NSB Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

The National Science Board Commission met for the first time in August 2006. The driving question that resulted, and will shape the rest of the Commission's work is: "What should 21st Century STEM education look like?"

1st meeting of the National Science Board (NSB)

August 3 - 4, 2006

Commission Chairs

Dr. Leon M. Lederman, Resident Scholar, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Co-chairman
Dr. Shirley Malcom, Head, Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs, AAAS, Co-chairman
Dr. Jo Anne Vasquez, Science Education Author/consultant, Vice Chairman (Member NSB)

(Note: For complete list of commission members and full text of their charge, see http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/edu_com/)

Charge to the Commission

To develop a bold new national action plan that will address the following issues and identify the specific role of the National Science Foundation in each:

  • improving the quality of preK-16 education related to both general and pre-professional training in mathematics, engineering and the sciences...
  • identifying critical...transition points during the educational career where loss of student interest is greatest, and [recommending] means to assure the most effective [STEM] education for all U.S. students, as well as future scientists, engineers and other technical personnel
  • improving mathematics and science programs, curricula, and pedagogy to capitalize on the Nation’s investment in educational research and development...
  • promulgating a set of principles, options and education strategies that can be employed by all concerned, nationwide...as an agenda for promoting American economic strength, national security, employment opportunities, and social progress that will support U.S. pre-eminence in discovery and innovation.

The NSB Commission Action Plan will include a plan for public dissemination and outreach.

Driving Questions

  • What should 21st century STEM education look like?
  • Why will this commission be more successful than all the previous commissions? How might “our” report have an impact broader that similar reports, including the 1983 report: A Nation At Risk?

Key Issues Raised

  • This is a “systems” problem, one that must be addressed by tackling all points of the system (e.g., improved quality of H.S. grads frees up corporate capital; role of textbooks; reality of the “death of distance,” when there is no need to be physically present in a workplace; the long “pipe-line” wherein 4th grade is a point of being ‘turned off’ from interest in science and math; growing diversity of the U.S. population....)
  • Identify roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in owning and implementing recommendations of the Commission.

Invited Guests

Norman Augustine addressed the Commission from the perspective of his recent experience with the NAS Rising Above the Gathering Storm report and his long-time engagement with issues of national competitiveness and excellence in education, science, and technology. He reinforced the Commission’s awareness that there are few new problems and of the urgent need for action now, spotlighting the high percentage of 21st century careers that require scientific and technological skills. Augustine reflected on growing concerns about national competitiveness and about sustaining America’s quality of life— individual and collective prosperity, emphasizing the need for well-informed and educated “innovators” who have budget available to pursue their interests. He also described steps taken by individual members of his committee to advance discussion on issues raised in Rising above the Gathering Storm, urging Commission members to address “follow-up” and “next step” approaches as they begin their work.

Robert J. Shea, from Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at NSF, spoke of the work of the Academic Competitive Council (AAC), which is examining federal programs supporting math and science education at all levels, seeking to determine the effectiveness of the $3.5 billion national investment in support of such programs, and the extent of the body of knowledge about the impact (positive or negative) of such programs on student learning. The AAC is looking for models of rigorous methodologies for determining effectiveness and for common standards that can be extrapolated, so effective work can be scaled-up, replicated, and inform further legislative action. See, for example, this legislation on academic competitiveness grants.

Steven C. Beering, NSB Chair, Arden L. Bement, NSF Director, Donald E. Thompson, Acting Associate Director for EHR put the work of the Commission in the context of the ongoing efforts of the NSB and NSF, stressing its timeliness and importance. Thompson emphasized that all NSF programs undergo rigorous assessment and evaluation.

Issues Raised in Commission Discussion of Interest to the Undergraduate STEM Community (selected)

  • recognize that the lack of well-prepared teachers for K-12 math and science classrooms is a pipeline issue (one which includes issues relating to credentialing/certification)
  • consider that what happens at the undergraduate level is critical to addressing pipeline concerns in regard to K-12 science and math, the increasing need to ensure all undergraduates leave campus with the scientific/quantitative skills needed for a functioning democracy, as well as workforce demands
  • assessment is pushing what is done at the K-12 level; higher education will be called upon to become more outcomes-oriented (OMB)
  • the many stakeholders in the higher education community (presidents, faculty, disciplinary societies) need to be involved right from the start.

Timeline for Work of the Commission

The final report is expected in 12 months, by August 2007.

Next Steps

Seven task forces will begin their work, addressing:

  1. The recruitment, preparation, retention of K-12 science and math teachers and their continuous and life-long development
  2. The environmental infrastructure necessary to support reforms throughout the system
  3. The preK - 16 STEM curriculum, particularly the research base of “what works”
  4. Higher education links to the preK - 12 community
  5. The role of the informal science community and the public
  6. The constructive engagement of all stakeholder groups in shaping and implementing Commission recommendations
  7. The responsibilities of the National Science Foundation in responding to Commission recommendations.

Comments to the NSB Commission

Email your comments to: NSBEdCom@nsf.gov

or send mail to:

Commission on 21st Century STEM Education
c/o Dr. Elizabeth Strickland
National Science Board Office 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1220
Arlington, VA 22230