Senate Passes the "Every Child Achieves Act of 2015" to Overhaul K-12 Education

The “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015”, which would reauthorize and amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, was passed by the Senate after consideration of almost eighty amendments.

Notably, S. 1177 would create a new funding source for states to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Amendments to the STEM provision that were adopted during floor debate include a provision intended to improve student engagement in STEM subjects by increasing participation of underrepresented students. Another adopted amendment would increase student access to high quality after-school programs that compliment classroom instruction.

The Senate also considered multiple amendments regarding climate science education. The chamber voted down a proposal introduced by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) that would have established a competitive grant program in the Department of Education to help states integrate climate science into school curricula. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced, but eventually withdrew, an amendment that would have required the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide schools with climate science literature that identified alternatives to the scientific narrative that human emissions are a primary source of warming.

The House also passed a bill this month to overhaul K-12 education. That legislation, however, gives states more authority over their public schools and does not include any major provisions on STEM education.

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AIBS Report Identifies Ways to Enhance Complex Data Integration Across Research Domains

The integration of data from two or more domains is required for addressing many fundamental scientific questions and understanding how to mitigate challenges impacting humanity and our planet, according to a new workshop report from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). The publication identifies key barriers to complex data integration and offers recommendations for the research community, research funding organizations, and others.

The workshop, which was held in March 2015 in Arlington, Virginia, brought together more than two-dozen experts in genetics, genomics and metagenomics, biology, systematics, taxonomy, ecology, bio- and eco- informatics, and cyberinfrastructure development. The workshop report summarizes use cases that highlight barriers and solutions to complex data integration; impediments, technical problems, and crosscutting issues related to integrating data; and, recommendations and next steps required to achieve better data integration.

“There are incredibly important but terribly complex questions in the areas of human health and environmental sustainability for which society needs answers. We need to better understand how humans or agriculturally important species respond at the genetic level to environmental stresses, for example. To do this, researchers need to be able to find, access, and integrate data ranging from genetic to environmental,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Interim Co-Executive Director of AIBS and a workshop organizer.

Dr. Paula Mabee of the University of South Dakota and a workshop co-chair agrees. “This meeting was unique in that we were able to bring together such a diverse group. It is informative that the challenges surfaced from different fields are often quite similar.”

“One of our common challenges is learning to talk to each other. We often use the same words, but they might have different meanings depending upon whether one is a biologist or a computer scientist. Developing the capacity or the cadre of professionals who can translate is important,” said Dr. Corinna Gries, a workshop co-chair and Lead Information Manager at the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin.

The report includes recommendations related to governance, education and training, data discovery and access, evaluation of data for fitness of use, and the process for data integration.

The full report, “Enhancing Complex Data Integration across Research Domains: A Workshop Report,” is available from AIBS at www.aibs.org/public-policy/complex_data.html.

“AIBS looks forward to working with our members and partners to explore how we can advance the recommendations from this important meeting,” said Gropp.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) provided funding for the workshop (EF-1450894), and the NSF-funded Phenotype RCN (DEB-0956049) supported the participation of several workshop participants.

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Agriculture Spending Bills Advance in Congress

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved legislation to fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in fiscal year (FY) 2016.

Despite having a smaller budget allocation to work with than the House, the Senate panel approved a slight increase for intramural agricultural research. The Agricultural Research Service would receive a $4.2 million (+0.4 percent) increase. Two million in new funds would be directed to research on pollinator health. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)—USDA’s competitive research grant program—would be funded at its current level of $325 million. In addition, the Senate committee report “strongly urges” the creation of a new competitive grant program for conventional plant and animal breeding.

The House bill would cut funding for the Agricultural Research Service by $10.2 million. Moreover, five percent of the funds would be withheld until USDA certifies that the program has updated its animal care policies and that all facilities are complying. The directive was motivated by news reports about mistreatment of animals at one government research facility. The House panel would also provide AFRI with a $10 million increase.

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New in BioScience: Lawmakers, Scientists Divided on COMPETES

In the August 2015 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr highlights the contentious effort to reauthorize a landmark law that was intended to bolster American innovation. An excerpt of the article follows:

Legislation that would create a 2-year roadmap for basic research and science education is progressing through Congress, to the dismay of most of the research community. Hailed by supporters as a plan to advance innovation while cutting wasteful spending and denounced by opponents as political meddling in research, HR 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, has embedded science in populist politics.

“Legislation that is supposed to maintain the nation’s leadership on science and energy research is now being reauthorized in a manner that actively undermines our ability to do just that,” wrote Andrew A. Rosenberg and Michelle Robinson of the Union of Concerned Scientists in a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. “What should be a bipartisan legislative undertaking includes some of the recurring partisan attacks undermining science that are becoming commonplace in the House.”

Continue reading the article for free here.

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EPA Releases Synopsis of Environmental Indicators

The Environmental Protection Agency has released its “Report on the Environment,” a comprehensive set of indicators that track environmental changes over time. The report website (http://cfpub.epa.gov/roe/) has interactive graphs and maps.

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Upcoming Public Meeting: Gene Drive Research in Non-Human Organisms

The National Research Council is convening the first public meeting of the ad hoc committee on Gene Drive Research in Non-Human Organisms: Recommendations for Responsible Conduct.

The committee will review the state of scientific research on gene drive, which relies on genome editing techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9 and other genetic modification approaches. The expert committee will be introduced to the public during the committee meeting. The audience can expect to receive an overview of the study and will be provided perspectives on context and expectations for this study from the sponsors. There will also be an opportunity for public comments.

The meeting is scheduled for 30 July 2015 in Washington, DC and will be webcast. Learn more at http://us8.forward-to-friend.com/forward/show?u=18fe6f8f25ec0bc7509e65e97&id=f495a7396e.

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BioScience Talks Podcast on Transgenic Fish

Listen to the newest episode of BioScience Talks podcast. July’s guest discusses fast-growing transgenic salmonids, which are currently being developed for eventual human consumption. Listen at http://www.aibs.org/publications/news/latest-bioscience-talks-podcast.html.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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