Monday, November 30, 2009


NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences: An Obama Initiative

The following idea was originally named Linus Pauling Academy of the Physical Sciences in a document written by Steven A. Sylwester dated April 6, 2009. The original document was "An Obama Initiative for The United States of America" as is this new document.

For the most part, the original document and the new document are the same except for the name change, though some extraneous information has been edited out.

I have renamed the academy NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences (NAPS) for five reasons:
1. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a United States government agency with an annual budget exceeding $17 billion. The annual federal funding projected for NAPS in the following document is $61.2 million, which is an amount that could easily hide inside the NASA budget without causing alarm.
2. NASA already has developed resources that effectively lobby the U.S. government for ongoing and increased funding as needed. Those resources include NASA's Education Coordinating Committee (ECC), which is chaired by Dr. Joyce Leavitt Winterton, NASA's Assistant Administrator for Education.
3. NASA has an ongoing need to develop homegrown mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, so taking ownership of NAPS would certainly be in NASA's self-interest.
4. The dream of being involved in space exploration is a common dream among many young people who are gifted in mathematics and the sciences. The opportunity to become a NASA Scholar in my proposed NAPS program would inspire many young people to focus their studies in mathematics and the sciences from a young age, and to work hard at excelling academically.
5. If NASA actually managed NAPS, it could create summer internship opportunities for NASA Scholars between their junior and senior years in high school. Being a summer intern at NASA would certainly inspire many NASA Scholars to pursue NASA careers. Consequently, NASA could recruit select NASA Scholars right out of high school, and thereby influence if not outright direct the higher education choices of those recruits.

Steven A. Sylwester
November 3, 2009

Dr. Joyce Leavitt Winterton, NASA's Assistant Administrator for Education, directs the development and implementation of the agency's education programs that strengthen student involvement and public awareness of its scientific goals and missions. In this role, she leads the agency in inspiring interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as few other organizations can through its unique mission, workforce, facilities, research and innovations.

As Assistant Administrator for Education, Winterton chairs the Education Coordinating Committee, an agency-wide collaborative structure that maximizes NASA's ability to manage and implement its education portfolio. The ECC works to ensure that the agency's education investments are focused on supporting the nation's education efforts to develop the skilled workforce necessary to achieve the agency's goals and objectives.


… Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. … We will restore science to its rightful place, … We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

… What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

>> Excerpts from President Barack Obama’s inaugural address, January 20, 2009

An Obama Initiative for The United States of America:

Establish and fund a NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences
three-year public high school at 150 public research universities (three per state)

Enroll 34 students as sophomores per academy per year
and designate the students NASA Scholars

By Steven A. Sylwester
November 3, 2009

This NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences proposal attempts to help prepare future generations of scientists to make world-changing discoveries in all existing science disciplines, and in new science disciplines yet to be discovered. Young people with ambitions to work in the many new nanotechnology fields will be well prepared for their future university studies by the NAPS curriculum.

NAPS will establish a universal curriculum with the acronym CSCPC, which describes “Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus.” Though NAPS does not provide any instruction in biology, the curriculum will fulfill the major requirements in chemistry, mathematics, and physics for those graduates who will seek a university bachelor degree in biology.

This Obama Initiative will provide a special opportunity for 5,100 of the most gifted sophomores being educated in America’s public high schools every year. Including the juniors and seniors who continue in a NAPS until graduation, no more than 15,300 students will every year be the direct recipients of this opportunity, but millions of other high school students will every year receive indirect benefits that will improve their math and science education as a consequence of this initiative.

Each state will every year spend 85% of its average per high school student per year expenditure for each of its NASA Scholars to fund its in-state NAPS academies, and the U.S. government will add $4,000 per student per year funding to each of the 150 NAPS academies nationwide for a total federal funding of $61.2 million per year. The states will be obligated to collect their 15% per student per year expenditure savings into a Science Education Fund that will be exhausted every year through the issuing of major grants to upgrade public high school science classrooms with new computer technology, new laboratory equipment, and/or general facility improvements. The grants will range in size from $20,000 to $50,000 each, and will be awarded by a three-person review committee comprised of one science professor from each of the three public research universities where the in-state NAPS academies are sited. If a state expends $8,500 per high school student per year, its SEF will collect and then spend out $390,150 per year, which could result in 19 grants of $20,534 each.

After the awarding of SEF grants every year, the state governors will consider the merits of all unfunded grant requests for their individual state, and will forward all deserving requests to in-state private industry leaders for their consideration and possible patronage. Special corporate tax credits will be given to companies that fund SEF grant requests. If the SEF grant review committee recommends improvements to particular requests along with encouragement to request a grant the following year (for example, if the request was for equipment that is being made obsolete by new technology), those recommendations will remain attached to the unfunded requests that are forwarded to industry leaders.

States with more than three public universities will select the three universities that: 1) have the largest population base within an established to-and-from daily commute using public mass transit, and 2) do federally funded research on topics associated with gifted learning. All site universities should propose and do research that will improve the NAPS academies over time while also maximizing the benefits that can be had by other schools. Grant money from both federal and private sources will support select research over time.

Three states have fewer than three public universities each: Delaware (two), Rhode Island (two), and Wyoming (one). The four NAPS academies not established in those three states will be assigned to California, thereby giving California a total of seven NAPS academies.

If any states choose not to participate in this initiative, those states will permanently forfeit their entitled NAPS academies to other states that desire more NAPS academies. The U.S. Secretary of Education will permanently reassign to other states any NAPS academies that are forfeited.

1. Starting no later than 7th grade, public schools should accelerate the learning of those students who display an extraordinary aptitude in math and science.
2. Mathematics is the first language of the sciences and chemistry is the second, and physics is a dialect shared by both. Ideally, the physical sciences should be learned before the life sciences; understanding chemistry and physics first makes understanding biology easier afterwards.
3. Knowing computer technology and its science and being skilled in its use is now indispensable for laboratory work in all the sciences.
4. The world has changed. The basic body of knowledge that is now required learning for scientists has become enormous, and continues to grow every day. Therefore, high school should be an uninterrupted time for defined, intensive learning in math and the sciences for would-be scientists and mathematicians.
5. Mid-teenagers are capable of hard, sustained intellectual effort far beyond what is normally expected of them.
6. Ultimately, science is more a disciplined method of investigation and discovery to become skilled at than it is a body of factual knowledge to be learned; for scientists, science is something that is done. Therefore, NASA Scholars should be taught more so as apprentices than as students; they should learn to both think-and-do and think-and-know — to become explorers and discoverers, not just experts on what is already known.

Plainly Stated:
As one considers this initiative, two Albert Einstein quotes should be kept in mind:
"Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler."
"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
Simplicity. Imagination. Knowledge.

