Capitol Report: January 2019

  • Advocate for Math Education

    By Della Cronin

    On January 3, the 116th Congress was sworn in. There are 100 new additions to the House and Senate—meaning 100 nonincumbents who won in the November elections. Their average age is 49, making them the youngest incoming class in in six years. The group is also the most diverse cohort to date. Sixty-three of the new members are Democrats (60 in the House; 3 in the Senate); thirty-seven are Republicans (31 in the House; 6 in the Senate). Forty are women, bringing the number of women in the House and Senate to all-time highs. At least 24 new House members are Hispanic, Native American, and people of color. Ten percent of the newcomers have a STEM degree—substantially increasing the number of such degree holders on Capitol Hill.

    What will the 116th Congress do that will affect math educators? Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.) will be leading the just-renamed Education and Labor Committee. Potential topics include implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, oversight of federal student loan programs, enforcement of Title IX protections on school and college campuses, and assurances that all students’ civil rights are being protected. He also has said that school infrastructure will be a priority for him and his colleagues who feel that all students should have access to modern educational facilities.

    In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has announced that he will be leaving Capitol Hill in 2020, setting the stage for his final two years leading the panel. He may push his colleagues to update the Higher Education Act before he leaves. That law is complicated, with governance over several programs important to colleges and universities, but NCTM will be watching how legislators propose to change the Teacher Quality Partnership program. NCTM has hosted several briefings on Capitol Hill highlighting the importance of this program and its investments in teacher preparation programs, in collaboration with other groups, including the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), and has written letters to Congress urging sufficient annual investments in the program.

    Spending will be fiercely debated in the 116th Congress. With federal spending caps looming, the education and research communities will be urging the House and Senate to provide some relief for federal domestic programs at the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies.

    While there will be much happening on Capitol Hill at the beginning of the year, NCTM was working with the Administration at the end of 2018 on another initiative. In December, NCTM Executive Director Ken Krehbiel attended an event at the White House to unveil the Administration’s five-year strategy for STEM education investments. Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education recognizes the foundational and gateway role of mathematics learning. Key federal actions that were identified include prioritizing support for programs and partnerships that integrate mathematics and statistics education in meaningful and applied contexts and identifying and sharing mathematics and statistics education practices shown to retain diverse learners.

    NCTM provided consistent feedback to the Committee on STEM Education of the National Science and Technology Council. NCTM advocated for more rigorous and engaging mathematics for each and every student and to ensure that mathematics education is an integral part of STEM education. Leadership also met with STEM education program staff at the Department of Education to talk about NCTM’s Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics and its intersections with the recent data story, A Leak in the STEM Pipeline: Taking Algebra Early. The organization plans to contact more policymakers about the report and its connection to the country’s needs in 2019.

    What Can You Do?

    If you haven’t already, find who represents you in the 116th Congress. Use this resource, which connects you to their websites, and read their positions on various issues, including education and research, among others important to math educators. Then take a look at NCTM’s Advocacy Toolkit and get ready to advocate. Although the 116th Congress is just getting started, issues important to math educators will undoubtedly be discussed.