(Washington, D.C.)  Recognizing that math and science educators play a major role in keeping the U.S. competitive in a 21st century economy, members of the Science and Technology Committee’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee today investigated educators’ experiences working with federal science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs for K-16 students.

During the hearing, Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) led members in examining if educators are utilizing information provided by federal agencies, if the federal government is creating effective and manageable programs for educators, whether there is a lack of a coordinated effort between agencies, and whether federal programs are improving STEM education in America.

“One of the most important things our country can do for our future economic health is to invest in math and science education, and more importantly, our math and science teachers,” said Chairman Baird.  “Teachers who have a strong understanding and passion for a subject will pass that enthusiasm onto their students.   As we continue investigating how to improve federal STEM education programs, it is critical that we obtain guidance from those who work directly with teachers and students.”

“I believe it is the desire of all the Members of the Science and Technology Committee that we support the implementation of programs that are well-designed and effective,” said Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI).  “Our challenge in Congress is to target limited federal funds at programs which leverage relevant federal resources and also complement the local educational requirements.”

In October 2005, the National Academies’ released the report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”  This report was issued by a distinguished spectrum of national leaders in academia, industry and government.  Their findings were alarming.  Essentially, they noted that without immediate action, the U.S. may not be able to maintain global leadership in innovation and education. 

“Since the federal agencies depend so heavily on both a literate citizenry for continued support and STEM professionals at all levels to carry out their missions, it is in the interest of the agencies to contribute appropriately to achieving two STEM education goals: 1) universal math and science literacy and 2) significantly increasing the number and diversity of American students entering and successfully exiting the STEM pipeline,” said Dr. George D. Nelson, Director of Science Technology and Mathematics Education at Western Washington University during his testimony.

Until recently, federal agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE), have developed their programs independently and without a strategic plan.  In addition, each program has developed their own evaluation methods; making comparisons between what’s working and what isn’t impossible.  Lastly, the agencies have had trouble making teachers nationwide aware of the programs and resources that may be available to them.

“I believe there is a great deal of untapped potential residing in the expertise of scientists and engineers at these agencies,” continued Chairman Baird.  “Not only do these scientists and engineers possess impressive content knowledge in the sciences, they also have real-world experience with the ‘wow’ factors that gets kids excited about learning science.”