Malcolm Gladwell speaking about genius:

The First Model: The University of Oregon

The First Model:
NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences
at The University of Oregon

The University of Oregon (UO) is located in Eugene at the southern end of the Willamette Valley, approximately 105 miles south of Portland. Springfield is Eugene’s sister city, separated neatly north-and-south by I-5 and in part by the Willamette River. As of 2007, Eugene-Springfield Metro Area's population is 337,870 people. Eugene is the county seat of Lane County, and is located geographically mid-county. Lane Transit District (LTD), which is a mass transit bus system that has a central hub in downtown Eugene just nine blocks away from the UO campus, serves much of Lane County with a schedule that makes morning/evening commutes possible.

The UO is a public research university and a member of the Association of American Universities, one of only two such universities in the greater Northwest. It has a total enrollment of 20,376 students: 16,681 undergraduates and 3,695 graduates. It has 1,714 faculty members, and a Faculty-to-Student Ratio of 1:18.

The NASA Academy of the Physical Science (NAPS) concept is easy to pioneer at the UO because: 1) it works neatly there with already established programs, and 2) the significantly countywide model creates a workable ideal for other locales nationwide. The overriding purpose should be clear: the specific task of NAPS academies is to educate high school students who are gifted in mathematics and the sciences.

For many years, the UO and Eugene School District 4J have partnered in Duck Link, a program that allows public high school juniors and seniors to earn up to 8 college credits per term by taking classes at the UO that are not offered at their high school. In a general case, 8 credits equals two classes. In the Duck Link program, the student pays only applicable fees and the cost of books and supplies; the UO tuition is free.

The Duck Link program has one logistical flaw: the UO and District 4J schools have different term schedules and different daily class schedules, which makes participation in the Duck Link program extremely difficult if not impossible for most students. The solution is to establish a NAPS on the UO campus as a day school for NASA Scholars, and to operate it on the same schedules as the UO.

When Oregon Public Education Law and Lane Transit District bus routes are considered together, an opportunity to make Duck Link available to the 13 public high schools in Lane County that have public transportation access to the UO is revealed. Joining District 4J’s four high schools (Churchill, North Eugene, Sheldon, and South Eugene) in having access to Duck Link are the high schools from the following school districts: Bethel 52 (Willamette), Fern Ridge 28J (Elmira), Junction City 69 (Junction City), Lowell 71 (Lowell), McKenzie 68 (McKenzie), Pleasant Hill 1 (Pleasant Hill), South Lane 45J (Cottage Grove), and Springfield 19 (two schools: Springfield and Thurston).

To share in Duck Link, all nine school districts mentioned must consort together with the UO in an arrangement that meets the approval of both the Oregon Department of Education and Susan Castillo, Oregon State Superintendent of Public Instruction. But, according to Oregon law, approval can be granted along with any necessary and appropriate waivers. If the NAPS concept is adopted nationwide, a universal standard will surely be established, perhaps with special diploma recognitions.

Though there are existing public high schools in the United States that limit their enrollment by establishing minimum academic standards; by requiring superior performance on assorted admission tests of proficiencies, intelligence, and knowledge; and by specializing their instruction in mathematics, the laboratory sciences, and technology, NAPS will be different in some respects. Most other public high schools for gifted math and science students have their own campuses, and many are residential schools. NAPS academies will be day schools on public university campuses with maybe only a building hallway or a building floor to call its own. The Duck Link model at the core of the NAPS curriculum will maintain its established innovative concept, which is simply stated: the high school students take university classes with university students on a university campus.

Duck Link has a limit of 8 college credits per term for high school students because a full-time UO student is defined as someone who takes a minimum of 12 college credits per term. Legally maintaining the status of “high school student” until graduation is important because that status is what qualifies students for significant scholarships to colleges and universities. Therefore, NASA Scholars will generally take 8 credits per term from the UO Course Catalog every term throughout their junior and senior years, and will take the remainder of their classes from the NAPS Course Catalog to fulfill their state high school graduation requirements.

NAPS will be a three-year public high school; all of its students will attend a regional high school as freshmen, and will enter NAPS as sophomores and continue there as juniors and seniors. As freshmen, all students seeking admission to NAPS will be required to earn “A” grades in both Geometry (or a math class more advanced than Geometry) and regular Chemistry, to score in acceptable ranges on the national PSAT, and to pass other tests that will demonstrate their mastery of reading comprehension skills and writing skills above high minimum standards. Finally, they will undergo an interview process to test their emotional maturity and their ability to handle stress in a university environment. Everything possible will be done to select for enrollment only those students who will thrive and succeed at NAPS.

NAPS will have a small enrollment, targeting 34 students per grade level. Currently, the 13 public high schools mentioned above together enroll 12,162 students, which means there are approximately 3,040 students per grade level. According to the Oregon Talented and Gifted Education Act standards, TAG students are the top 3% of all students: the intellectually gifted and academically talented students who score at or above the 97th percentile on select nationally standardized tests. Therefore, each grade level in the 13 high schools combined has approximately 91 TAG students. But all TAG students are not the same; many have dominant interests in subjects other than math and the sciences, even though they might excel in all academic areas. For example, TAG students who are deeply involved in music, theater, and/or athletics at their regional high school will not be interested in NAPS.

In the end, targeting to enroll 37% of the TAG students is reasonable, especially when the final mix of those seeking admission to NAPS will also include some students who home school and some who attend Marist Catholic High School. In a year in which equal distribution is accomplished, students will come to NAPS in the following pattern: 15 from the four Eugene high schools combined, 9 from the two Springfield high schools combined, 4 from Willamette High School, 2 from Cottage Grove High School, and 4 from Elmira, Junction City, Lowell, McKenzie, and Pleasant Hill high schools combined.

To offer a measure of scale, the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the UO enrolls 175 freshmen students into its four-year program every year, and the entire college (in terms of dedicated office, classroom, and student space) is located on the third floor of Chapman Hall. In its entirety, NAPS will be less than 15% of the size of the CHC.

NAPS will define its curriculum requirements by following the common requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in the disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics. When requiring outside of its own discipline, each discipline minimally requires General Chemistry (CH 221, 222, 223), General Physics (PHYS 201, 202, 203), and Calculus I, II, III (MATH 251, 252, 253), except biology does not require Calculus III. Therefore, NAPS will recognize mathematics as the first language of the sciences, and will require students to continue math instruction at least through Calculus III. Furthermore, NAPS will recognize the primary importance of both chemistry and physics to all the sciences, and will require all sophomores to enroll in Advanced Placement Chemistry, and all students to simultaneously enroll in calculus-based Foundations of Physics I (PHYS 251, 252, 253) when they take Calculus I, II, III (MATH 251, 252, 253). Finally, NAPS will recognize the essential use of computers in all laboratory science disciplines, and will provide computer science instruction to all sophomores sufficient to meet all prerequisites for Computer Science I, II, III (CIS 210, 211, 212).

The UO awards 12 credits and recognizes the equivalency of General Chemistry (CH 221, 222, 223) for all high school students who score a “4” or a “5” on the national AP Chemistry test. But the UO does not recognize the high school chemistry laboratory experience as being sufficient preparation for Organic Chemistry I (CH 331), and consequently requires all students who want to advance in chemistry to minimally take three terms of General Chemistry Laboratory (CH 227, 228, 229) before beginning the Organic Chemistry sequence. Therefore, the UO will provide university-level chemistry laboratory instruction to all NAPS sophomores in conjunction with their AP Chemistry class to qualify NAPS juniors to enroll in Organic Chemistry if they so choose.

