Education & Training

The use of IT in education. This is not for STEM issues.

Congress should make efforts to move high schools to competency-based credit systems.

One way to increase the ability of STEM students to pursue their interests more deeply and to better customize learning would be to allow students to more easily test out of classes. One way to do this would be for Congress to tie ESEA funding to states’ adoption of competency-based credit systems. In competency-based credit systems, students receive credit for subject matter learned by taking the end-of-course/end-of-school tests, rather than by spending unneeded seat time in these classes. This option incentivizes student progression through content, opens up time in the curriculum for “in-depth” studies, and helps to retain the brightest high school students, many of whom are bored with the slow pace of seat-time-based instruction. In concert with competency-based credit, school-district funding authorities should adopt competency-based funding models where funding to schools is granted, not on a seat time/attendance-based formula, but on successful course credit units completed by students.

The Department of Education should shift high schools to skills-based learning.

Currently, high schools are focused on teaching content (e.g., history, geography, English literature) and not skills (e.g., reading for information, locating information, and applied mathematics). This is reinforced by accountability measures based on content-based tests. Skills-based assessments should replace the NAEP and NCLB subject-matter-based tests for high schoolers. The Department of Education should then develop a plan by which focus on these testable skills would phase in over five years to replace the current subject-area curricular emphasis.

Federal Departments and Organizations should work together in developing a “Your Ph.D. is Free” awareness campaign.

Ph.D. support mechanisms will have little effect on students’ career decisions if students are not aware of these mechanisms. NSF, NASA, DOD, DHS and other agencies that provide Ph.D. fellowships, scholarships and/or assistantships to STEM students should conduct a joint market survey of currently enrolled B.S. students to determine whether students are even aware of these opportunities. If the awareness is low, a marketing plan should be developed to increase awareness (to at least 70 percent of the B.S. STEM student population) of the near-universality of financial support for Ph.D. study.

Congress should require colleges to report “National Survey of Student Engagement” scores.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), is designed to obtain, on an annual basis, information from more than 1,300 colleges about student participation in programs and activities that those institutions offer for learning and personal development. Unfortunately, few colleges and universities report their institution’s scores. To change that, Congress should require that as a “check off” criterion in the certifications and representations section of any grant proposal that provides student support, universities should have to assert that they have publicly posted their NSSE results. The release of this information will allow parents, teachers, students, funding agencies, and other stakeholders to ascertain that institution’s level of student engagement in instructional practices designed to develop Deep Divers and Interdisciplinary Connectors.

NSF should contract with an organization to establish a national STEM “Test Kitchen” for evaluating teaching methods.

Some kinds of STEM teaching methods have been shown to generate much better learning outcomes than others. But more extensive evaluation of best methods is needed. Toward that end Congress should allocate $5 million in construction costs and $2.5 million in annual operating costs to NSF for them to contract with an organization to build a showcase “STEM Test Kitchen,” perhaps located adjacent to the NSF site in Arlington, VA. The “Test Kitchen” would assess different STEM teaching approaches, side-by-side, and determine which is best suited to delivering a specific concept, as measured by <g> score. The winning “Test Kitchen” teaching approach for each concept would be distributed via popular medium, e.g., as YouTube instructional videos.

State boards of education should adopt performance-based assessments of textbooks and other learning materials.

State boards of education should either abandon textbook adoption criteria entirely–and leave purchasing decisions to individual schools–or adopt new criteria that apply equally well to all learning media and that speak to skills outcomes rather than topic coverage. Substituting proof that the product improves individual learning outcomes—rather simply covering a long checklist of topics—would stimulate both textbooks and new media to be the best learning tools they can be.

The NIH and NSF should spur more interdisciplinary STEM teaching and research.

More undergraduate and graduate interdisciplinary research and teaching would increase both the quality and quantity of STEM graduates. Toward that end, federal agencies should eliminate bias against interdisciplinary work in their grant award criteria. Among other steps, they should include industry representation on review panels at more than a token level.

Congressional efforts to provide prizes to colleges and universities that do best at retaining STEM students should increase.

STEM degrees could be increased significantly if more freshmen who intended to major in STEM graduated with a STEM degree. Congress should appropriate $66M a year to the National Science Foundation, for five years; this would be matched one to two by a major philanthropy, to be awarded as prizes funds to colleges and universities that have dramatically increased the rate at which their freshmen STEM students graduate with STEM degrees and that can demonstrably sustain that increase over five years. Awards would be offered in three tiers: $5M for small colleges, $10M for mid-size ones and $35M for large universities.

Congress should make efforts to enable STEM workers to remain working in downturns.

Keeping STEM workers employed during sectoral or national downturns is key to maintaining adequate STEM workers. Toward that end, Congress should establish a furlough program for STEM employees in cyclic industries, whereby such employees could spend up to 18 months at a university or federal laboratory at a one-half to two-thirds pay rate. The funding for this program could come either through direct appropriation, through a tax credit given to industry, or through explicit acquisition contract guidelines that allow flexibility by the contracting company to use acquisition dollars for employee education expenses after project termination or completion.

Congress can establish a national skills-based hiring system.

Moving to a more skills-based hiring system would make it easier for workers with STEM skills (but perhaps not with the “right” STEM degrees) to take STEM jobs. To do this Congress should appropriate funds for federal agencies to hold grant competitions in which professional societies or trade organizations would be asked to coordinate their industry sector’s move towards skills-based hiring. The grantee would spend one to two years crafting a skills-testing pyramid via engagement with the industry sector in question, ultimately arriving at a consensus skills pyramid. The grantee would have to achieve a certain percentage rate of skills-based hiring by its industry sector in order to receive follow-on funding in subsequent years.