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MIT studies K-12 education

By Eva Moy

The MIT Committee on K-12 Education, created in the fall of 1990 by then-Dean of Engineering Gerald L. Wilson '61, has concluded that MIT should play a larger role as an institution in the present educational crisis, both locally and nationally.

The committee, which was chaired by Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Ronald M. Latanision, met from November to June, and formally presented its findings for review and comment to President Charles M. Vest and Provost Mark S. Wrighton two weeks ago.

Latanision will now head the Council on Primary and Secondary Education, which will coordinate and expand efforts to enhance teaching and learning experiences in those grades, according to a Sept. 20 press release from the MIT News Office.

The council will explore ways for MIT to have an impact on American math and science education, especially the education of underprivileged children, while helping to maintain interest in these fields among college-age students, Latanision said. The emphasis will be on implementation of a program rather than documentation, he said, adding that there are already innumerable reports about the state of American education.

The council will include 15 members, including faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate student representatives, who will each serve for three-year terms.

Among the committee's recommendations were increased use of the media, summer teacher institutes, use of advanced technologies in K-12 education, a program for in-service teachers and a continuation of the individual efforts that are already taking place in the MIT community.

Council hopes to

change science's image

The council hopes to use the media to change the national perception of science and technology as hostile and of MIT as remote, using the economic future of the United States as the "hook," Latanision said. "The problem is that the US doesn't realize how much of an impact science and technology have" on the US's ability to compete economically in the future, he said.

The committee felt there is a need to change the attitudes of all Americans, especially parents, students, teachers and administrators, he said.

There are already numerous programs at MIT that bring science and technology to K-12 students, ranging from campus tours and open houses to having MIT students visit elementary and secondary schools to talk about science, Latanision said.

"It is not uncommon at all for the driving force for entering [a science or engineering field] to be an individual," he said.

Latanision noted that these efforts have not been coordinated by MIT as a whole in the past, and that the committee hoped MIT would take these initiatives as an institution, going "beyond the mission of higher education and research."

Commission has

widespread support

This committee was only the beginning of MIT's institutional role in promoting science and technology in the United States, Latanision said. He said that even with the expected questions of funding sources, there seems to be widespread support for MIT's initiative.

Having various deans, professors and other people within the Institute behind the program "represents a serious commitment on the part of MIT," Latanision said.

In an article describing the committee's findings, Latanision said: "Science and math education in K-12 is not somebody else's problem -- it's a shared responsibility and it is now time for MIT, as an institution, and as a citizen of Cambridge, of Massachusetts and of the United States, to engage the problems of the _K-12 system, particularly in the areas of math and science education."