From educators to leaders in industry, there is broad agreement that U.S. schools have a crucial challenge in improving teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among students from kindergarten through high school. A background in STEM is not only essential to many current and future careers; it is also a means for citizens to understand and participate in an increasingly complex world--from understanding the challenges of environmental sustainability to addressing the need for alternative sources of energy.
The NRC report, "Successful K-12 STEM Education," is a response to a request from a member of Congress, Rep. Frank Wolf, to identify the characteristics of highly successful K-12 schools and programs in STEM. The report was prepared by a committee of educators led by Adam Gamoran of the Department of Sociology and Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The committee's work included examining existing research and research in progress on STEM-focused schools, as well as a broader base of research related to effective STEM education practices and effective schooling in general. The committee also conducted a public workshop to explore criteria for identifying highly successful K-12 schools and programs in the area of STEM education through examination of a select set of examples.
The report offers two sets of recommendations, geared for schools and districts, and for state and national policy-makers. They are summarized as follows.
Districts seeking to improve STEM outcomes should:
- Consider the adoption of STEM-focused schools. The report identifies three models for such schools: selective STEM Schools for academically talented students, who need to apply for admission; inclusive STEM high schools, often referred to as "magnet schools;" and schools and programs with STEM-focused career and technical education.
- Devote adequate instructional time and resources to science in grades K-5.
- Ensure that their STEM curricula are focused on the most important topics in each discipline, are rigorous, and are articulated as a sequence of topics and performances.
- Enhance the capacity of K-12 teachers.
- Provide instructional leaders with professional development that helps them create the school conditions that appear to support student achievement.
- Elevate science to the same level of importance as reading and mathematics.
- Develop effective systems of assessment that are aligned with the next generation of science standards and that emphasize science practices rather than mere factual recall.
- Invest in a coherent, focused, and sustained set of support for STEM teachers.
- Support key areas for future research.
"The National Research Council, through leading education researchers, has done a thorough job of identifying evidence-based directions for successful K-12 STEM education," said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, NSF assistant director for Education and Human Resources. "This report will guide a number of follow-up and implementation activities to bring the results to practitioners, state and local STEM education leaders, and others.
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