STEM education a hot topic on Capitol Hill

April 16, 2007

By hammersmith

[Source: The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News Number 41: April 16, 2007] — Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education reform continues to be a high priority on Capitol Hill this spring, driven by the need to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and by the recognition that excellence in STEM education is an important factor in the nation’s ability to remain globally competitive. Some developments are highlighted below.

Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind: Beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, No Child Left Behind requires states to conduct assessments in science as well as reading and math. In its FY 2008 budget request, the Administration proposed that science be included with reading and math in states’ “adequate yearly progress” calculations.

NCLB, which authorizes K-12 education funding to states from the Department of Education (but not NSF or other science departments or agencies) was originally enacted in December of 2001, and is now due for reauthorization. Since its inception, it has received criticism on many fronts. In February, the Commission on No Child Left Behind, an independent, bipartisan group of 15 education leaders, issued a series of recommendations designed to improve the law when it is reauthorized. “Our work has uncovered shortcomings in both the implementation of the statute and in some tenets of the law itself,” the Commission states in its report, “Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation’s Children.”

As one example, it notes that, “by allowing states to set their own content and achievement standards, [NCLB] has respected the long-standing tradition of local control over education. However, this has resulted in unacceptable variations in what constitutes proficiency…. And there are growing concerns that state standards do not match what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college and the workplace. Clearly, many states are demanding too little of their students.” [To read the full report, click here.]