Subcommittee Democrats Examine Successful STEM Education Practices

Oct 12, 2011

(Washington, DC) – Today,  the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing entitled, “What Makes for Successful K-12 STEM Education:  A Closer Look at Effective STEM Education Approaches.”  The purpose of the hearing was to examine the findings of a recently released National Research Council (NRC) Report, Successful K-12 STEM Education:  Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. 

In 2009, Congress directed the National Science Foundation (NSF) to survey highly successful K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) schools and “report recommendations on how their STEM practices might be more broadly replicated in the U.S. public school system.”  NSF awarded two grants to the National Academies’ NRC to assemble an expert panel to explore this issue and produce a report.  The report identifies three distinct goals for K-12 STEM education; increasing the number of students who pursue higher education in the STEM fields, expanding the STEM-capable workforce, and increasing STEM literacy for all students.  Based on these goals, the NRC Committee identified highly effective STEM schools and programs, and described the elements of those schools and programs that have been identified by research to be key components to their success.   In the report, the NRC Committee also discussed additional research needed to improve our understanding of what contributes to effective STEM education.   Finally, the NRC Committee made broader policy recommendations to the Federal government and other stakeholders about how to achieve improvements in K-12 STEM education nationwide.

Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) opened his remarks, “Time and time again we hear about how poorly our students are doing on math and science tests. On the last National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called “nation’s report card,” nearly 80 percent of 12th graders fell short of science proficiency. The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 48th in math and science. Not surprisingly, this poor performance has resulted in fewer scientists and engineers. Only one third of the undergraduate degrees earned by American students are in a STEM field, compared with 63 percent in Japan and 53 percent in China. In a global economy where nearly everything we do is based on math, science, and technology, these numbers are frightening. But there are many examples of schools and programs that are having great success in increasing student interest and performance in STEM.  That’s why I’m excited about this hearing and the recent NRC report on K-12 STEM education. There are exemplary STEM schools, like the Illinois Math and Science Academy, and I want to learn why and how they work so effectively and what aspects of their success can be replicated broadly.”

Democratic Members and witnesses emphasized the importance of the role of the Federal government in investing in STEM education research and development. 

Dr. Adam Gamoran, Chairman of the NRC Committee on Highly Successful Schools or Programs for K-12 STEM Education, said, “No other entity can fill the Federal government’s key role in supporting research on STEM education.  Much of the research reviewed in the Successful STEM report was supported by Federal funding, mainly through the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.  The Successful STEM report shows that while much has been learned, the gaps in our knowledge remain wide.” He continued, “Funding for STEM education research should remain a priority despite the fiscal challenges of our times.  Like the authors of another NRC report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, I believe our nation cannot afford to back away from investments in STEM education that are crucial for our long-term economic and social prosperity.”

Democratic Members and witnesses also discussed the importance of scalability and the need for more research on large scale implementation of K-12 STEM initiatives.

Mr. Lipinski said, “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about STEM education policy is that one successful model is not enough to achieve systemic change...We know from experience that simply copying successful schools doesn’t always work. We live in a large and diverse country, and our approach needs to reflect that. I also think that is why it remains critical that we continue investing in education research that accounts for the tremendous diversity of environments, infrastructure, cultures, laws, student populations, and other factors that together describe a community and a school.”

Dr. Barbara Means, Director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International, said, “Conventional thinking on the part of many Federal and private philanthropic programs has been that once we’ve identified an effective educational product or approach, we should simply roll it out to as many schools and classrooms as possible.  The implicit assumption is that these schools will experience the same positive outcomes for the approach observed originally.  [T]his assumption is flawed and efforts to implement innovative K-12 STEM education approaches on a large scale need to be combined with rigorous research on those approaches in multiple contexts.”