Status Report

AIP FYI #86: Education Provisions of Competitiveness Bill

By SpaceRef Editor
August 18, 2007
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The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News

Number 86: August 15, 2007

As reported in FYI #85 (see ), last week President George Bush signed into law a popular, bipartisan bill intended to ensure that the U.S. maintains a global leadership position in science, technology and innovation. The bill, H.R. 2272, is known as the “America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act,” or simply the “America COMPETES Act.”

A prominent aspect of H.R. 2272 is its emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. One influential factor that ultimately led to such legislation was the 2005 National Academies’ report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” and that report identified improving K-12 STEM education across the nation as its highest priority recommendation. “In education, the COMPETES Act recognizes that America’s greatest resources for innovation are in classrooms across this country,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in discussing the bill on August 2. “This legislation invests in creating the most highly qualified teachers, and training the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers through public-private partnerships. This bill also takes steps to ensure that future innovators reflect the diversity of our country.”

Comprising components from a number of previously-introduced bills, H.R. 2272 brings together many STEM education proposals that have been discussed in hearings and promoted in reports from the National Academies, the Council on Competitiveness, and other groups. The bill’s sections on NSF, the Department of Education (ED), and DOE all have substantial educational components. Broadly, these provisions are targeted toward recruiting more STEM teachers; refining the skills of current teachers and developing master teachers; ensuring that K-12 STEM education programs suitably prepare students for the needs of higher education and the workplace; and enabling more students to participate in effective laboratory and hands-on science experiences. Many of the major education-related provisions are highlighted below:

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION: H.R. 2272 authorizes substantially greater funding than recent White House requests for NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate, with authorization levels climbing from $896 million in FY 2008 to $1,104 million in FY 2010, compared to the FY 2007 funding level of $797 million and the FY 2008 request of $751 million. The bill expands or enhances programs such as the Noyce program of scholarships to recruit STEM majors to teaching; the STEM Talent Expansion Program to increase the number of students earning degrees in STEM fields; and NSF’s Math and Science Partnership program. It establishes a Laboratory Science Pilot Program to improve the laboratory experience for high school students and calls for a study on lab equipment donations to schools. It provides a program of fellowships for STEM professionals to earn master’s degrees with teaching certification and for teachers to enhance their skills and become master teachers. The bill also authorizes a program of grants for higher education institutions to create or improve professional science master’s degree programs.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: The Education Department portion of the bill authorizes a departmental role in the development and implementation of college courses leading to a concurrent STEM degree and teacher certification, and master’s degree programs both for STEM professionals to earn teaching certifications and for teachers to become master teachers. It supports the enhancement of both enrollment in and teaching of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs; the establishment of a national expert panel to assess and synthesize best practices in K-12 STEM instruction and to point out areas in which research is insufficient; aid to states to collect better data on their K-12 education systems and ensure their alignment with higher education and workforce needs; and programs to improve math education in elementary and middle schools. The bill includes language expressing the “sense of Congress” that the ED and NSF Mathematics and Science Partnership programs, while similarly named, “are intended to be complementary, not duplicative.”

It should be pointed out that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which is due for reauthorization this year, is the primary authorization vehicle for most of the Education Department, and addresses a much broader array of programs and subject areas than just STEM fields. NCLB provides formula grant funding to states and includes requirements for states’ accountability through Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures. Due to its controversial nature and the surrounding political issues, it is not clear whether the reauthorization of NCLB will be accomplished this year. There have been reports that the NCLB reauthorization might place more emphasis on science by including science assessments in the calculation of states’ AYP, but whether that occurs or not, the NCLB legislation will not have the same focus on STEM education as H.R. 2272. Language in H.R. 2272 states that “teacher preparation and elementary school and secondary school programs and activities must be aligned with the requirements” of NCLB.

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY: H.R. 2272 expands DOE’s role in federal STEM education by tapping into the staff expertise and scientific instrumentation at the national laboratories as a resource to provide support, mentoring relationships and hands-on experiences for students and teachers. It establishes the position of Director of STEM Education at DOE to oversee the department’s education programs and to act as an inter-agency liaison. It calls for a pilot program of grants to states to establish or expand public statewide specialty schools in science and math, and also supports Centers of Excellence in STEM education at schools in the locality of national labs. It promotes summer institutes for teachers to strengthen their skills and summer internships for students, both relying on expertise and equipment at the national labs. Additionally, to ensure the DOE workforce of the future, the bill has programs to increase the number of students majoring in nuclear science and hydrocarbon systems science, and early career awards for young researchers.

While the bill establishes or expands upon many programs addressing STEM education and basic research, it is an authorization bill and, as such, does not provide actual funding. The appropriations bills that would fund such programs are already partway through the FY 2008 appropriations cycle, and do not necessarily align with the recommended authorization levels in H.R. 2272.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.