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.”