Science Teachers and the Course Forward for STEM Education

Science teachers’ voices do count—and are being heard—in Washington, D.C. 

On December 4, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) published Charting a Course for STEM Educationwhich presents a five-year strategic plan for how federal agencies can best support STEM education, from preschool through university.

In developing the report, science teacher (and NSTA Press author) Jeff Weld worked at the White House with leading officials from 14 federal agencies; representatives from state governments, industry, and academe; and educators to craft a report that also offers guidance to the STEM education community and will shape future commitments from the federal government.

K–12 teachers played a major role in developing this report, and their voices were heard. Working with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation convened a STEM Education Advisory Panel and tasked this group to contribute to the report. I was asked to serve as vice chair for the 18-member panel, and NSTA was also represented on the panel by two NSTA STEM Ambassadors and one NSTA past president.

Over several months, the panel made solid and actionable recommendations to the plan’s three critical goals:

  • Goal 1: Build Strong Foundations for STEM Literacy;
  • Goal 2: Increase Diversity and Inclusion Through Broader Access to STEM; and
  • Goal 3: Prepare the STEM Workforce for the Future.

While these goals are aspirational, it is important to note that they recognize the central importance of science education in our society. This did not happen by chance.

Science is the best tool we have to explain our observations of the natural world and to predict future phenomena. Every citizen needs to know the basics of scientific observation and prediction, and be sufficiently informed to make decisions about food, environment, biotechnology, medicine, artificial intelligence, and myriad other issues arising every day. Teachers’ voices were critical in identifying the importance of science and discovery in this report, and we will be watching carefully for how federal agencies will be increasing support for our community.

The five-year plan also articulates the need to include demographic groups that have not had adequate access to STEM opportunities ranging from education to employment. That call underscores the message that STEM is for every citizen. By 2045, the United States will have a “minority white” population. It’s clear that the push for STEM literacy for every American must begin now if we want to reach this goal.

Federal agencies have committed to better, consistent reporting of participation in their programs and transparent efforts to broaden participation. We are very proud that the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) was cited as exemplary in their efforts to reach underrepresented groups and to compile meaningful participation statistics. NSTA administers eCYBERMISSION, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), and Gains in the Mathematics of Education and Science (GEMS) for AEOP.

Preparing the STEM workforce for the future is the plan’s third goal. It too is couched in highly aspirational and formal language, calling for “education systems that combine high-quality career and technical training with college preparatory curriculum.” It emphasizes education that spans traditional disciplinary boundaries. NSTA and ASTC’s publication Connected Science Learning is cited as a best practice example of bridging informal and formal preK–12 STEM education programs.

I have only one major criticism of the report. Research continues to show that the single most important factor in (STEM) education is the teacher. While teachers played an influential role in reviewing the report, a gap exists between its aspirational stance and how individual teachers could use the report to improve their practice. Personally, I wish it had included better recognition of the classroom changes occurring with the implementation of standards based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education, including engineering design and computational thinking.

Charting a Course for STEM Education is a major step forward in coordinating federal agencies’ support for STEM education. While it can’t be considered comprehensive and has sections needing amplification, it establishes a framework and outlines the administration’s commitment for how they can better support STEM education.

The final report clearly reflected the input from the teachers on the Advisory Panel, and the agencies were frank in discussions about how they acted on the recommendations. We expect to see substance in the implementation plan this spring, when the administration will offer specifics on each agency’s commitments, goal by goal. And of course, we will pay attention to the administration’s budget requests to support those goals.

We look forward to working with the federal agencies to implement this plan at the federal level, and ensuring that all teachers and state and district leaders have this information as they devise the best science and STEM education for their students.

And teachers will have another opportunity for their voices to be heard.

NSTA Executive Director David Evans


Dr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reach him via e-mail at devans@nsta.org or via Twitter @devans_NSTA

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all

 

 


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