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Must Reading: President’s Council of S&T Advisors Issues Strategy to Transform K-12 STEM Education

Richard M. Jones
Number 99 - September 30, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has just released a report that is required reading for anyone interested in improving K-12 STEM education. “Report to the President – Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for America’s Future” presents a broad overview of the importance of STEM education and a series of conclusions and recommendations for improving how the nation’s students are taught.

“STEM education will determine whether the United States will remain a leader among nations and whether we will be able to solve immense challenges in such areas as energy, health, environmental protection, and national security,” declares the report. The K-12 report is the first of two that PCAST will issue on STEM education, with a future report on colleges and universities. The effort got underway in the fall of 2009. At an October PCAST meeting, the advisors were briefed on STEM education by several speakers, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan who characterized U.S. student performance on key assessments as “disturbing.” The PCAST report provides ample evidence that American students are losing ground to their counterparts in many nations with international tests placing them “in the middle of the pack and lower” in STEM subjects. Compounding this problem is the contention of many students that STEM fields are “boring, too difficult, or unwelcoming.”

The report was undertaken by a PCAST-appointed Working Group on STEM Education that in addition to 7 PCAST members included experts in areas such as curriculum development, effective teaching, and educational technology. Outside advice was solicited, as well as assistance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Science and Technology Policy Institute. The resulting report is 130 pages long, and can be viewed in a prepublication version here.

K-12 education would be transformed using a two-pronged strategy to both prepare and inspire students using what PCAST Co-Chairs John Holdren and Eric Lander describe as a “workable, evidence-based roadmap” with specific and practical recommendations for the Administration. The recommendations are primarily intended for the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation “as the lead agencies for STEM education initiatives in K-12,” working in partnership with state and local governments and private and philanthropic interests. PCAST concluded that many of the recommendations can be implemented using existing federal funding. A full implementation would cost approximately $1 billion, or $20 for every K-12 public school student. The PCAST Working Group estimated that the Federal Government now spends around $1 billion on K-12 STEM education through the Department of Education and science mission agencies.

PCAST made seven recommendations on standards, teachers, educational technology, students, schools, and national leadership:

Standards:

“Support the current state-led movement for shared standards in math and science.”

Teachers:

“Recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade who are able to prepare and inspire students.”

“Recognize and reward the top 5 percent of the nation’s STEM teachers, by creating a STEM Master Teachers Corps.”

Educational Technology:

“Use technology to drive innovation, by creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education.”

Students:

“Create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences outside the classroom.”

Schools:

“Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade.”

And finally,

“Ensure strong and strategic national leadership.”

The Working Group concluded:

“PCAST believes that the Nation has an urgent need – but also, thanks to recent developments, an unprecedented opportunity – to bring together stakeholders at all levels to transform STEM education to lay the groundwork for a new century of American progress and prosperity.”

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095