PCAST STEM Education Report Released -- Social and Behavioral Sciences Recognized as STEM Education Fields, Except at K-12 Level

PCAST released its long-awaited report on K-12 STEM Education, Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future, on September 16, 2010.

As expected, the report focuses on the federal role in transforming science education for the coming decades (including its partnerships with state and local governments) and what will be needed to prepare the next generation to be successful in addressing 21st century challenges. The PCAST review concludes that the federal government has historically lacked a coherent STEM education strategy and sufficient leadership to adequately improve K-12 STEM education and that the goal must be to both prepare and inspire all students.

Seven recommendations for improving K-12 STEM education are advanced to the President:

  1. Support the current state-led movement for shared standards in math and science.
  2. Recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade who are able to prepare and inspire students.
  3. Recognize and reward the top 5 percent of the nation’s STEM teachers by creating a STEM master teachers corps.
  4. Use technology to drive innovation by creating an advanced research projects agency for education.
  5. Create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences outside the classroom.
  6. Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade (200 high schools and 800 elementary and middle schools).
  7. Ensure strong and strategic national leadership (including an independent Presidential Commission on STEM education in conjunction with the National Governor’s Association, as well as a NSTC standing committee on STEM education).

The bulk of the report and PCAST’s recommendations do not mention specific areas of science. Because it is of interest to this community and our own efforts to educate the next generation, we add that PCAST defines in Chapter 1 which scientific areas and non-scientific areas are the focus of its recommendations for transforming science for the next decades.

Box 1-1 states:

“What is STEM Education?  ‘STEM education,’ as used in this report, includes the subjects of mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics, which have traditionally formed the core requirements of many state curricula at the K-12 level.  In addition, the report includes other critical subjects, such as computer science, engineering, environmental science and geology, with whose fundamental concepts K-12 students should be familiar.  The report does not include the social and behavioral sciences, such as economics, anthropology, and sociology;  while appropriately considered STEM fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels, they involve very different issues at the K-12 level.”

While PCAST’s differentiation for social and behavioral sciences at the K-12 level is puzzling (especially in light of the social and behavioral phenomena that is of much interest to kids and can be subjected to scientific analysis), we hope to learn more and will keep you informed as we do.

In the interim, we will continue our own educational activities on this important topic. If this country is serious about transforming science education and building a science-literate populace, it cannot afford to leave large areas of science out of the picture.