Project 2061 Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary
Two decades after the launch of Project 2061, educators, researchers, and other friends and supporters of the project gathered in Washington, DC, to join AAAS in celebrating the 20th anniversary of its far-reaching initiative to reform science, mathematics, and technology education. Events to mark the occasion reflected the influence the project has gained within the nation’s science and education communities. Beginning with a Capitol Hill briefing for members of Congress on Monday, October 17, and followed the next day by a program and celebration at the AAAS, the events provided opportunities to look back on accomplishments and inspiration for the work ahead.
Continue to Do What You Are Doing
Bringing together leaders from both sides of the aisle, the Capitol Hill briefing, organized by AAAS’s Center for Science, Technology and Congress, focused on Project 2061’s contributions so far and confirmed the fundamental role that science, mathematics, and technology are likely to play in the years to come. Providing today’s students with the knowledge and skills they need in these areas is of “critical importance to the nation’s long-term security,” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House Science Committee. It is also “about the future of our children and grandchildren,” he noted.
Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), co-founders of the bipartisan STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education Caucus in 2004, agreed. Remarking on the heightened interest in science education among his congressional colleagues, Ehlers urged AAAS and Project 2061 to “continue to do what you are doing” to push for improvements in the science curriculum and teaching. Also attending was Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), another STEM Caucus member and, like Ehlers, a physicist by training. Holt endorsed Project 2061’s emphasis on science literacy, pointing out that science education is essential “not just for the scientists and engineers of the future” but for everyone. He also had high praise for Project 2061’s 1993 publication Benchmarks for Science Literacy, describing it as one of the “best books on any subject in the last two decades.” Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) also joined the briefing, as well as numerous congressional staff with responsibilities related to education or science and technology.
While reminding those gathered that “2061 was never intended to be an end date but more of a metaphor,” Project 2061’s director Jo Ellen Roseman acknowledged that there are no shortcuts to real reform, stating, “We can’t test our way out of this problem.” Instead, Project 2061 will continue to promote science literacy goals that are important for all students and to develop tools that educators can use to help them reach those goals.
Radical and Visionary
For the AAAS staff and guests gathered on Tuesday, October 18, in the auditorium of the association’s Washington, DC, headquarters, the celebration of Project 2061’s 20th anniversary was an occasion to reunite with old friends, colleagues, and supporters. They came together to reflect on the progress of science education, to consider the relevance of “science literacy for all” in today’s context, and to propose some promising directions for future work.
As evidence of Project 2061’s unique role in science education reform, Dr. Gilbert S. Omenn, president of AAAS and member of the project’s original advisory group, pointed out that “no organization had previously addressed the issue of what was needed in K-12 schooling by putting aside the traditional curriculum and starting by debating and deciding what every adult citizen needed to know and be able to do.” (View Dr. Omenn’s presentation). A Professor of Internal Medicine, Human Genetics, and Public Health at the University of Michigan, Dr. Omenn was one of four speakers at the anniversary celebration. The others were Alan I. Leshner, CEO of AAAS; Iris Weiss, president of Horizon Research Inc., a firm that specializes in science and math education research and evaluation; and Linda Froschauer, president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association. Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, and F. James Rutherford, founder of Project 2061, also addressed the audience.
Although all the speakers praised the significant contributions of Project 2061 to science education in this country, the general sentiment was that the overall performance of U.S. schools remains far from satisfactory.
Among challenges facing science education today, according to Weiss of Horizon Research, are those related to the quality of teacher education programs designed to prepare new teachers and provide ongoing professional development. Today’s teachers need more extensive knowledge of the science content as well as the ability to work with diverse learners. How to provide these kinds of programs cost-effectively to many more teachers is a key issue. (View Weiss’s presentation).
As a longtime member of the project’s advisory group, 8th grade science teacher Linda Froschauer helped to guide Project 2061 as it translated the vision of Science for All Americans into the grade level learning goals in Benchmarks for Science Literacy. What makes Project 2061’s work “radical and visionary,” said Froschauer, was its decision not simply to produce more material but to “produce tools and models that can be used by others—expanding the nation’s (and the world’s) capacity for reform.” (View Froschauer’s presentation).
The anniversary celebration concluded with the presentation to Rutherford of a framed poster displaying the covers of Project 2061 books that were published during his tenure as director. Jo Ellen Roseman, the project’s current director, honored him for creating Project 2061 in 1985, guiding it through significant achievement, and continuing to be an eloquent advocate for science literacy around the world. (View Roseman’s presentation).
After praising AAAS and Project 2061 for the work that they’ve done, Rutherford warned that science education still needs a lot of attention. “Project 2061 can be proud of the unrivaled contributions it made to the advancement of science education during its first 20 years, and now, in the next 20, it must continue to press forward with the same strategy, energy, and inventiveness in its crucial effort to make nationwide science literacy a reality in America,” said Rutherford. He is currently distinguished visiting professor at Mills College in Oakland, California. He’s also engaged in establishing an interdisciplinary center for the advancement of science literacy; principal investigator of Resources for Environmental Literacy, a NSF-funded project; and consultant on several projects, including “In the Wake of the Western Flyer,” a science film based on John Steinbeck's research in the Sea of Cortez.
Roseman agreed that much work remains to be done. “With a strong foundation to build on,” she said, “a clear focus on the most important science ideas and skills, and a set of practical tools that can help educators select appropriate materials and monitor their students’ progress, Project 2061 is well-positioned to help make its guiding vision of science literacy for all a reality.”
(Lonnie Shekhtman of the AAAS Office of Public Programs contributed to this article.)