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STEM Coalition Opposes House GOP Bill to Rewrite No Child Left Behind

With the U.S. House of Representatives slated to debate major K-12 legislation as soon as today, a broad-based STEM coalition argues that the bill lacks a robust STEM education focus and should not be supported.

A key complaint of the STEM Education Coalition—which includes leaders in education, business, and the STEM professions—is that the Republican bill to rewrite the federal No Child Left Behind Act would abolish the Mathematics and Science Partnerships program. Funded at $142 million for the current fiscal year, this program seeks to improve the content knowledge of teachers in math and science, and to help improve student achievement.

"The Student Success Act lacks a strong STEM education focus and would eliminate the Math and Science Partnership program at the Department of Education, the sole program at the department focused exclusively on teacher professional development in STEM subjects," the STEM Education Coalition says in a statement on the bill. "STEM education is closely linked with our nation's prosperity in the modern global economy and our nation's future depends on elevating STEM education as a national priority through education reforms, policies to drive innovation, and federal and state spending priorities."

Members of the STEM coalition include Microsoft Corp., the National Science Teachers Association, the American Chemical Society, Texas Instruments, and Time Warner Cable, among many others.

To be clear, this House legislation covers a lot of terrain in education policy, with big implications for assessment, accountability, school choice, and other matters. Your best source for details and ongoing analysis is our Politics K-12 blog. Here's the latest by Alyson Klein on where things stand. My post is just taking a closer look at the STEM angle.

Science Testing

On testing, it's worth noting that the House Republican bill would retain the requirement in current law that all students must be tested at least three times in science before they graduate high school: once in elementary, middle, and high school. Last year, a bill from House Republicans would have scrapped the science testing mandate. (It also would retain the requirement of testing all students in mathematics and reading at grades 3-8, and once in high school.)

One of the most significant big-picture changes, however, is that the bill would give states far more leeway than under current federal law in terms of achievement goals and setting consequences when districts and schools miss the mark.

David Evans, the executive director of the NSTA, said that while he's glad to see the House bill retain the requirement of science testing, he finds little else to like about it when it comes to STEM education.

"It more or less ignores the whole previously thought bipartisan nature of support for STEM," he said. "You don't see much sign of [STEM], which we had really hoped to see."

Evans said he was especially alarmed about eliminating the Math and Science Partnerships program.

"The impact will be pretty serious," he said, if this proposal were to succeed. "That funding has been used to make a lot of progress across the board. ... It would really be pulling the rug out from some programs we have finally gotten started."

'Washington Bureaucrats'

A Republican summary of the bill, however, argues that the Education Department has far too many programs, and that it's time to give districts greater decisionmaking authority.

"The Student Success Act eliminates more than 70 of those programs and replaces them with the Local Academic Flexible Grant to provide states and school districts the flexibility to support initiatives based on their local needs," it says. "Instead of Washington bureaucrats making decisions, the legislation will allow superintendents, school leaders, and local officials to make funding decisions based on what they know will help improve student learning."

Another specific critique expressed by the STEM coalition is how the House bill addresses STEM's connection to standards and teacher quality.

"It does not establish any significant linkage between teacher quality initiatives and workforce needs, and does not promote high-quality standards in STEM subjects that are aligned with the knowledge and skills needed to be college and career ready," the coalition's statement says.

I should note that at least two prominent education groups, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, have voiced support for the House Republican bill. However, President Barack Obama has already said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk as drafted. Meanwhile, a Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was approved by the Senate education committee, but still awaits floor action.

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