As reported in FYI #95, the House-passed FY 2006 Science, State, Commerce and Justice Appropriations bill (H.R. 2862), included a provision commending the National Science Board for taking steps "to establish a commission to make recommendations for NSF and Federal Government action to achieve measurable improvements in the Nation's science education at all levels. The Committee strongly endorses this effort, and expects the Board to provide an interim report by September 30, 2005, on the establishment of the commission, and to report the commission's findings and recommendations to the Committee at the conclusion of the commission's work."
On May 24, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition sent a letter to National Science Board Chairman Warren Washington, urging the Board's assistance "in protecting the future of the STEM education and research programs at NSF," and suggesting such a commission or blue-ribbon panel. The letter adds that "funding of STEM education programs and research should be restored without diminishing essential support for the research directorates." The American Institute of Physics, along with two of its Member Societies, the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Optical Society of America, signed onto this letter. The text of the letter follows:
"Dear Dr. Washington:
"As you know, the FY2006 budget request would fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) below FY2004 funding and substantially reduces funding for the Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) for the second year in a row. On behalf of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition, we are writing to ask for your assistance in protecting the future of the STEM education and research programs at NSF. In the near term, we urge the National Science Board to use its considerable influence and prestige by writing a letter to Congress and the President in support of the NSF Education and Human Resources Directorate.
"For the longer term, we suggest the Board work with NSF Director Arden Bement to establish a establish a blue ribbon panel of business, research and STEM education experts to define and inform the Administration, Congress, and the nation of the state of STEM education programs and research and identify future needs and priorities.
"We are grateful for the support expressed by the Board at recent Congressional hearings for NSF's STEM education programs and related research initiatives. We are deeply concerned about the EHR budget and believe that forthright action is needed to prevent further decline. We believe that funding of STEM education programs and research should be restored without diminishing essential support for the research directorates.
"Now is not the time in our history, regardless of tight budget environments, to reduce investments in STEM precollege and higher education programs and essential research. Without this investment, the U.S. risks losing its competitive edge in the global economy to countries like China and India. The evidence is overwhelming: U.S. STEM education programs and the relevant knowledge base are not keeping pace with global competition; our international test scores remain weak; offshore outsourcing continues to grow; countries in Europe and Asia are heavily investing in their educational infrastructures and they are reaping the benefits. Their patents are on the rise, their graduation rates for science and engineering degrees continue to climb, and businesses continue to move overseas in search of high-tech talent.
"The NSF is the only agency that supports the kind of research and development that brings advances in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to the classroom. This is not the time to cut resources for innovative curricula, teacher support, and technological tools that can give our children the knowledge and skills they need to become the scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians that the 21st Century demands. We need more programs to keep students and teachers engaged and motivated to learn STEM topics. Without support from the NSF, we will see more students opt out of STEM careers, putting their future success and our nation at risk.
"If we can be of assistance in this endeavor, know that we are here to serve."
A copy of the letter was sent to NSF Director Arden Bement.