September-October 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 7

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The Importance of STEM Education
Highlighted in NRC Report

According to a just-released report issued by the National Research Council (NRC), Successful K-12 STEM Education, the primary drivers of future economic growth and job creation will be innovations largely derived from advances in science and engineering. The report, authored by the NRC Committee on Highly Successful Schools or Programs in K-12 STEM Education, states that “the stakes are high.”

stem photo

Presenters at the STEM Education Report event
included NSF Deputy Director Cora Marrett (left)
and Chair of the report, Adam Gamoran (right).
Also in attendance was sociologist Robert Hauser
(center)National Research Council.
(Photo courtesy of the National Science Foundation)

“A growing number of jobs—not just those in professional science—require knowledge of STEM fields,” said Adam Gamoran, Chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of sociology and educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The goal isn’t only to have a capable and competitive work force. We need to help all students become scientifically literate because citizens are increasingly facing decisions related to science and technology—whether it’s understanding a medical diagnosis or weighing competing claims about the environment.”

An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study of students’ STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and literacy performance on international assessments makes the case that, if the United States could significantly increase students’ skills, an estimated $100 trillion would be added to the U.S. economy over the next 80 years.

Successful K-12 STEM Education focuses on the science and mathematics parts of STEM and on criteria for identifying effective STEM schools and practices. It gives an overview of the landscape of K-12 STEM education by considering different school models, highlighting research on effective STEM education practices, and identifying some conditions that promote and limit school- and student-level success in STEM.

The report identifies key elements of high-quality STEM education to which policymakers at the state and national level as well as schools, and districts could target improvements. The report suggests that policymakers in states and national organizations need to develop assessments that are aligned with the next generation of science standards and that emphasize science practices rather than mere factual recall.

The report was prepared with funding from the National Science Foundation and was requested by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies.

Beyond the Report

To focus national attention on the NRC report, on September 19 at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a convocation of members of Congress, government leaders, and educators shared lessons learned based on the NRC study of successful K-12 STEM education, with an audience of 350 educators and business professionals—a standing room-only crowd.

This event brought together STEM educators to put the ideas from the report into action. A full day of events promoted a rich discussion of the role of common standards, STEM learning outside of school, equal access, and other topics.

The recently appointed Deputy Director of the NSF, and sociologist Cora Marrett, spoke about “Inspiring Quality STEM Education: A View From the National Science Foundation” The goals and findings of the report were presented by Gamoran in a session titled “What Everyone Ought to Know About the Successful K-12 STEM Education Report.” Some of the takeaways of the report for policy makers include: Elevate science to the same level of importance as reading and mathematics, develop science assessments aligned with standards and emphasize science practices, and support research that addresses key gaps in current knowledge. The full agenda and Gamoran’s PowerPoint can be found at successfulstemeducation.org/content/agenda.

In addition to the attendees, there were 32 exhibitors of high-tech, hands-on interactive science and engineering research projects designed to both be effective in learning contexts and appeal to K-12 students. The Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael A. Nutter, the President of Drexel, John A. Fry, and U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania’s 2nd district helped kick off the event in the morning.

The NSF is working on setting up regional events aimed at further dissemination of the report, “Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” For a copy of the report, see books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13158.

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