National Science Board Examines “Uneven” Geography of K–12 STEM Education

December 2021

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On December 8–9, the National Science Board (NSB) held its most recent quarterly meeting. NSB establishes policies for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and also serves as an independent body of advisors to the president and Congress on science and engineering policy. During the meeting, NSB members heard from a panel of STEM educators who detailed the challenges and opportunities that they face in rural and urban environments. The video of this panel discussion begins at 1:08:00.

The panel included Pam Buffington, AERA member and director of the Rural and Ready STEM initiative at the Education Development Center; Brandy Huderson, assistant professor of biology at the University of the District of Columbia; Eric Jolly, president and chief executive officer of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation; and Michael GuarraiaAlbert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

Buffington described challenges in rural STEM education, such as lack of technology tools and broadband, recruiting and retaining STEM teachers, and inadequate funding. She highlighted the need to leverage strong relationships to forge success, along with the need to recognize local issues that could contribute to solutions and support for STEM education co-engagement.

Huderson detailed barriers that educators in urban settings face, including lack of cohesiveness in national and local programming, structural issues such as insufficient resources, and cultural and psychological factors. Those factors include the need for culturally responsive curriculum, teacher experience, and preconceptions that teachers may have on students’ expectations of what they can learn in STEM, leading to less rigorous instruction. Despite these barriers, she described some promising practices that have worked: for example, STEM-focused after-school programs, bridge programs, and inclusive STEM schools.

Jolly provided a perspective from out-of-school STEM learning experiences that have worked to build STEM identity in students. While implementation of programming in 100 sites in 11 states showed increases in knowledge of and interest in STEM careers, the COVID-19 pandemic and uneven resources among families have impacted access to programs.

Guarraia drew upon his experience in Baltimore County Public Schools to underscore the importance of STEM education that connects to place. He gave an example of lessons that involve connections between population and natural resources such as the Chesapeake Bay. He also detailed the need for more teachers and for STEM teachers to be provided flexibility to be creative in curriculum.

A moderated discussion followed the brief presentations. One of the main goals of the NSB Vision 2030 is to cultivate STEM talent, with emphasis on improving K–12 STEM education outcomes.

In addition to the discussion on barriers and opportunities in K–12 STEM education, NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, in his opening remarks to NSB, provided examples of NSF investment in economics that have resulted in significant impact. One of the examples highlighted NSF-supported research on the economics of education that have resulted in improving access to postsecondary education for low-income students by making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid easier to complete.

The next NSB meeting will take place February 23–24, 2022.