Now that the President’s FY2011 budget request is out, a sense of urgency and excitement, especially surrounding education, flourished on Capitol Hill last week. Several briefings and committee hearings took place on various aspects of STEM education. Here is the breakdown of the week:
• Monday began with the positive news that the President’s budget request includes significant investments in STEM education, which we covered here.
• Tuesday, a briefing titled “STEM Professionals in the Classroom” was held to explore ways to involve STEM professionals in improving K-12 education. Current federal initiatives such as National Lab Day, part of the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, focus on public-private partnerships as the key to improving STEM education. National Lab Day links school teachers with scientists, engineers, and other STEM professionals who can bring hands on learning to the classrooms. Private sector programs like the “Transition to Teaching” program at IBM help address the shortage of skilled STEM teachers by supporting qualified employees in becoming accredited K-12 teachers.
Links and national resources for STEM professionals interested in becoming involved in the classroom include:
• Wednesday and Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee held a series of two hearings on inquiry-based instruction for STEM education. The subcommittee had previously added appropriations for STEM education and teacher preparation to the FY2010 budgets of NSF, NOAA, and NASA and continued those investments in the FY2011 request. These funds were to improve STEM education in grades K-6 while encouraging inquiry-based instruction in science education.
In day one of the hearings, witnesses shared information on how the environment around schools can be effectively used in inquiry based education. Dr. Eleanor Miele of Brooklyn College stressed the necessity of financial support for teacher preparation and science instruction materials, as well as for quantitative evaluation of the efficacy of inquiry-based instruction. “Teaching inquiry-based science is difficult-but worth the effort and it should begin before middle school,” stated Miele.
On the second day of hearings, Craig Strang of the University of California, Berkeley emphasized to the subcommittee members that “science agencies must have the mandate and the funding to devote significant intellectual and human resources to the endeavor of science education.”
• Thursday, the House Science and Technology Committee’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the current state of STEM in higher education. With the committee reviewing the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act this year, Chairman Lipinski addressed the need for taking a comprehensive look at STEM education reform at the college level as well. Members and witnesses discussed ways to improve the quality of STEM education for undergraduate and graduate students and the role of NSF in supporting reform. Recommendations included:
o Providing new and current professors training in current pedagogy
o Updating STEM curricula to incorporate current knowledge about how students really learn STEM; and
o Finding ways to combine disciplinary depth with interdisciplinary training and research opportunities
Also interesting to note is that several witnesses and members of the subcommittee remarked on the need for a cultural shift to change the common misperceptions of education and careers in STEM fields.