As juniors, NAPS students will separate into three groups according to their interests. Those who are especially advanced in math will take the Foundations of Physics I sequence and the Calculus sequence throughout the school year [total UO credits per term: 8, 8, 8]. A second group will take Organic Chemistry I, II, III (CH 331, 335, 336); Organic Chemistry Laboratory (337, 338); and Organic Analysis (CH 339) [total UO credits per term: 7, 7, 8]. A third group will take Computer Science I, II, III and Elements of Discrete Mathematics I, II, III (MATH 231, 232, 233) [total UO credits per term: 8, 8, 8].
(See class schedule charts below)

As seniors, the especially advanced math students who are interested in physics will take Foundations of Physics II (PHYS 351, 352, 353), Introduction to Differential Equations (MATH 256), and Several-Variable Calculus I, II (MATH 281, 282) [total UO credits per term: 8, 8, 8]. Those interested in mathematics only will take Elementary Analysis (MATH 315) and Elementary Linear Algebra (MATH 341, 342) instead of Foundations of Physics II [total UO credits per term: 8, 8, 8]. The rest of the NAPS seniors will take the Foundations of Physics I sequence and the Calculus sequence [total UO credits per term: 8, 8, 8]. Though Duck Link limitations do not allow earning more than 8 college credits per term, students in Foundations of Physics I might audit Foundations of Physics Laboratory (PHYS 290) [1 credit per term], and those in Foundations of Physics II might audit Intermediate Physics Laboratory (PHYS 390) [1-2 credits per term].

Without exception, the only UO courses to be taken by NASA Scholars will be those mentioned above. All other coursework will be “high school” classes within the exclusive confines of NAPS to fulfill state high school graduation requirements.

A careful read of the above reveals one glaring quirk: “the third group” takes Elements of Discrete Mathematics I, II, III as a for-credit UO course while the other groups will take an equivalent pre-calculus “high school” course within NAPS. This oddity occurs because Elements of Discrete Mathematics I, II, III is co-required for Computer and Information Science majors who are enrolled in Computer Science I, II, III. Similarly, the math courses taken with Foundations of Physics I and with Foundations of Physics II are co-required.

NAPS focuses on the “foundations” courses in physics for its students for three reasons: 1) NASA Scholars are gifted; 2) the foundations courses are math-based at calculus and above, and therefore provide understandable applications in physics that make it easier to learn calculus; and 3) the foundations courses do not fill up.

NAPS is viable only if its cost of operation as a school is affordable to the state, and it is certainly affordable if its UO expense is largely invisible and essentially free. After the UO’s Fall Term 2008 registration was completed, the following spaces were still available: Organic Chemistry I — 133 out of 400; Organic Chemistry Laboratory — 42 out of 248; Foundations of Physics I — 13 out of 134; Foundations of Physics II — 11 out of 48; Computer Science I — 24 out of 110; Elements of Discrete Mathematics I — 8 out of 100; Calculus I — 52 out of 352; and Introduction to Differential Equations — 14 out of 72.

Remember, NAPS has a target enrollment of 34 students per grade level. If the UO’s Fall Term 2008 registration was usual, then only Foundations of Physics I and Elements of Discrete Mathematics I seem likely to be over-filled in future terms by enrollment from NAPS if another section is not added in each case. So, in the general case, NASA Scholars will simply fill available spaces that are currently going unfilled in courses that are being taught anyway, despite under-enrollment.

NAPS will teach AP Chemistry according to the UO model: in this case, a general lecture to all 34 students and an accompanying separate AP Chemistry laboratory class that has three sections, with a maximum enrollment of 12 students per section. At the UO, Organic Chemistry Laboratory (CH 337) sections have a maximum enrollment of 13 students each, and Advanced General Chemistry Laboratory (CH 237) sections have a maximum enrollment of 11 students each.

Excluding the UO faculty for the above-mentioned courses, NAPS will function with just four “high school” teachers: a teacher for AP Chemistry (who will also teach math), a teacher for basic computer science and math through pre-calculus, a teacher for AP Economics and AP U.S. History, and a teacher for AP English Language and AP English Literature. NAPS will have no electives in its “high school” curriculum. Except that some students will be especially advanced in math and will take calculus as juniors, all NAPS classmates will take the same “high school” classes every year. As stated above, NAPS juniors will separate into three groups according their interests regarding their UO Duck Link classes.

It is very important to note that pushing enrollment above 34 NASA Scholars per grade level risks two bad outcomes: 1) having to have more than four “high school” teachers per NAPS, and 2) having to teach more than one section of the shared “high school” classes. An enrollment of 34 scholars per grade level is an outer limit that is doable only because it is reasonable to expect a well-behaved, productive classroom from 34 highly intelligent students who are motivated to be there. If any enrollment adjustment were made, it would be down to 24 scholars per grade level.

NAPS will put an enormous academic and emotional strain on its NASA Scholars, especially during the junior year. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that each and every scholar can relate in a genuine supportive way with his/her classmate scholars especially, but also with scholars from the other two grade levels and with the “high school” teachers. Because emotional maturity is not always on a par with intellectual maturity, gifted adolescents in the transition to adulthood need friends who can understand them. Gifted adolescents are adolescents at risk who are sometimes very vulnerable to social challenges, and they tend to know this about themselves. But, in usual settings, they are alone with their fears. NAPS academies will have the opportunity to create a safe haven in which truly extraordinary young people can experience what it feels like to be ordinary, at least during the while when they are among peer classmates; the importance of this cannot be overstated: a NAPS site will either succeed or fail in its primary purpose by whether or not it can succeed in making its scholars feel ordinary.

The “high school” AP classes will be standard according to national AP standards.

As seniors, NAPS students will have a year-long colloquy on the philosophical subject of “Morality, Ethics & Society: Science & Technology in the 21st Century” that will be team-led by the four “high school” teachers, and that will include talks with UO professors who are willing to participate. Though the colloquy will carry no academic weight and will be Pass/No Pass, it will be a culmination experience that could be defining for NAPS graduates in a very meaningful way. Ultimately, NAPS wants to graduate people who have learned to think deep thoughts from a human point-of-view that is informed by moral and ethical considerations concerning both the individual and society. NAPS will strive to connect its NASA Scholars to math and science while also connecting them to humanity and all that defines life.

The colloquy will be the only “high school” class during the senior year. Also, it will be the only NAPS “high school” class that will be structured as a project-based group learning experience. The lesser academic schedule during the senior year affords time and energy for three things: 1) to fully consider college/university opportunities and make scholarship applications, 2) to work on a UO science research team, and/or 3) to enter national mathematics and science competitions.


