Federal and state policy makers and national stakeholders in STEM education can play key roles in supporting the work of local and regional communities as they work to expand opportunities in science education. We outline below specific steps federal and state governments and national stakeholders can take to advance this vision for better, more equitable science education.
ACTION AREA 1: ELEVATE THE STATUS OF SCIENCE EDUCATION
RECOMMENDATION 1: The White House, with leadership from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), should act to raise the profile of science education and elevate the importance of access to high-quality science learning opportunities for all students across K-16. Specifically, OSTP should encourage national stakeholders, including federal agencies, along with those in the education, business, nonprofit, scientific, and philanthropic sectors, to focus resources and leverage their assets to increase the quality of and accessibility to K-16 science education.
RECOMMENDATION 2: Congress should include science as an indicator of academic achievement when it next reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Accountability for science should focus on students gaining conceptual understanding of science and should not be based on single tests. It should involve a system of assessments and indicators that together provide results that complement each other and provide information about the progress of schools, districts, and states.
RECOMMENDATION 3: State Departments of Education should act now to include science in their accountability systems for K-12 education. A state accountability system for science needs to include assessments that support classroom instruction, assessments that monitor science learning more broadly (at the school, district, and state levels), and indicators that track the availability of high-quality science learning opportunities.
RECOMMENDATION 4: National stakeholders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education should undertake coordinated advocacy to improve science education K-16 with particular attention to addressing disparities in opportunity. These stakeholders (including professional organizations, advocacy groups, scientists, and business and industry) will need to balance advocacy for STEM broadly with attention to the importance of high-quality learning experiences in science as well as in each of the other STEM disciplines.
A shared call to action and mutually reinforcing activities by the many diverse groups active in the promotion of science and STEM education is essential to the implementation of the recommendations presented in this report. Coordinated efforts and a common voice rather than siloed initiatives and disparate messaging can elevate science education to a level of importance in national, state and local discourse about K-16 education. All stakeholders can come to agreement on the importance of helping the American public understand that science education is essential to creating well-informed communities and preparing future workers for STEM and other careers and that states, systems, and institutions should be held accountable for closing opportunity gaps that exist in science education. Stakeholders can therefore share consistent messages and coordinate efforts to help bring about change on local, regional, and national levels.
ACTION AREA 2: ESTABLISH LOCAL AND REGIONAL ALLIANCES FOR STEM OPPORTUNITY
RECOMMENDATION 5: Leaders of local and regional K-12 systems and postsecondary institutions should work together to form Alliances for STEM Opportunity that involve key stakeholders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, such as informal education organizations, nonprofits, afterschool and summer programs, business and industry, and the philanthropic sector. Each alliance should develop an evidence-based vision and plan for improving STEM education that includes specific attention to high-quality science learning opportunities and addresses disparities in opportunity. Plans should include, at minimum, strategies for:
- providing access to high-quality science learning experiences across K-16 and addressing existing disparities in access;
- providing high-quality instructional materials and other resources to support these experiences;
- building a high-quality, diverse workforce for teaching science to include provisions for professional development and ongoing support;
- creating pathways for learners in science across grades 6 through 16 with supports for learners who want to pursue STEM careers.
RECOMMENDATION 6: The federal government, philanthropic organizations, and business and industry should provide funding to support the work of local and regional Alliances for STEM Opportunity as they work to improve science education. Funding should be targeted first to communities where a significant number of students live in poverty. Funds should support coordination and management of the alliances, programmatic efforts, and research and evaluation.
Alliances can be the linchpin of efforts to advance better and more equitable science experiences in communities. Their members can work together to identify the most appropriate shared priorities and then determine which approaches to science education will best serve local interests. They can rally stakeholders to elevate the importance of science education, develop plans, set priorities, collect and synthesize data to measure progress, make adjustments to strategies based on evidence, and hold partners accountable. Members of an alliance can work towards a common vision in ways that leverage what they do best. For example, some alliance members might provide programming while others collect or disseminate data, mobilize parents, provide high school or college counseling or advocate, all in service to goals and strategies jointly set by the alliance’s members.
Existing local, regional, or national networks focused on STEM, such as the STEM ecosystems, can catalyze, join or contribute to the Alliances for STEM Opportunity. Our intent is not to supplant existing efforts, but to ensure that there is attention to the quality and equity of science education specifically and to each of the STEM disciplines individually.
That federal and philanthropic funding for alliances targets underresourced communities and schools is especially important for addressing existing disparities in access and opportunity. Processes for alliances to secure funding will need to be structured to ensure all communities have equitable opportunities to apply for and receive financial support. Funding provided by the National Science Foundation could be focused on documenting through research and evaluation the approaches that are most improving science education overall and eliminating disparities in opportunity and outcomes.
ACTION AREA 3: DOCUMENT PROGRESS TOWARD BETTER, MORE EQUITABLE SCIENCE EDUCATION
RECOMMENDATION 7: States should develop and implement data-driven state-level plans for providing equitable K-16 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education with specific attention to science. These plans should include “STEM Opportunity Maps” that document and track where opportunities are available, where there are disparities in opportunity, and how much progress is being made toward eliminating disparities and achieving the goals of the state STEM education plan. The STEM Opportunity Maps should incorporate documentation from local and regional Alliances for STEM Opportunity.
RECOMMENDATION 8: The federal government should develop an annual “STEM Opportunity in the States” report card that documents the status of K-16 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education across each of the states and territories and tracks equity of opportunity for students in science specifically and in each of the other STEM disciplines.
Gathering and evaluating data about the distribution and quality of science learning experiences will provide decision makers with information they can use to identify disparities, track efforts to improve and direct resources to where they are needed most [81, 82]. States needs to be held accountable by a range of stakeholders for whether they are improving science education and closing opportunity gaps in science.
There are current federal programs that track information state by state and present it in an annual report, such as the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection3 or the National Science Foundation for its Science and Engineering State Profiles.4 These programs may offer models of how to obtain data from states, and manage, analyze and report it. Within states themselves, there are numerous examples of data-tracking in education that could be either modified or supplemented to include information on science and STEM without creating significant additional administrative burden.