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NSB Releases Action Plan on STEM Education

October 31, 2007

Many Digest stories in recent years have described the actions of states and regions to build a stronger educational foundation in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The National Science Board (NSB), the policy-making body of the National Science Foundation, released its recommendations to improve the ability of all American students to receive the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully participate in the workforce of the future. In A National Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System, NSB describes two central challenges of equal importance that form the core of their actionable steps: (1) Ensure a coherent STEM education system throughout the entire country, and (2) ensure that U.S. students are educated by well qualified and highly effective teachers.


The report offers some perspectives on America’s lagging rankings in STEM critical thinking skills compared to other industrialized nations and includes information from the National Center for Education Statistics, which reports 30 percent of first-year college students take remedial math and science courses because of their lack of readiness for college-level courses. Actionable steps are organized into four categories: coordinating and enhancing local, state and federal programs; providing horizontal coordination of STEM education among states; providing vertical coordination of STEM education across grade levels from pre-K to the first years of higher education; and, increasing the number and quality of STEM teachers.

The first recommendation listed in the report - and the one that seems to be generating the most discussion among policymakers - endorses the creation of a new National Council for STEM Education. Designed to be created by congressional legislation and approved by the president, the council would be responsible for coordinating and facilitating STEM education initiatives across the U.S., and informing policymakers and the public on the condition of the country’s STEM education system. Comprised of approximately 25 members, the council’s voting membership would come from local and state governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and non-voting members would include representatives of Congress and the president. Recommendations of who should comprise the council, from governors to community college representatives to practicing STEM classroom teachers, are defined in the report. Arguments against the creation of the Council have included the concern of a top-down approach to organizing federal STEM initiatives.


Besides the creation of the National STEM Council, recommendations include:

  • The President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should form a standing committee on STEM education within the National Science and Technology Council to coordinate all federal STEM programs;
  • The Department of Education should create a new Assistant Secretary of Education position responsible for organizing the department’s outreach and initiatives in STEM education; and,
  • The National Science Foundation should produce a “national road map” to improve pre-kindergarten to post-college STEM education.

The report also argues that compensation for STEM teachers should be increased, and the proposed National Council should create strategies to remove the barriers preventing local education agencies from increasing compensation. Besides directly increasing salary levels, other incentives include federal tax credits for STEM teachers, payment for improved student performance, payment for obtaining STEM certifications, and increased compensation by participating in summer professional development programs and research experiences. Developing national STEM teacher certification standards also is listed as an actionable item to improve the quality of teachers.


Further elaboration on many of these recommendations, including the additional action steps to improve the horizontal and vertical coordination of STEM education programs, are contained in the report, which can be accessed at: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/edu_com/report.jsp