It is very rare that a high school freshman ever takes trigonometry, but it does happen. Every year, NAPS will establish its class schedules according to the scheduling needs of its most advanced incoming scholars: those who have already taken trigonometry

SOPHOMORE YEAR: Advanced Mathematics Scholars Only
Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
NAPS: Advanced Placement English Language
Fall: Grammar, Sentence Structure & Poetry
Winter: Prose, Short Story & Journalism Writing
Spring: Essay & Composition Writing
NAPS: Advanced Placement United States History
Fall: 1700s
Winter: 1800s
Spring: 1900s
NAPS: Advanced Placement Chemistry and Laboratory
UO: Computer Science
Fall: I: CIS 210 (4 credits)
Winter: II: CIS 211 (4 credits)
Spring: III: CIS 212 (4 credits)
UO: Elements of Discrete Mathematics
Fall: I: MATH 231 (4 credits)
Winter: II: MATH 232 (4 credits)
Spring: III: MATH 233 (4 credits)

JUNIOR YEAR: Advanced Mathematics Scholars Only
Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
NAPS: Advanced Placement English Literature
NAPS: Advanced Placement Economics
Fall: Microeconomics
Winter: Macroeconomics
Spring: Game Theory
UO: Calculus
Fall: I: MATH 251 (4 credits)
Winter: II: MATH 252 (4 credits)
Spring: III: MATH 253 (4 credits)
UO: Foundations of Physics I
Fall: PHYS 251 (4 credits)
Winter: PHYS 252 (4 credits)
Spring: PHYS 253 (4 credits)

SENIOR YEAR: Advanced Mathematics Scholars Only >> Physics Major
Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
UO: Foundations of Physics II
Fall: PHYS 351 (4 credits)
Winter: PHYS 352 (4 credits)
Spring: PHYS 353 (4 credits)
Fall: Intro Differential Equations: MATH 256 (4 credits)
Winter: Several-Variable Calculus I: MATH 281 (4 credits)
Spring: Several-Variable Calculus II: MATH 282 (4 credits)
NAPS: Colloquy: Morality, Ethics & Society: Science & Technology in the 21st Century
Fall: U.S. Constitution Amendment Proposal
Winter: World Treaty Proposal
Spring: Philosophy of Science and Technology Definition Statement

SENIOR YEAR: Advanced Mathematics Scholars Only >> Mathematics Major
Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
Fall: Intro Differential Equations: MATH 256 (4 credits)
Winter: Several-Variable Calculus I: MATH 281 (4 credits)
Spring: Several-Variable Calculus II: MATH 282 (4 credits)
Fall: Elementary Analysis: MATH 315 (4 credits)
Winter: Elementary Linear Algebra: MATH 341 (4 credits)
Spring: Elementary Linear Algebra: MATH 342 (4 credits)
NAPS: Colloquy: Morality, Ethics & Society: Science & Technology in the 21st Century
Fall: U.S. Constitution Amendment Proposal
Winter: World Treaty Proposal
Spring: Philosophy of Science and Technology Definition Statement

Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
NAPS: Advanced Placement English Language
Fall: Grammar, Sentence Structure & Poetry
Winter: Prose, Short Story & Journalism Writing
Spring: Essay & Composition Writing
NAPS: Advanced Placement United States History
Fall: 1700s
Winter: 1800s
Spring: 1900s
NAPS: Advanced Placement Chemistry and Laboratory
NAPS: Mathematics
NAPS: Computer Science

JUNIOR YEAR: Computer Science Major
Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
NAPS: Advanced Placement English Literature
NAPS: Advanced Placement Economics
Fall: Microeconomics
Winter: Macroeconomics
Spring: Game Theory
UO: Computer Science
Fall: I: CIS 210 (4 credits)
Winter: II: CIS 211 (4 credits)
Spring: III: CIS 212 (4 credits)
UO: Elements of Discrete Mathematics
Fall: I: MATH 231 (4 credits)
Winter: II: MATH 232 (4 credits)
Spring: III: MATH 233 (4 credits)

JUNIOR YEAR: Chemistry Major
Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
NAPS: Advanced Placement English Literature
NAPS: Advanced Placement Economics
Fall: Microeconomics
Winter: Macroeconomics
Spring: Game Theory
NAPS: Mathematics
UO: Organic Chemistry
Fall: I: CH 331 (4 credits)
Winter: II: CH 335 (4 credits)
Spring: III: CH 336 (4 credits)
Fall: Organic Chem Laboratory: CH 337 (3 credits)
Winter: Organic Chem Laboratory: CH 338 (3 credits)
Spring: Organic Analysis: CH 339 (4 credits)

Fall Term Winter Term Spring Term
UO: Calculus
Fall: I: MATH 251 (4 credits)
Winter: II: MATH 252 (4 credits)
Spring: III: MATH 253 (4 credits)
UO: Foundations of Physics I
Fall: PHYS 251 (4 credits)
Winter: PHYS 252 (4 credits)
Spring: PHYS 253 (4 credits)
NAPS: Colloquy: Morality, Ethics & Society: Science & Technology in the 21st Century
Fall: U.S. Constitution Amendment Proposal
Winter: World Treaty Proposal
Spring: Philosophy of Science and Technology Definition Statement

The Colloquy: The Linus Pauling Medal

The NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences Colloquy:

The Prize: The Linus Pauling Medal

Linus Pauling is the most famous and influential U.S.A.-born scientist in world history. He is one of only two people to have won more than one Nobel Prize in different fields, and the only person to win two undivided Nobel Prizes. Pauling was included in a list of the 20 greatest scientists of all time by the magazine New Scientist, with Albert Einstein being the only other scientist from the twentieth century on the list.

Linus Pauling received the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances. Also, he received the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in peace and disarmament campaigns establishing The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

When he was 16 years old, Linus Pauling left Washington High School in Portland, Oregon, without graduating (the principal would not waive a civics class) to enroll at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University), from which he graduated in 1922 with a degree in chemical engineering. In 1925, Pauling received his doctorate degree, summa cum laude, in chemistry, with minors in physics and mathematics, from the California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech).

During his career, Linus Pauling applied quantum mechanics to the study of molecular structures and discovered the helix structure in proteins. Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA with James Watson, acknowledged Pauling as “the father of molecular biology."

The physical sciences — chemistry and physics — are considered to be the foundation sciences for the life sciences: biology and its offshoots. Linus Pauling studied chemistry, physics, and mathematics, and then made world-changing discoveries in biology.

Linus Pauling was born February 28, 1901, in Portland, Oregon. He died August 19, 1994, in Big Sur, California. He was a scientist, peace activist, author, and educator. He is especially renowned as one of the most influential chemists in the history of science.

The NAPS Colloquy honors Linus Pauling.

The UO school year has three terms: fall, winter, and spring. Each term is ten weeks long (plus finals week). The colloquy described is designed for that format.

Topic: Morality, Ethics & Society: Science & Technology in the 21st Century
Fall Term: U.S. Constitution Amendment Proposal
Winter Term: World Treaty Proposal
Spring Term: Philosophy of Science and Technology Definition Statement

The Challenge: Experience group effort and productive political compromise

Each term starts with a self-identification of seven different groups with no fewer than four members each who then begin the task of negotiating intra-group to define and develop that term’s proposal or statement. Each group works independently and develops its proposal without regard for any other group’s proposal, and is only limited by the general topic for the term.

