Obama Nominates Cordova to Lead NSF

Obama Nominates Córdova to Lead NSF; Gutmann Departs SBE Post

On July 31, President Obama nominated astrophysicist Frances Córdova to serve a six-year term as Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Córdova is President Emerita of Perdue University and led the school from 2007-2012.  She is also a former Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside.  Córdova holds a BA from Stanford and a PhD from the California Institute of Technology.  The previous NSF Director, Subra Suresh, left the agency this spring to assume the presidency at Carnegie Mellon.  Córdova must be confirmed by the Senate before she can take office.

Also at the Foundation, Myron Gutmann’s final day as Assistant NSF Director and head of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate was August 16.  Joanne Tornow, Deputy Assistant Director for SBE, will lead the Directorate in an acting capacity until Gutmann’s replacement is hired.

House Passes ESEA Reauthorization Bill Without Including New Geography Programs

On July 19, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which would serve to re-write the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The ESEA, which is currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), is the major federal law governing K-12 education and hasn’t been reauthorized since January 2002.  The law technically expired in 2007, but it remains in effect pending a new enactment.

The party-line vote in favor of H.R. 5 was 221-207.  Most House Republicans supported the bill, but 12 GOP members joined a united Democratic caucus in opposing the legislation.  Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, proclaimed, “The Student Success Act will tear down barriers to progress and grant states and districts the freedom and flexibility they need to think bigger, innovate, and take whatever steps are necessary to raise the bar in our schools.”

The Committee’s Democratic staff countered with a statement decrying the partisan nature of the vote. “We can’t shortchange our nation’s future by shortchanging our kids — we need to pass a better education bill in Washington,” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) said in the statement. “The majority’s ESEA bill lacks the funding and accountability that America’s youth need to get a world-class education and compete in a global economy.”

Similar to NCLB and previous versions of the ESEA, the Student Success Act does list geography as a “core academic subject” for K-12, but the bill does not include any new programs to support the teaching of geography.  Due to the partisan nature of the vote, H.R. 5 is unlikely to find favor in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has introduced an ESEA reauthorization bill of his own:  The Strengthening America’s School Act of 2013 (S. 1094).  Harkin’s legislation also fails to authorize any new geography education programs, but the proposal must still go through HELP hearings and actions, in addition to time on the Senate floor before it could be voted on.

Even if the Senate does pass some version of S. 1094, the two Houses of Congress would have to reach agreement on a compromise bill.  Given the gridlock that has gripped Capitol Hill throughout the year, prospects appear dim.  Several outside observers have indicated that the ESEA reauthorization may be pushed back again, possibly even until 2015.  We will keep you apprised of any key developments.

FedEx, Three Governors Endorse AAG Resolution 

In related news, the “AAG Resolution Supporting K-12 Geography Education” has garnered some additional high-profile endorsements in recent weeks.  The document explains the value and importance of geography education and urges federal policymakers to include funding for geography as part of a reauthorization of the ESEA; to include geography and geospatial education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) proposals; and to enhance geography teacher training.  In recent weeks, the resolution has been endorsed by:

  • FedEx Corporation is the world’s largest express transportation company and has over 300,000 employees worldwide.  A mainstay in the Fortune 100, FedEx was founded in 1971 and serves more than 220 countries and territories.
  • Governor Steve Bullock (Montana) took office in January, having served previously as Montana’s Attorney General.  He campaigned on the importance of job creation and told the AAG in a letter that he was endorsing the resolution in part because of the needs for geographic skills in a wide range of employment categories in his state.
  • Governor Alejandro García Padilla (Puerto Rico) was elected as the Commonwealth’s chief executive in 2012.  He has also held office in the Senate of Puerto Rico and as the island’s Secretary of Consumer Affairs.
  • Governor Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire) has led the Granite State since January.  She served in the New Hampshire Senate for six years, including a two-year period as Majority Leader.  Her husband, Thomas, is principal of the highly-regarded Phillips Exeter Academy.

Also of interest, another endorser of the resolution, retired Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, was confirmed on August 1 as President Obama’s pick to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment.  McGinn had been president of the American Council On Renewable Energy prior to his nomination. We appreciate the support of FedEx and the three Governors and we wish Admiral McGinn the best as he returns to public life.

John Wertman