On 3 October 2007, the National Science Board released a report, “A National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System.” The plan recommends actions to improve the coherence of the U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education system — between school districts and states and among grade levels — and to ensure a supply of well-prepared and highly effective STEM teachers. AIBS submitted formal comments on the draft version of the plan in late August 2007 (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20070904.html).

The Action Plan calls for the formation of an independent, non-Federal National Council for STEM Education comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders including state and local governments, STEM educators, higher education, business and industry, foundations, informal STEM education, and STEM disciplinary societies. The Council would be tasked with coordinating and facilitating national STEM education initiatives and informing policymakers and the public on the state of STEM education across the U.S.

The NSB also recommended the development of national STEM content guidelines that would outline essential knowledge and skills needed by students at each grade level. This controversial recommendation – as traditionally states and local school districts aggressively defend their ability to make curriculum decisions - provided much of the focus for a House Science and Technology subcommittee hearing on 10 October 2007. According to Judy Jeffrey from the Council of Chief State School Officers, “The national STEM education council seeks to increase collaboration and coordination among stakeholders; however, the council runs the risk of creating another level of bureaucracy rather than moving the conversation on STEM education forward.” Chrisanne Gayl from the National School Boards Association expressed similar concerns, “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.”

Despite some reservations about specific recommendations in the Action Plan, the panel of witnesses and members of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee generally supported the overall goals in the NSB report. Remarked subcommittee chairman, Brian Baird (D-WA), “Congress, the Administration, and business and industry all agree that bolstering STEM education is key to fostering innovation and discovery, ensuring the nation’s economic development and the ability to compete in the global marketplace. This effort is going to take collaboration and creativity as we support math and science education and our math and science teachers.”

For additional news coverage of the report and House subcommittee hearing, go to http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=64619.


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