At least once every week if possible, a UO professor gives a short presentation on a generally related topic during a class session, and then remains for discussion. At least once every week, each group gives a brief description of its proposal as-is, and responds to three minutes of questioning.

After three weeks, the original seven groups somehow meld into five groups of no fewer than five members each.

After six weeks, the then five groups somehow meld into three groups of no fewer than nine members each.

After eight weeks, all restrictions regarding the number of groups and their size are lifted.

During the two-hour Final session, each remaining group gives a five-minute presentation of its finished proposal or statement to the entire class. After each group has presented, the teachers openly question the proposals in a fitting manner. After the questioning, each scholar casts two anonymous votes: one for the best proposal or statement, and one for the most influential NASA Scholar during the colloquy that term.

The colloquy is Pass/No Pass, except the teachers may award up to seven Linus Pauling Medals at their discretion. The colloquy should be at once both fun and maddening, yet serious and thought provoking. It is intended as a tribute to the Nobel Peace Prize won by Linus Pauling, and serves to reveal the political process through firsthand experience.

* * *

Additional thoughts regarding the colloquy can be read here (scroll down to "One Response").


ORS 343.396 Nature of programs. It is legislative policy that, when talented and gifted programs are offered, the programs should be provided by common or union high school districts, combinations of such districts or education service districts, in accordance with ORS 334.175, and that the state will provide financial and technical support to the districts to implement the education programs within the limits of available funds. [1979 c.385 §8; 1981 c.833 §2]

OAR 581-022-1340
Alternative Education Programs

(1) In order to provide innovative and more flexible ways of educating children, school districts may establish new alternative education options within the public school system.

(2) A school district shall grant credit for work satisfactorily completed in an alternative education program as defined in
ORS 336.615 and ORS 336.625, provided the student either:
(a) Successfully completes classroom or equivalent work (e.g., supervised independent study, work experience, research) in a course of at least 130 clock hours in accordance with OAR 581-022-0102;
(b) Completes a unit of credit in a school accredited by Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges;
(c) Completes a unit of credit where performance-based criteria acceptable to the school district are identified; or
(d) Demonstrates competency or mastery of subject as defined by the school district by any one or more of the following as approved by the district:

(A) Successfully passes an appropriate exam;
(B) Provides sample of work or other evidence which demonstrates equivalent knowledge or skill; and
(C) Provides documentation of prior learning activities or experiences (e.g., certification of training, letters, diplomas, awards, etc.).

Diploma Requirements

Each district school board with jurisdiction over high school programs shall award diplomas to all students who fulfill all school district requirements and all state requirements as described in the following sections and in district school board policies. A school district may award an alternative document to a student who has met some but not all of the graduation requirements:

(1) Unit of Credit Requirements:

(a) Each student shall earn a minimum of 22 units of credit to include at least:

(A) Language Arts -- 3 (shall include the equivalent of one unit in Written Composition);
(B) Mathematics -- 2;
(C) Science -- 2;
(D) Social Sciences 3 -- (including history, civics, geography and economics [including personal finance]);
(E) Health Education -- 1;
(F) Physical Education -- 1;
(G) Applied Arts, Fine Arts or Second Language -- 1 (one unit shall be earned in any one or a combination).

(b) A district school board with a three-year high school may submit through the waiver process alternative plans to meet unit requirements;
(c) A district school board may increase the number of units required in specific areas, and may increase or decrease the number of elective units; however, the total units of credit required for graduation shall not be less than 22;
(d) A school district may grant high school credit for courses taken prior to grade 9 if students taking pre-grade 9 courses are required to meet performance criteria that are equivalent to the performance criteria for students taking the same high school courses;
(e) Course syllabi shall be written for courses in grades 9 through 12 and shall be available to students, staff, parents, the district school board and other interested individuals.

(2) Attendance Requirements:

(a) Twelve school years shall be required beginning with grade 1, except when the school district adopts policies providing for early or delayed completion of all state and school district credit and performance requirements;
(b) The district school board may adopt policies for alternative learning experiences, such as credit by examination and credit for off-campus experiences;
(c) With any modification of the attendance requirements for graduation, school district staff shall consider age and maturity of students, access to alternative learning experiences, performance levels, school district guidelines and the wishes of parents or guardians.

Stat. Auth.: ORS 326.051

Stats. Implemented: ORS 326.051 & ORS 339.280

The following existing public high schools should be studied to glean their best operational ideas and to gain comfort in the precedents they have already set in creating learning opportunities for gifted math and science students.

The Bronx High School of Science
New York City, New York
Brooklyn Technical High School
New York City, New York
High Technology High
Lincroft, New Jersey
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
Aurora, Illinois
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Durham, North Carolina
Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics
Hartsville, South Carolina's_School_for_Science_and_Mathematics
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Alexandria, Virginia
Union County Magnet High School
Scotch Plains, New Jersey
University Laboratory High School (University of Illinois)
Urbana, Illinois,_Illinois

National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology,_Science_and_Technology
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology (NCSSSMST) is an alliance of specialized high schools in the United States whose focus is advanced preparatory studies in mathematics, science and technology.

The NCSSSMST was established in 1988 to provide a forum for member schools to exchange information and program ideas and to form alliances with each other. As of 2006, there are 80 institutional members, representing more than 35,000 students and 1,400 educators. There are also over 100 affiliate members such as college, universities, and corporations.

There are 29 states that have at least one secondary school listed as a member of NCSSSMST. Oregon is not one of those states. California and Washington each have one member school. Idaho has none.

President Obama said during his inaugural address: “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness” — a statement that can mean many different things to many different people, but a statement that should be a clarion call whose meaning is clear for those who consider themselves to be educators.

Oregon Public School Funding:
Section 3: System of common schools.

The Legislative Assembly shall provide by law for the establishment of a uniform, and general system of Common schools.

Section 4: Distribution of school fund income.

Provision shall be made by law for the distribution of the income of the common school fund among the several Counties of this state in proportion to the number of children resident therein between the ages, four and twenty years.
Historically, the state of Oregon funded approximately 80% of education funding through local property taxes. This system resulted in vast amounts of paperwork and high levels of inequity across districts—two driving forces in reforming special education funding. Once meaningful discussion of reform occurred, the concept of developing a "funding" formula was replaced with developing a "distribution" formula. In 1991 a new system focused on equal distribution of resources was enacted. The new system provides two times the amount of funding for a special education student as a regular student (a funding weight of 2.0), up to 11% of the total school population. The double weighting formula was designed from research showing that special education students are approximately twice the cost of regular students. A main feature of this formula is money targeted for special education need not be spent solely on students with disabilities.

