Qualified, Well Trained Teachers Key To STEM Education
The U.S. House Committee on Science today reviewed the range of programs that support K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education across several Federal agencies, with a concentration on their coordination and effectiveness.
"The importance of STEM education for our nation’s future cannot be understated - we’re only as good as our human capital," said Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "The National Academies (NAS) report Rising Above the Gathering Storm recently reminded us that without quick action, our students will fall behind their foreign counterparts."
The NAS report lays out specific recommendations for action on competitiveness – key among them is a focus on K-12 STEM education’s greatest need, qualified teachers. The report points out that 69% of middle school students in the U.S. are taught by teachers with neither a college major in math nor certification to teach math. Similarly, 93% of these students receive instruction in physical sciences from teachers with no major or certification in the field. 31% of high school students are taught math by teachers without majors or certification in math, and 63% by teachers without majors or certification in the physical sciences.
"The K-12 STEM education priorities ought to be to improve the undergraduate education of new teachers and to increase substantially the professional development opportunities for current teachers, in order to raise their subject knowledge and teaching skills," continued Rep. Gordon.
At a recent subcommittee hearing on undergraduate STEM education, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Carl Wieman testified that, "unless you improve science education at the college level first, you are wasting your time and money on major improvements in K-12 [education]."
"The foremost reports and experts in the field agree," remarked Rep. Gordon. "Without a solid teacher base, progress in K-12 STEM education will be difficult to attain."
In fact, Committee Democrats requested that a distinguished 30-year classroom science teacher join the panel today and share her experiences in working with the Federal education programs under discussion. Committee Republicans refused the witness, forcing the Minority to request an additional day of hearings on this important topic.
Committee Democrats also questioned panelists, including U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, as to why the Administration’s FY07 budget claims to enhance K-12 education through the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), yet focuses 70% of the funding on math curriculum development at the Department of Education – a seemingly narrow area that ignores calls for improvement in both math and science education to provide a foundation for competitiveness.
"We should certainly concentrate some efforts on math curriculum development, but 70%?" questioned Rep. Gordon. "In a time of limited budgets, it makes much more sense to me to focus our efforts on funding current programs that are working and producing measurable results for students and teachers."
Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) asked the Secretary of Education to release Department reports entitled National Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program and Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Both of these reports were commissioned by the Department, but were never published or distributed. There are allegations that the findings were suppressed because they did not endorse the Department’s public policy approach. The Secretary assured Rep. Miller a response to his request.
"We’ve paid good money for studies that the Department has never released," Rep. Miller said. "The Department says they didn’t release the studies because the studies were 'bad science,' not because the studies reached the wrong conclusions. Let’s see the studies and the Department’s criticisms of the research and let scholars in the field have a look. That’s the way peer review is supposed to work."
Committee Democrats also expressed concern over reducing the well established role of the National Science Foundation in math and science education. "Experts agree that the National Science Foundation has been the leader in developing math and science education in this country," added Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-OR). "The Administration’s decision to have the Department of Education, rather than the NSF, lead the implementation of the math and science education sections of the ACI is counterintuitive."
Rep. Gordon and Science Committee Democrats have introduced the only House legislation to date that acts upon the recommendations of the recent National Academies report.
"Providing high quality jobs for hard working Americans must be our first priority. In order to accomplish that, we must insure that education – even at its earliest stages – prepares our students in these important subjects," added Rep. Gordon. "That’s why I introduced H.R. 4434, which requires science faculty to work with education faculty to develop courses of instruction and teaching procedures specifically tailored to science and math majors, who also agree to pursue teaching credentials."
The Gordon legislation is based on the widely acknowledged report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. In addition to H.R. 4434, 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act, the Gordon bills also include H.R. 4435, Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) Act and H.R. 4596, Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act.