[Source: American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, Number 56] –A review of STEM education programs across the federal government finds that few programs have been rigorously evaluated and little is known about their impact on students. This report, by the Academic Competitiveness Council, recommends that funding for federal programs to improve STEM education outcomes “should not increase unless a plan for rigorous, independent evaluation is in place.” Another report, released earlier this year by the National Governors Association, highlights the importance of STEM education to the nation’s ability to innovate, and calls for greater efforts by states and the federal government, in partnership, to improve STEM instruction and data tracking across the nation.
ACADEMIC COMPETITIVENESS COUNCIL REPORT
In fiscal year 2006, the federal government supported 105 programs across 13 departments and agencies that focused on kindergarten through postgraduate STEM education, with an expenditure of $3.12 billion. Also in 2006, the Deficit Reduction Act called for the establishment of an Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC), comprising federal officials with responsibility for STEM education programs and chaired by the Secretary of Education. The Council was charged with identifying and reviewing all federal STEM education programs and their target populations; assessing their effectiveness; identifying areas of duplication; and making recommendations for greater integration and coordination. After a yearlong effort, on May 10, the ACC released its findings.
According to the report, the ACC developed goals and metrics in three areas: K-12 Education, Postsecondary Education, and Informal Education and Outreach. The ACC sought the help of a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to assess existing program evaluations. Of 115 evaluations of federal STEM education programs, the organization “found 10 impact evaluations that were scientifically rigorous, four of which concluded that the educational activity evaluated had a meaningful positive impact.” The report finds that “despite decades of significant federal investment in science and math education, there is a general dearth of evidence of effective practices and activities.” The report offers six recommendations:
1. “The ACC program inventory and goals and metrics should be living resources, updated regularly and used to facilitate stronger interagency coordination.”
2. “Agencies and the federal government at large should foster knowledge of effective practices through improved evaluation and-or implementation of proven-effective, research-based instructional materials and methods.”
3. “Federal agencies should improve the coordination of their K-12 STEM education programs with states and local school systems.”
4. “Federal agencies should adjust program designs and operations so that programs can be assessed and measurable results can be achieved, consistent with the programs’ goals.”
5. “Funding for federal STEM education programs designed to improve STEM education outcomes should not increase unless a plan for rigorous, independent evaluation is in place, appropriate to the types of activities funded.”
6. “Agencies with STEM education programs should collaborate on implementing ACC recommendations under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).”
In a press release on the report, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings urged Congress to “focus investments in programs that demonstrate measurable effects on student achievement or fill gaps in the large portfolio of existing programs.” Click here to access the 87-page “Report of the Academic Competitiveness Council.”
NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION INITIATIVE
The National Governors Association, chaired by Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona, earlier this year issued an initiative entitled “Innovation America,” describing what states, working in partnership with the federal government, can do to enhance education, workforce, and innovation capacity. “In the new global economy, states need a workforce with the knowledge and skills to compete,” says the initiative. “A key to developing these skills is strengthening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competencies in every K-12 student.”
“Innovation America” offers strategies for governors, and suggestions for federal assistance, in three areas: Improving K-12 STEM education; improving postsecondary education and workforce training; and encouraging regional private sector innovation. The initiative offers the following STEM education recommendations for governors, and includes examples of specific states that have implemented such strategies:
1. “Align state K-12 STEM standards and assessments with postsecondary and workforce expectations for what high school graduates know and can do.” States should participate in international assessments and align their standards and assessments with international benchmarks; align K-12 STEM expectations with all paths students might take after graduation; and align elementary, middle and high school STEM education “to create a coherent K-12 system.”
2. “Examine and increase the state’s internal capacity to improve teaching and learning.” Statues should use international benchmarks to evaluate their capacity; improve K-16 data systems “to track the STEM preparation of students;” develop strategies to communicate to the public “the urgency of improving STEM;” develop or charge P-16 councils to spearhead alignments of the STEM education system; support “promising new models of recruiting, preparing, certifying, compensating, and evaluating teachers” in STEM fields; and “support extra learning opportunities” in STEM fields.
3. “Identify best practices in STEM education and bring them to scale.” States should support and expand the availability of specialized STEM schools; develop standards and assessments in technology and engineering as well as math and science; support development of high quality STEM curricula; and develop standards for Career and Technical Education programs.
The initiative also includes “Innovation America: A Partnership,” which outlines complementary recommendations for what the federal government can do to assist, enhance and accelerate state actions in the areas of education, economic development, and workforce training. In the area of education, the initiative seeks federal support for: student tuition assistance for STEM and critical foreign language career paths; recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers; STEM education improvement grants; high school redesign enhancement; grants to Governors for P-16+ Councils and Data Systems; and international benchmarking. Further information on “Innovation America” can be found at the NGA website on the left-hand side under “2006-2007 NGA Chair Gov. Janet Napolitano’s Initiative.”