A congressionally requested report by the National Research Council aims to identify successful K-12 schools and programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The report examines three aspects of successful STEM schools: STEM instruction and school-level practices, STEM outcomes, and STEM-focused schools.

The committee concluded that educational practices are the most useful way of identifying criteria for success. Two practices in particular drew praise: instruction that captures students’ interest and involves them in STEM activities, and school conditions that support effective STEM instruction. Key elements to support such practices are a coherent set of standards and curriculum for STEM subjects, teachers with high capacity to teach in their discipline, adequate instructional time, and equal access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities.

In terms of STEM outcomes, student test scores are a valuable and readily available source of information. “Test scores, however, do not tell the whole story of success,” states the report. “Although it is difficult to measure interest and motivation (“joy at the prospect of discovery”), creativity (“a culture of innovation”), or commitment to “ethical behavior and the shared interests of humanity,” it is essential to do so given the importance of preparing students to be leaders in STEM innovation—and not just good test takers.”

The committee’s ability to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of different types of STEM schools, such as STEM schools with strict admission criteria or STEM-focused career and technical education programs, was hampered by limited research in the field.

To read “Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”, visit http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13158.

On a related note, in the current issue of the AIBS journal, BioScience, Diane Ebert-May and colleagues report on research findings that suggest that professional development programs intended to cultivate skills in ‘learner-centered teaching’ may not produce the change previously thought. For more information about this study or BioScience, please go to http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-editorials/editorial201107.html.


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