AIP Endorses STEM Education Coalition Letter Regarding Science Education in the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

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Publication date: 
2 March 2012

The American Institute of  Physics (AIP) along with over 40 organizations including two of its Member  Societies, the American Physical Society and the American Geophysical Union,  signed a letter sent by the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM)  Education Coalition to Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Committee  on Education and the Workforce.  The  February 10, 2012 letter expressed concerns with HR 3989, the Student  Success Act and HR 3990, the Encouraging  Innovation and Effective Teachers Act

These bills  are two proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Both were approved, after much partisan  debate, during a mark-up session in the House Committee on Education and the  Workforce on February 28.  The  Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act requires states to develop  teacher evaluation systems and consolidates many K-12 education programs into a  flexible program.  The Student Success  Act focuses on the elimination of the Adequate Yearly Progress provision  present in current law and requires states to adopt academic content and  achievement standards.   

The letter advocates, “education reforms that are strongly focused  on the STEM subjects are reforms that are strongly focused on jobs and economic  recovery.”  The letter cites the  conclusions of the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the  Workforce, which recently released a report on STEM  Education:

“The STEM workforce will remain central to our  economic vitality well into the future, contributing to innovation,  technological growth, and economic development.   Capable STEM students, from K-12 all the way through the postgraduate  level, will be needed in the pipeline for careers that utilize STEM  competencies and increase our innovative capacities.  We cannot win the future without recognizing  the growing need for STEM competencies across the economy.”

The STEM Education Coalition  letter expresses concern regarding STEM as a national priority:

“We respectfully disagree with the draft Student  Success Act’s removal of the requirement for states to test students in  science.  Removing the existing  requirement for testing in science while maintaining testing in math and  reading sends a powerful, negative, and unambiguous signal to U.S schools and  the public that science – along with all of its related subdisciplines – is no  longer a national priority.  If the  requirement for science testing is eliminated, schools will shift their limited  resources away from science classes, less time will be devoted to science, and  professional development for science education will suffer.”

The STEM Education Coalition  letter emphasizes the need for a strong federal focus on STEM education in  order to support a strong U.S. workforce:

“The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act  would eliminate the U.S. Department of Education’s only existing dedicated STEM  education-focused program – the Math and Science Partnership program (Title II,  part B).  While we recognize the bill’s  goal of streamlining a myriad of education programs, we disagree with the  absence of any strong STEM education focus for Title II grants of any  significant linkage between Title II activities and workforce needs.”

Title II of  the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is related to preparing, training,  and recruiting high quality teachers and principals.  Title II part B specifically authorizes appropriations  for Math and Science Partnership grants. 

The STEM Education Coalition  letter does offer support for a provision in the bipartisan Harkin-Enzi Senate  ESEA draft bill that “addresses  STEM-specific education needs through a single competitive grant program (Sec.  4103) that would require state applicants to demonstrate that their proposals  had robust input from the business community and other workforce stakeholders.”

The Coalition does strongly  support the bill, S. 1675, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR).  Section 4013 of the Harkin-Enzi draft ESEA  bill is based on the bill by Merkley.   These Senate bills offer, according to the Coalition, “a balanced approach of competitive and  formula-based funding dedicated to meet the STEM-specific needs of U.S.  schools.”

The Coalition also advocates  for STEM fields to be included the definition of core academic subjects:

“While we appreciate that math and science are  included in the Student Success Act’s definition of ‘core academic subjects,’  we feel that this definition is overly narrow and static, excluding many areas  of study that are essential to the needs of the economy and workforce.  Instead, the broader ‘STEM subjects’ should  be listed as a core subject area with provisions for defining STEM education in  a broad and inclusive manner that embraces each STEM discipline and its unique  needs.”

The letter ends with a  message of robust support for STEM education:

“Given the strong connection between STEM skills and  the job success of American workers, a strong focus on the STEM-specific needs  of students, schools, and educators is essential to the practical success of  education reforms.”

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