboratory experience” rather than just “lab” because the challenge of effectively using a laboratory to teach students science turns out to be more difficult than just making sure we have enough Bunsen burners and beakers in every classroom.

I'd like to welcome Congressman Hinojosa who is appearing before us today.  He has introduced H.R. 524, a bill that would authorize the National Science Foundation to make matching grants to partnerships between high schools and institutions of higher educations, businesses, or other community organizations to explore ways to improve science labs for students.  These grants can be used for teacher training and development, equipment and facilities, and curriculum development.  The research and demonstration projects will be focused on improving labs at high schools serving large proportions of students under-represented in science and math careers today.  Studies show that it is these kids, at the lowest rungs on the socio-economic ladder, who are most lacking this valuable learning experience.

How valuable is the lab experience for teaching science, and what's wrong with the labs in high schools now?  The National Research Council brought attention to the issue in 2005 with their report 's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science.  The report presents an in depth look at the problems plaguing the effective use of what many consider to be an integral part of learning science.  To be sure, languishing facilities and old equipment are problems.  The report, though, brings attention to the non-physical issues, such as inadequate teacher training and preparation, lab exercises not designed to fit with the classroom curriculum, and State science standards too extensive to allow time in the laboratory. 

This subcommittee is devoted to improving science education so devoted that we added science education to the name of the subcommittee.  We are very concerned that American students are not achieving their potential in science and math education.  This is a concern as we look at competing in a knowledge-based global economy, and it’s a concern when we look at being able to give every American an opportunity for those high-paying technology-based jobs.   Improving K-12 science education is the ultimate key to the future prosperity and strength of our nation.  As the National Academy pointed out in its report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, improving K-12 education needs to be the keystone of any innovation agenda.

I am looking forward to hearing from our witnesses today.  Thank you.


Panel 1

1 - Hon. Rubén Hinojosa
A Representative in Congress from the State of Texas
Download the Witness Testimony

Panel 2

1 - Dr. Arthur Eisenkraft
Co-Author of NRC report, America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science Distinguished Professor of Science Education University of Massach
Download the Witness Testimony

2 - Mrs. Linda Froschauer
President National Science Teachers Assocation National Science Teachers Assocation
Download the Witness Testimony

3 - Dr. Jerry Mundell
Professor of Chemistry Cleveland State University Cleveland State University
Download the Witness Testimony

Witness Panels
Panel 1
Rep. Hinojosa testifies before Committee
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa
Panel 2
Dr. Eisenkraft testifies before Committee
Dr. Eisenkraft
Mrs. Froschauer testifies before Committee
Mrs. Froschauer
Dr. Mundell testifies before Committee
Dr. Mundell
For information on the witnesses, use the links at left
110th Congress