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Policy

Science Education Found Wanting

Federal Programs: Presidential advisers seek improved coordination for science and math education

by David Pittman
September 27, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 39

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Credit: Shutterstock
White House wants better science education for nation’s young students.
Credit: Shutterstock
White House wants better science education for nation’s young students.

The federal government lacks a coherent strategy and sufficient leadership to properly address issues facing education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), according to a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST).

The government invests nearly $1 billion annually in STEM education, but efforts and oversight are spread among several agencies including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education.

“Over the past few decades, a diversity of federal projects and approaches to K–12 STEM education across multiple agencies appears to have emerged largely without a coherent vision and without careful oversight of goals and outcomes,” states the PCAST report, which was written by leading scientists and engineers.

The report, released on Sept. 16, declares the nation must work to prepare and inspire all students to learn STEM and in the process motivate them toward careers in these fields.

PCAST calls for the recruitment of 100,000 STEM teachers in the next decade and recommends rewarding the top 5% of the nation’s science teachers by creating a STEM Master Teachers Corps. Members could receive salary supplements and additional funds for activities in their schools and districts.

Steven B. Case, director of the Center for Science Education at the University of Kansas, was ambivalent about the report, saying he didn’t learn anything new. “I’m not sure that any of the reports give enough insights to policymakers so they can make policy decisions that affect local efforts in positive ways,” he says.

The same day PCAST released its report, President Barack Obama announced a partnership between public schools and private businesses for new STEM education initiatives in 100 schools and communities deemed high need. The program, dubbed “Change the Equation,” will allow students to participate in after-school hands-on learning activities, provide training for math and science teachers, and encourage students from underrepresented minorities to enter STEM fields. The program carries $5 million in funding for its first year, according to the White House. Among the many corporate partners for the initiatives are Merck and ExxonMobil.

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