Understanding the Oregon Talented and Gifted Education Act:
OAR 581-022-1310
Identification of Academically Talented and Intellectually Gifted Students

Each school district shall have local district policies and procedures for the identification of talented and gifted students as defined in ORS 343.395(7)(a) and (b):

(1) Districts shall make efforts to identify students from ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, and students who are culturally different or economically disadvantaged.

(2) A team shall make the final decisions on the identification of students using the information collected under sections (3) and (4) of this rule. No single test, measure or score shall be the sole criteria. A record of the team's decision, and the data used by the team to make the decision, shall become part of the education record for each student considered.

(3) Districts shall collect behavioral, learning and/or performance information and include the information in all procedures for the identification of students.

(4) The following measures and criteria for identifying the intellectually gifted and the academically talented shall be used by the team:
(a) Intellectually gifted students shall score at or above the 97th percentile on a nationally standardized test of mental ability; and
(b) Academically talented students shall score at or above the 97th percentile on a test of total reading or a test of total mathematics from a nationally standardized test battery or a nationally standardized test of reading or mathematics.

(5) Despite a student's failure to qualify under subsections (4)(a) and (b) of this rule, districts, by local policies and procedures, shall identify students who demonstrate the potential to perform at the 97th percentile.

(6) School districts may identify additional students who are talented and gifted as defined in ORS 343.395(7)(c), (d), and(e) as determined by local district policies and procedures.

Stat. Auth.: ORS 343.391 - ORS 343.413
Stats. Implemented: ORS 326.051
Hist.: EB 18-1996, f. & cert. ef. 11-1-96

343.391 Purpose of ORS 343.391 to 343.413. The purpose of ORS 343.391 to 343.413 is to facilitate the identification and education of talented and gifted children. [1959 c.528 §1; 1963 c.570 §21; 1971 c.613 §1; 1979 c.385 §1]

343.393 [1959 c.528 §11; repealed by 1961 c.500 §2]

343.395 Definitions for ORS 343.391 to 343.413. As used in ORS 343.391 to 343.413, unless the context requires otherwise:
(1) “Application” means a request by a school district for state funds to develop and operate programs for students under an approved, written plan as contained in ORS 343.397.
(2) “Board” means the State Board of Education.
(3) “Department” means the Department of Education.
(4) “Identification” means the formal process of screening and selecting talented and gifted children according to administrative rules established by the board.
(5) “School district” has the same meaning as in ORS 330.005 (2) and also includes, where appropriate, an education service district, state operated schools or programs or a consortium of school districts submitting a joint plan.
(6) “Superintendent” means the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
(7) “Talented and gifted children” means those children who require special educational programs or services, or both, beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society and who demonstrate outstanding ability or potential in one or more of the following areas:
(a) General intellectual ability as commonly measured by measures of intelligence and aptitude.
(b) Unusual academic ability in one or more academic areas.
(c) Creative ability in using original or nontraditional methods in thinking and producing.
(d) Leadership ability in motivating the performance of others either in educational or noneducational settings.
(e) Ability in the visual or performing arts, such as dance, music or art. [1959 c.528 §2; 1963 c.570 §22; 1965 c.100 §409; 1971 c.613 §2; 1979 c.385 §2; 1987 c.335 §1]

343.396 Nature of programs. It is legislative policy that, when talented and gifted programs are offered, the programs should be provided by common or union high school districts, combinations of such districts or education service districts, in accordance with ORS 334.175, and that the state will provide financial and technical support to the districts to implement the education programs within the limits of available funds. [1979 c.385 §8; 1981 c.833 §2]

Note: 343.396 was enacted into law by the Legislative Assembly but was not added to or made a part of ORS chapter 343 or any series therein by legislative action. See Preface to Oregon Revised Statutes for further explanation.

Oregon Public School Funding
$8,645 PPE: 197 school districts statewide
Bethel School District 052
$7,349 PPE: Willamette High School
Eugene School District 04J
$8,153 PPE: Churchill, North, Sheldon, South
Fern Ridge School District 28J
$6,984 PPE: Elmira High School
Junction City School District 069
$7,545 PPE: Junction City High School
Lowell School District 071
$8,478 PPE: Lowell High School
McKenzie School District 068
$11,229 PPE: McKenzie High School
Pleasant Hill School District 001
$8,197 PPE: Pleasant Hill High School
South Lane School District 45J
$8,187 PPE: Cottage Grove High School
Springfield School District 019
$8,180 PPE: Springfield, Thurston

Making It Happen: NASA and NAPS

Paying for the NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences (NAPS) program I have proposed must be done with serious consideration given to three realities that stand in direct opposition to each other: 1) the academic needs of Talented and Gifted (TAG) students who excel in mathematics and the sciences are generally not acknowledged by U.S. taxpayers, because the general sentiment is that “smart” kids can get by in our public schools without any additional funding for merit-based programs that might result in educational advantages for the top-end few; 2) the U.S. is falling behind in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) expertise when compared to the rest of the world, especially in public schools classroom learning as measured by standardized tests; and 3) U.S. industrial companies, military forces, and intelligence agencies, and the space exploration of NASA must depend on the talents of U.S. citizens who are tremendously skilled and highly educated in STEM, especially regarding top secret “classified” developments that pertain to national security and/or to national defense.

Unfortunately, #1 trumps #2 and #3 in every case in which the outcome is dependent on a vote of the people. Americans are a people who will help the disadvantaged up to mediocre standing while simultaneously dragging the advantaged down to mediocre standing, even when doing the latter is not in their long term self-interest. That strange and peculiar trait seems to battle strongly against anything that smacks of stratified learning tracks, especially if there is a high-end fast track that in any way glorifies those whose talents and skills are not expressed in athletic competitions. In all of this, we are a stupid people, and we can no longer afford that stupidity — even if it means becoming un-American by saying “Yes” to an intellectual meritocracy that we collectively nurture starting no later than the seventh grade.

Establishing NAPS nationwide is a starting point that must be accomplished by whatever means necessary. It appalls me that many who should support my proposal do not, and that they justify their lack of support most ungenerously: from patronizing notions that value the humanities over the sciences as a supposed matter-of-fact, through scary statements that high school’s overriding purpose is forced socialization to the norm, to depressing pronouncements that “smart” kids do not need — nor do they deserve — special considerations of any sort. If it is left to the masses, NAPS will never happen. So the implementation strategy must go stealth regarding funding, and live by the crazy truth that a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse; in other words, just do it!

Do not go through local public school boards and public school district superintendents seeking support and approval. You will fail if you do so. Do not go through every state’s department of education hierarchy and every state’s legislature seeking support and approval. You will fail if you do so. Do not go through the U.S. Congress seeking support and approval. You will fail if you do so. The simple idea that is NAPS is too complicated for all except those who can see its beauty and its simplicity plainly at first sight. If you have to be convinced that NAPS is a good idea, you will never be convinced. Those who will not need convincing are these: the genius young people who score at the 99th percentile in mathematics and the sciences and who enjoy mathematics and the sciences, and the parents of those young people; Pentagon-based generals and admirals; the highest ranking personnel in the various U.S. intelligence agencies; and the highest ranking personnel at NASA.

