Research Subcommittee reviews industrial and non-profit philanthropic STEM education initiatives

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Publication date: 
25 March 2013

The Research Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology reviewed industrial and non-profit philanthropic science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education initiatives in a March 13 hearing.  This hearing focused on the role that industry and non-profit philanthropic organizations play in making STEM careers attractive and accessible to students.  Also discussed at the hearing were partnerships between organizations and K-12 schools and how those further STEM education.  “Partnerships with education providers, STEM focused companies, and other opportunities have become important pieces of private sector efforts to strengthen the STEM workforce…. Understanding the work these organizations are undertaking in the STEM fields will inform the federal government’s role,” stated a hearing charter prepared by Republican Committee staff.  

The subject of this hearing will be one discussed by the full Science Committee as it intends to reauthorize the National Science Foundation as a part of the reauthorization of the COMPETES Act this year.  The COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 called for an inventory of federal STEM education activities and includes language on K-12 STEM education policy.  This report, by the Committee on STEM Education of the National Science and Technology Council, concluded that while the 252 federally-funded STEM activities identified were found not to have the same objectives, target audiences, products, or fields of focus that “this conclusion should not be interpreted to mean there are no opportunities for improving the alignment, deployment, and efficiency of federal STEM education investments.” 

Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) highlighted that the COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 requires the National Science and Technology Council Committee on STEM to develop and implement a 5-year strategic plan.  This plan would specify and prioritize objectives and define the role of each of the government agencies which fund STEM programs and activities.  In this process of strategic planning, Bucshon stated that he wanted to recognize the importance of private sector and non-profit collaborations in STEM education.  He also noted that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should work with agencies to produce strategies that ensure efficiency and eliminate duplication and ineffective programs.  The GAO also concluded in a 2012 report that there is a need for strategic planning in order to better manage the overlap of federal STEM education programs. 

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) stated that “currently the federal government spends about $3 billion dollars in STEM education activities each year.  These programs are found primarily at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education but can be in every agency under this Committee’s jurisdiction.”  Smith was particularly interested in what is taking place outside the federal government in order to avoid duplication with government programs.  He was also concerned with the rankings of American students in science and math. 

Subcommittee Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) shared Smith’s concern about student performance in STEM education.  He stated that “we know that STEM education is a complex problem with no easy or one-size-fits-all solution.  Therefore, we all must work together – the private sector, nonprofits, colleges and universities, school districts, and local, state, and federal governments – to find solutions that fit specific needs.  If the US wants to remain the global leader in innovation and technology, we have to tackle these challenges with an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.”  

Lipinski highlighted the role of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in funding education programs stating that the “NSF is one of the most important sources of funding for education research.  Industry rightly wants to put their money into proven programs.  For that to happen, somebody has to provide the funding to develop and prove out those programs.  NSF grants allow education researchers and organizations to test out and evaluate new ideas, and to improve our understanding of how people learn and what effective pedagogy really means.  Much of what we know and use in STEM education today started out with NSF funding.”  He was concerned that federal investments in STEM education have stagnated and are being questioned as he noted that one “can’t take the top notch US researchers and universities for granted.” 

Four witnesses testified.  Shelly Esque, President of Intel Foundation discussed Intel’s national science competition and the science and engineering fair which inspire young scientists.  In her testimony, she also described Intel Math, a program geared at elementary school teachers whom often are uncomfortable with math. 

Bob Smith, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Engineering and Technology at Honeywell Aerospace gave a description of Honeywell’s Hometown Solutions Initiative which focuses on math and science education as well as a variety of other citizenship initiatives.  He provided details about teacher training programs at the US Space and Rocket Center.

Vince Bertram, President and Chief Executive Officer of Project Lead the Way began by stating that the statistics of US student performance indicate that there is a crisis in STEM education.  He described how Project Lead the Way is a scalable program that provides standards-based curriculum, teacher training through university affiliates, and a national network of master teachers that train STEM teachers in project-based classroom practices.

Andrea Ingram, Vice President of Education and Guest Services at the Museum of Science and Industry, in Chicago, stated that “the race for the future will not be won by test scores; it will be won by youth who are well-positioned to lead our economies into the future.”  She commented on the difference between programs which focus on a student’s ability to reach international benchmarks versus programs which focus on innovation and give students the tools to “be the next Steve Jobs.”  She noted that implementing the Next Generation Science Standards will require critical thinking in STEM and emphasized the need for creativity and collaboration in the efforts to improve STEM education.

Questions from Members showed a bi-partisan interest in improving STEM education.  Bucshon was intrigued by elementary science programs and wanted further clarification about the project-based learning and classroom activities.  Rep. Ami Berra (D-CA), inquired about what policy makers can do to foster innovation in public-private partnerships. 

Smith focused his commentary and questions on ways to leverage resources and avoid duplication.  Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) asked witnesses to comment on whether the money used on STEM education programs would be better used if it was designated for more scholarships.  Esque commented that the issues in STEM education are more complex than just providing access for students since there is a significant problem with attrition.   She stressed that 40-50 percent of students drop out of their STEM majors and that K-12 STEM education should be improved to better prepare students for their university courses.

Lipinski focused his questions on defining the role of federal agencies regarding funding, public-private partnerships, scholarships and support for STEM students.  Smith suggested that businesses should use their resources to focus on developing the talent but that the government can take a leadership role in putting out “audacious” ideas to improve STEM education.