Reflecting on this past year’s first session of the 111th Congress, various issues related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education were brought to the table, but most were referred to the appropriate committees for review and then saw no further action.
In 2009, two resolutions related to Science education were passed in the House of Representatives, H.RES.558, designating a National Computer Science Education Week, and H.RES.793, supporting National Chemistry Week. Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), sponsor of Computer Science Education Week, stated, “Computer science is becoming increasingly important and relevant in today’s high-tech jobs, but fewer and fewer students are choosing this course of study. We can help reverse this trend by introducing students to computer science at an early age so they will be prepared for the jobs of the future.”
A significant amount of focus was placed on creating uniform standards for STEM education across the country. The Standard to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids Act, or the SPEAK Act, H.R.2790 was reintroduced by both Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). The Act would create and implement rigorous and voluntary American education content standards in science and mathematics for kindergarten through grade 12. The bill was sent to the House Committee on Education and Labor. In addition, accreditation standards for undergraduate and graduate programs in the field of biofuel engineering were addressed in H.R.3523, but no actions have yet been taken.
Several of the bills addressed the need for grants to fund specific STEM programs. Congressman Gerald Connolly (D-VA) introduced H.R.3331, requesting that the Secretary of Defense make grants available for STEM research and projects to supplement the security functions of the Department of Defense. In July, Congressman Paul Hodes (D-NH) introduced H.R.3230 to establish an Innovation Inspiration school grant program within Triangle Coalition partner, the National Science Foundation (NSF). Both of these bills were referred to the appropriate House subcommittees for review.
Focusing specifically on STEM workforce related issues, the Health Care Professional Pipeline Act of 2009, H.R.2946, would recruit and prepare students for future careers in health care professions. Also addressing workforce training was the Community College Energy Training Act of 2009 H.R.3731, which would focus on providing training and education for careers in sustainable energy industries. Likewise, the Improving Mathematics and Science Teacher Quality Act, H.R.3950, would address instruction in mathematics and science by amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to include informal science education centers, and business consortia, as well as training departments in higher education. However, no action has been taken on these bills since they have been under committee review.
In November the National STEM Education Tax Incentive for Teachers Act of 2009, S.2754, was introduced, which would grant a tax credit to teachers, encouraging them to pursue careers in STEM subjects. At this time, the bill is still under the review of a Senate committee.
While no major STEM legislation was passed in 2009, Congressional members were repeatedly reminded of the fundamental need to address STEM issues throughout the introductions and discussions of the bills. Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA) reintroduced H.R.2710, the Enhancing STEM Education Act of 2009, a bill intended to encourage coordination and collaboration among the many STEM education programs throughout the country. Honda stressed the need for agencies engaged in STEM programs to open lines of communication and work together to maximize the impact of their education initiatives. During his opening remarks on the bill, the former teacher, principal, and school board member said, “Developing citizens that are critical thinkers and scientifically literate will help drive a vibrant society and create sound economic policy. Our economy depends on our country’s education.” Another similar bill that stressed the need for STEM program coordination was S.1210, STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009.
Overall, STEM issues have seen strong support from the Nation’s leadership, starting with President Obama’s launch of “Educate to Innovate” Campaign for Excellence in STEM education. The campaign is a call to action to improve the performance of American students in STEM through collaborative partnerships between the Federal Government, companies, foundations, non-profits, and STEM related societies, as well as a strong focus on improving teacher quality. “The quality of math and science teachers is the most important single factor influencing whether students will succeed or fail in science, technology, engineering and math,” President Obama said. “Passionate educators with issue expertise can make all the difference, enabling hands-on learning that truly engages students—including girls and underrepresented minorities—and preparing them to tackle the grand challenges of the 21st century.”
One of the initiatives that has already been implemented includes National Lab Day, a platform to scale hands-on learning across the country. The President called upon the nation in his April 27th speech to the National Academies of Science, saying, “I want to encourage you to participate in programs to allow students to get a degree in science fields and a teaching certificate at the same time. I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”