Press Release

Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Evaluates NSB Action Plan for STEM Education

By SpaceRef Editor
October 10, 2007
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(Washington, DC) – Today, the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to discuss a recently released proposal by the National Science Board (NSB) to bring greater coherence to the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education system. The proposal, entitled, A National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System, highlights two key challenges: coordination of STEM education efforts and improving teacher preparation.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a former educator and PhD in physics, recognized the great importance of such an effort. Ehlers discussed the need for a nationally recognized sequence of concepts in STEM education, in order to ensure that when a student switches schools in the middle of the school year, that student neither misses a concept, nor receives duplicative instruction.

“I have strongly supported national voluntary guidelines to help ensure that our mobile population receives a quality education, even if they change schools several times during their K-12 education,” Ehlers said. “Consequently, I have introduced H.R. 325, the SPEAK Act, which would provide incentives for states to adopt voluntary standards in math and science.”

At present, there are no consistent STEM content standards in use among the states and no consistency in the sequence in which STEM courses are taught. The NSB report proposes the establishment of an independent, non-federal, congressionally chartered National Council for STEM Education, which would consist of representatives from all the major public and private stakeholder groups, and would coordinate and facilitate STEM education initiatives.

While the witnesses were all supportive of the goals of the NSB report, some were hesitant about the recommendation to create the National STEM Coucil. One of the witnesses, Chrisanne Gayl, Director of Federal Programs at the National School Boards Association, said that “The top-down approach of creating a national council to set academic content guidelines and teacher certification requirements is troublesome for school board members who value local flexibility and must deal with the day-to-day operational challenges of implementing these policies.”

Another witness, Susan Traiman, Director of Education and Workforce Policy at Business Roundtable, acknowledged that national standards make the most sense in order to assess how U.S. students fare against their international counterparts in the STEM fields, but was then hesitant to support the creation of national standards. She said that “U.S. performance on international assessments … makes it clear that the appropriate comparison for education performance is not between states, but between states and our international competitors. In this context,” she continued, “state-specific standards defy logic. But history and politics often create conditions where logic-defying outcomes prevail.”

Also testifying at today’s hearing were: Dr. Steven Beering, Chairman, National Science Board; Ms Judy A. Jeffrey, Director, Iowa Department of Education and Representing the Council of Chief State School Officers; Dr. Francis (Skip) Fennell, President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Professor of Education at McDaniel College; and Dr. Robert Semper, Executive Associate Director, The Exploratorium and Representing the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

SpaceRef staff editor.