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STEM Coalition Blasts Plan to End Science Testing Mandate

A Republican proposal to end the federal mandate for science testing in public schools is coming under fire from a broad-based coalition that supports improved STEM education.

"Removing the existing requirement ... sends a powerful, negative, and unambiguous signal to U.S. schools and the public that science—along with all of its related subdisciplines—is no longer a national priority," says the STEM Education Coalition in a letter sent today to members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

A draft bill released last month by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, would abolish the current requirement in the No Child Left Behind Act that states test students in science three times before they graduate high school. It would keep, however, the law's mandate for testing English/language arts and mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school. The GOP proposal was part of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (NCLB is the latest version of the 1965 law.)

"If the requirement for science testing is eliminated, schools will shift their limited resources away from science classes, less time will be devoted to science, and professional development for science educators will suffer," says the coalition, which describes itself as an alliance of more than 500 business, professional, and education organizations. Members include Microsoft Corp., the American Chemical Society, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and Time Warner Cable.

James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition, told me that members of the group are speaking with the offices of House lawmakers on the committee "every day" to make known their concerns about the GOP bill.

The coalition also complains that the draft bill would strip out the $150 million Mathematics and Science Partnerships program at the U.S. Department of Education without offering any new, STEM-focused program in its place.

"While we recognize the bill's goal of streamlining a myriad of education programs," the coalition says, "we disagree with the absence of any strong STEM education focus for Title II [of the ESEA] grants or any significant linkage between Title II activities and workforce needs."

The letter seeks to make an emphatic connection between STEM education and the workforce.

"In short," the coalition says, "we believe that education reforms that are strongly focused on the STEM subjects are reforms that are strongly focused on jobs and economic recovery."

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