Going stealth is as simple as this: entirely federally fund and entirely oversight manage NAPS through the public auspices of NASA with behind-the-scenes shared funding and governance coming from both the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). According to my proposal, the federal funding portion of the NAPS program is $61.2 million per year. NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2009 is $17.6 billion. DoD’s budget for fiscal year 2010 is $533.8 billion. The National Intelligence Program (NIP) spent $49.8 billion in fiscal year 2009 according to official documents (Oct 30, 2009), though the DNI, Dennis Blair, recently stated publicly “we’re talking about the very important business of a blueprint to run this 200,000-person, $75 billion national enterprise in intelligence …” (Sep 15, 2009). Most of the official NIP budget is hidden in the DoD budget, though some of it hides elsewhere; the details of the NIP budget are top-secret “classified” information that exists outside of any public scrutiny. NASA, the DoD, and the DNI have considerable shared interests (for example, spy satellites), so the “contract” work certainly boosts NASA’s $17.6 billion cash flow, perhaps significantly.

The point being this: $61.2 million split three ways between NASA, the DoD, and the sixteen U.S. government and military agencies that answer to the DNI make the NAPS annual federal budget of $61.2 million turn into invisible pocket change that no one will argue about because no one will be able to see it. That is going stealth, and that is a good thing in this case.

The NAPS program implementation then becomes this simple: NASA selects the 150 public research universities it wants to work with, and offers its deal to them and the local public school districts that would be involved at each NAPS site. With the backing of the U.S. government, NASA creates a high school diploma for the NAPS program that would be universally accepted by American colleges and universities. Doing this would bypass any odd high school graduation requirements that might exist in some states. The public identity of the program would be this: NASA Academy of the Physical Sciences is a nationwide effort federally funded and managed by NASA to educate future generations of scientists and engineers to serve the national interests of the United States of America.

Is there a downside to this paying scheme? No. Is there a trade-off? Yes.

Because each of the 150 NAPS academies will likely draw its students from many different public school districts and each NAPS will therefore float outside the control and jurisdiction of just one school district, NASA should establish itself as the de facto public school district equivalent for the entire NAPS program, meaning: NASA should take complete operational control of the NAPS program, and should leave no local program design control of any sort to parent groups, school boards, school district administrators, or the NAPS host universities. To accomplish this, the NAPS “high school” teachers must be NASA employees, and the entire NAPS curriculum must be NASA-controlled.

The NAPS curriculum I have proposed is simple and straightforward, and it is driven exclusively by the standard university prerequisite stream for mathematics and the physical sciences, which — when accomplished — fulfills the core math and science course requirements of any university-level laboratory science major (including the biology major). If anything, NASA might simplify my proposed curriculum in some way, though there is nothing to simplify that I can see. With few exceptions, NAPS will teach only select Advanced Placement courses (which are standardized nationwide) while living as a parasite on the standard undergraduate course offerings in mathematics and the physical sciences found at all public research universities in the U.S., and the subject matter and teaching of the university courses taken by NAPS students will not be tampered with or in any way controlled by NASA at all.

Paranoid people will rightly observe that the U.S. government will have direct free access to NAPS student transcripts through NASA, and that includes access given to the DoD and the various NIP agencies if they partner in funding NAPS. This does not in any way bother me, but it might bother some. To those “some” who are bothered, my advice is simple: do not enroll your child in NAPS under any circumstance. NAPS is an extraordinary optional educational opportunity that will only be available to the very few who qualify. If NASA, the DoD, and the DNI partner in making NAPS happen, then they deserve the access to student transcripts that they will have.

NAPS fulfills the government obligation to provide free public education through the twelfth grade for its students, but it in no way contractually obligates its graduates to ever work for the U.S. government in any capacity at all for any length of time. A NAPS graduate is entirely free to do whatever he/she wants to do with the rest of his/her life. That stated, it will certainly be the case that many NAPS graduates will be recruited by the U.S. government for employment and/or higher education opportunities that might have significant contractual obligations attached (for example, U.S. military academy appointments). But other private industry recruitments and also significant university scholarship offers will certainly come to many NAPS graduates. The plain fact of the matter is this: most NAPS graduates will be academically among “The Top One Percent” of all U.S. high school graduates in any given year; they will be in high demand by many, including the whole assortment of U.S. government agencies and departments.

In the end, many NAPS graduates will maintain their dream to become NASA employees, and they will freely choose to follow NASA’s guidance in their higher education choices in their continuing effort to make that dream happen. If NASA adopts this proposal, it will certainly have the inside track on finding and developing the very best young minds in America to meet the agency's ongoing need to remain on the cutting edge of new space technologies. Many young geniuses are naturally drawn to the exciting work that NASA does, and NASA should invite those young geniuses into its fold by becoming the U.S. government agency that funds and manages the NAPS program.

Steven A. Sylwester
November 22, 2009


Being Gifted in Mathematics and Science

Isaac Newton : Genius
Albert Einstein : Genius
Linus Pauling : Genius & Peace Activist

* * *

Carl Friedrich Gauss : Child Prodigy & Genius

* * *

Worth reading:

Academic Merit Scholarships

Read the following and weep, then get angry. The begging questions are these: How much money does the University of Texas at Austin spend on full-ride athletic scholarships every year? And is any consideration whatsoever given to "need" when athletic scholarships are awarded?

Steven A. Sylwester
November 30, 2009

* * *

Blow to National Merit Scholarships

September 1, 2009

The University of Texas at Austin is ending participation in the National Merit Scholarship Program, the largest single campus departure in years from the program, which enjoys considerable prestige in some circles but is controversial in others. The university plans to shift the funds to need-based aid.

Last year, Texas was second only to Harvard University in the number of National Merit Scholars it enrolled (281). Some of the scholarships in the program (and all of those at Harvard) are sponsored by companies and other groups, but 213 of those who enrolled at Texas were sponsored by the university, which in recent years has sponsored more of the scholarships than all but a few other universities. (Last year, the University of Southern California sponsored more, 216 -- most colleges don't even top 50.)

The move by Texas comes at a time when some are criticizing the awarding of merit scholarships (and not just through this program) when so many students have clear financial need. Further, some admissions leaders have been criticizing the National Merit Scholarship Program for its reliance on PSAT scores -- and only PSAT scores -- to establish semifinalist status. There is a wide consensus among educators -- including the College Board, sponsor of the PSAT -- that standardized test scores alone shouldn't qualify or disqualify students for scholarships. (That consensus is in some cases more philosophical than operational, as the cooperation of the College Board with the National Merit Scholarship Program suggests.)

In the case of Texas, the decision was based not on concern about testing, but on a desire to focus more aid on students with need.

"We took a look at the economy, and the need level of our student body is up quite a bit. So we decided we needed to redirect the resources so UT stays accessible to everyone," said Thomas G. Melecki, director of student financial services at the university. Texas awards scholarships worth $13,000 over four years to the merit scholars it sponsors through the program (and will keep commitments to all who have been admitted through those starting this fall).

