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MAA President Ronald L. Graham Testifies Before House Appropriations Committee

MAA President Ronald L. Graham Testifies Before House Appropriations Committee

Testimony of Dr. Ronald L. Graham
President, Mathematical Association of America
Before the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development,
and Independent Agencies Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives
March 25, 2004

My name is Ron Graham. I am a mathematician and a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California at San Diego. I am also the current president of the Mathematical Association of America, or MAA, an organization with some 27,000 members whose mission is to promote communication, teaching and learning, and research in mathematics and its uses, especially at the collegiate level, for all who are interested in the mathematical sciences.

I would like to first thank the Subcommittee for its steadfast support of the National Science Foundation in recent years, providing over and over again increases well above the Administration's requests for this great driver of scientific education and research. As you are well aware, Congress as a whole has shown its strong support for NSF through the passage of Public Law 107-368, which authorized a doubling of the NSF budget. While we in the education and research communities are well aware of the severe budget constraints you face, we urge you to do all that you can to fulfill the goals of that legislation. MAA believes that NSF's investments have been and continue to be vitally important for this Nation's long-term economic and national security.

I would like to focus on one area of NSF's portfolio today, an area which affects not only every field of science and engineering but also, the nation's long-term economic development, national security, and general welfare. This area is mathematics education, particularly at the undergraduate level. Undergraduate education is the crucial link in the educational system preparing our mathematicians, scientists, health care professionals, engineers, technological workforce, and the teachers of the next generation of students. The National Security Agency is the largest employer in the world of mathematicians at all levels of educational background.

NSF funds undergraduate mathematics education through two divisions: the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE), located in the Education and Human Resources Directorate, and the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS), located in the Mathematics and Physical Sciences Directorate. Both are essential to ensure that the number of mathematically-trained U.S. citizens does not drop below the level needed to sustain U.S. technological leadership. DUE and DMS collaborated in funding the Calculus Reform effort of the first half of the 1990's. Not only did this program change and modernize the teaching of calculus in high schools and colleges, the program was largely responsible for spurring renewal across science, technology, engineering and mathematics undergraduate education throughout the country. In our view, no single educational program has ever had such widespread impact.

A National Academy of Sciences report in 1998 concluded that, “based on present trends, it is unlikely that the U.S. will be able to maintain world leadership in the mathematical sciences." In response to this report and others, NSF and Congress have increased funding for mathematical sciences research significantly in the past 5 years, doubling the research budget from about $100 million in FY 1998 to $200 million in FY 2005. We at MAA strongly support this increased investment, and believe that the nation would be well-served by continuing to increase mathematical sciences research funding. However, we also believe that research funding alone will not solve the nation's difficulties in attracting and educating students and teachers in the mathematical sciences.

The Division of Undergraduate Education at NSF aims to improve mathematics and science education through the reform of courses, curricula, and instructional materials, and to increase the quality and quantity of the mathematics and science workforce. DUE programs fund innovative efforts at colleges and universities in every state and at every level, all in an effort to find the best ways to increase the scientific and technological literacy of the nation's youth. DUE administers the Advanced Technological Education program - a program created by a member of this Subcommittee, Congressman David Price. The ATE program enables two-year colleges to collaborate with industry in the development of programs and courses for the education of the nation's technological workforce. DUE is responsible for programs in teacher training. Not getting the education of teachers right the first time results in large expenditures for teacher training later.

While the NSF budget has grown overall, undergraduate education has actually declined. In FY 2004 alone, DUE was cut by nearly $20 million from the FY 2003 level. In FY 2005, DUE would receive $159 million under the Administration's request - an increase of 2%. Report after report has stated that the key to continued economic vitality is a better educated workforce, particularly in mathematics and science. Therefore, MAA urges Congress to provide $200 million for NSF's DUE program in FY 2005. This amount would reverse the nearly $20 million reduction these programs suffered in FY 2004 and put it on a path that will enable the nation's institutions of higher education - including our community colleges -- to more fully participate in NSF's undergraduate programs.

Another program I would like to mention and urge you to support, offered by DMS, is VIGRE (Vertical Integration Grants for Research and Education in the Mathematics Sciences), which brings together university professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students on research projects and education. Universities with VIGRE grants report a dramatic increase in the numbers of highly qualified U.S. citizens pursuing graduate degrees in the mathematical sciences. The program has recently broadened to support faculty and students from all types of institutions to improve the pipeline from the undergraduate years through positions in the workforce and academe.

Finally, I would like to briefly mention the Mathematics and Science Partnership program, which would be transferred to the Department of Education under the FY 2005 budget request. MSP funds projects aimed at addressing the lackluster performance of U.S. children in K-12 science and mathematics by creating partnerships among teachers and researchers. NSF is perhaps best known for its strict use of merit review of grant proposals - the practice used in determining which MSP projects to fund. In our view, transferring the MSP program to the Department of Education will diminish the use of merit review and lead to a very different kind of education program. MAA believes, if transferred to the Department, MSP funds will likely be distributed via block grants, which could spread the money too thinly to do any real good and which will, in all likelihood, result in much of the funding being redirected at the state level to programs outside the scope of MSP's original intent. We at MAA urge you to keep MSP at the National Science Foundation.

Again, I understand the very tight budgetary constraints that Congress must confront this year. At the same time, it is vitally important that we invest wisely in the economic future of the nation through science and technology education. I urge you again to increase funding for DUE's Undergraduate Education program for a total of $200 million in FY 2005, to support the VIGRE program, and to oppose the transfer of the Math Science Partnerships to the Education Department. These programs are vitally important to colleges and universities at all levels in all states and for supplying the teachers and the high-tech workforce we need in the 21st century.

Thank you for your time today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

News Date: 
Tuesday, May 25, 2004