Melecki noted that only about one fourth of the university's National Merit Scholars even bothered to apply for federal financial aid, suggesting most of them don't need the money.

Historically, colleges that have invested heavily in the program have boasted about attracting students with good grades and very high SAT scores (since only those who did very well on the PSAT get considered). Melecki said he wasn't worried about losing talent because "our reputation is going to carry the day." The University of Texas does have other merit scholarships, and some of the students who might have received funds through the national program can still apply for them, he noted.

Further, the university has strong need-based aid programs -- which this shift should bolster -- for the minority of National Merit Scholars who do have financial need.

A spokeswoman for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation said that the organization would have no comment on the move by Texas, but that it planned to talk to Texas officials soon. The last major withdrawal from the program was the University of California, which had been awarding 600 scholarships among six of its institutions until 2005. In the case of the University of California, officials cited the reliance on standardized tests, saying that "using the PSAT exam alone to eliminate the vast majority of test takers from National Merit Scholarship consideration is inconsistent with the principles that standardized tests should be used in conjunction with other factors in measuring merit and that major decisions should not be made on the basis of small differences in test scores."

In April, the National Association for College Admission Counseling announced requests it had made asking the College Board to explain why it has done nothing about the use of the PSAT as the sole qualifying test for National Merit Scholarships, and to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation about why its policies run counter to the stated policies of the College Board and the new NACAC report. Both groups brushed aside the request.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a critic of standardized testing, said the Texas decision was "very significant" because it has for so long been one of the major participants in the program. He predicted that for the reasons Texas and California left, others would follow and said that the testing program runs "the risk of losing more sponsors -- as well as their remaining credibility -- if they do not overhaul their unfair selection process."

STEM Initiatives

STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

* * *

Tue, Nov 24, 2009

Obama launches new STEM initiatives
President announces efforts to boost math, science education

President Obama announced a nationwide push to improve American students' performance and interest in STEM fields.

President Barack Obama on Nov. 23 announced the launch of several nationwide programs to help motivate and inspire students to excel in science and math, including a grassroots effort called "National Lab Day" and a White House science fair.

Leadership tomorrow is dependent on how America's students are educated today, Obama said in morning remarks.

"The key to meeting these challenges--to improving our health and well-being, to harnessing clean energy, to protecting our security, and succeeding in the global economy--will be reaffirming and strengthening America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation," he said. "The hard truth is that for decades we've been losing ground. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world."

Obama was referring to results from the most recent Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. Some experts caution that PISA is different from other tests, especially those in the United States, and makes American kids look worse than other tests do.

Click below to watch Obama's speech on eSN.TV


Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren reiterated Obama's sentiment in a conference call with reporters.

"The president has been clear throughout his campaign that STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] is a priority, not only because we need today's students to become tomorrow's leaders in innovation and help our economy, but also because we need to increase STEM interest and skills overall for everybody. We need a science-savvy citizenry to help decide STEM policy and much more," he said.

Obama identified three overarching priorities for STEM education: increasing STEM literacy so all students can think critically in these subject areas; improving the quality of math and science teaching so American students no longer are outperformed by those in other nations; and expanding STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.

To help meet these goals, Obama announced a series of high-powered partnerships involving leading companies, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and science and engineering societies, all of which are dedicated to moving American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next 10 years.

The partnerships include:

• Time Warner Cable's "Connect a Million Minds" Campaign, which aims to connect more than one million students to highly engaging after-school STEM activities that already exist in their areas.
• Discovery Communications' "Be the Future" Campaign, which will create content that reaches more than 99 million homes, including a public service announcement campaign and the creation of interactive education content through Discovery Education.
• Sesame Street's Early STEM Literacy Initiative will consist of a major focus on science and math for young children with "My World is Green and Growing." The program will be part of a two-year science initiative designed to increase positive attitudes toward nature, deepen children's knowledge about the natural world, and encourage behavior that shows respect and care for the environment.
• National STEM Game Design Competitions, which will be sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, Sony Computer Entertainment America, the Entertainment Software Association, and its partners, is a set of nationwide competitions that include the design of the most compelling, freely available STEM-related video games for children and youth. (See "Competition seeks ways to transform learning.")
• "National Lab Day" is a grassroots effort to bring hands-on learning to 10 million students by upgrading science labs, supporting project-based learning, and building communities of support for STEM teachers.

On the conference call, Domestic Policy Director Heather Higginbottom pointed out that, as Obama said in his speech, solving the STEM crisis will require "all hands on deck," meaning parents, students, private and public institutions, and teachers need to work together.

One reporter noted that many teachers aren't highly qualified to teach STEM disciplines and asked what the administration would do about this. "Teacher quality is one of the major areas that the [Education Department] wants to reform. We're hoping these types of national projects will inspire teachers to want to take part in STEM," Higginbottom said.

Holdren added that parents are crucial in stoking students' desire to learn about STEM subjects, and he hopes parents and kids will reinforce each other's enthusiasm.

To help lead the “Educate to Innovate” initiative, Obama has tapped Xerox Chief Executive Ursula Burns, former Intel Corp. CEO Craig Barrett, Time Warner Cable Inc. CEO Glenn Britt, and former astronaut Sally Ride.

Burns, a mechanical engineer, joined Xerox as a student intern nearly 30 years ago and became CEO in July. She said in a statement that companies like Xerox depend on the fresh ideas of people to succeed.

“If we inspire young people today, we secure our ability innovate tomorrow,” she said.

In an afternoon event, a coalition of educators, science and engineering associations, and philanthropic organizations launched National Lab Day as a way to bridge the gap between scientists and teachers.

Jack D. Hidary, chairman of National Lab Day, encouraged others to get involved in the grassroots effort through its web site,, which automatically will match volunteers to requests from educators on the basis of geography and interests. The web site also provides resources and ideas for hands-on learning experiments and invites the public to suggest new materials.

"Our children deserve a world-class science and math education that includes exciting, hands-on lab experiences," Hidary said. "Whether you are a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, a ‘Mythbusters' fan, a tinkerer, or a parent, you can help bring students the enjoyment of learning through real challenges."

Thomas H. Lane, president of the American Chemical Society, said National Lab Day would elevate hands-on learning to an entirely new level.

"I am proud to be a chemist, improving people's lives through the transforming power of chemistry," he said. "And I can't wait to share my passion for chemistry and the related science with children, my community, and those policy makers that helped all of this happen."

Several companies are helping with the National Lab Day web platform, including Pivotal Labs, which develops online platforms that foster innovation, ePals Inc., a social network optimized for K-12 learning, Donors Choose, an online platform for teachers to connect directly with donors, and Maker Faire, which is supplying project designs and ideas for the site.

Additionally, Obama announced the launch of a new science fair to be held at the White House each year.

"We're going to have an annual science fair at the White House with the winners of national competitions in science and technology. If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you're a young person and you've produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too," he said. "Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we're going to lead by example. We're going to show young people how cool science can be."

Associate Editor Meris Stansbury contributed to this article. Material from the Associated Press also was used.