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Education, Research and Development, and Workforce Policy

( 2/1/13 )

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By focusing on educating American students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and funding science research and development, the U.S. will ensure a future workforce that can maintain scientific and technological innovation.

Maintaining U.S. competitiveness and innovation in the global economy through support of the STEM fields became a significant concern in the 110th Congress. This concern led to the successful passage of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272), which President Bush signed into law (Public Law 110-69 ) on August 9, 2007. The act authorized increasing federal investment in basic research, grants for researchers, funding for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields, and supporting math and science teacher training and education. The 111th Congress approved of the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116), which authorizes increases for research at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. It details a number of STEM education and nuclear energy and hydrocarbon systems workforce initiatives. President Obama signed this act into law (Public Law 111-358) in January 2011.

Education policy for federal K-12 programs has focused on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that was signed into law (Public Law 107-110) by President Bush in 2002.  The current Congress aims to improve this act to ensure students are adequately educated, especially in the areas of math and sciences though additional STEM education programs.  Higher education policy has been dominated in recent years by reform and subsequent reauthorization in 2008 of the Higher Education Act (H.R. 4137, Public Law 110-315) to include incentives to “strengthen our workforce and our competitiveness” by creating programs to bolster students’ interest in science and improve teacher training in the sciences. No modifications to the No Child Left Behind Act were passed in the 111th, but the 112th Congress will likely work towards rewriting the act. Expect the 112th to continue seeking investments in STEM fields in higher education through the Higher Education Act.

Issues related to evolution are covered on a separate page.

Recent Action

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Previous Action

NSF Opens Wyoming Supercomputer and Launches Sikuliaq (10/12)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) dedicated the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne on October 15 and launched the R/V Sikuliaq on October 13.

The Supercomputer, known as “Yellowstone” is one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers and is able to calculate 1.5 quadrillion (a million billion) mathematical operations per second. This speed is comparable to the world’s population (7 billion) simultaneously conducting 200,000 calculations per second.

Yellowstone is dedicated to the geosciences and is funded by NSF with additional support from the state of Wyoming and a broad public-private consortium. Yellowstone’s extraordinary computing power will enable geoscientists to capture Earth’s systems in unprecedented detail. The results will improve forecasting of hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe storms; wildfire behaviors; mapping of critical water supplies; predictions of solar disruptions impact on Earth; and many other concerns.

The Sikuliaq, named after the Inupiat word meaning “young sea ice,” is the first global class, ice capable ship owned by the NSF. The vessel is capable of working in any ocean in the world and has been called “one of the most advanced research vessels in the world,” by NSF Director Subra Suresh.

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Research and Development
Maintaining U.S. competitiveness in the global economy through scientific and technological innovations has been of growing concern in Congress. In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called for increased American innovation and investment in research and development, comparing the present age of innovation to the space race. Obama said “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.” He called on America to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. Members of the 112th Congress are calling for an American “renaissance” in science, but it remains to be seen how much support there will be for federal research and development in the midst of the present financial instability.

President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request includes increases in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funding is held constant. (See AGI’s page for an Overview of Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations.)

With the end of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program’s contract approaching in September 2013, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has restructured the program into the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) which will start in October 2013.  The new IODP released their 10-year science plan in September 2012, indicating four scientific focuses: Climate and Ocean Change, Biosphere Frontiers, Earth Connections, and Earth in Motion. The new operating plan is intended to lower costs and generate new sources of revenue to allow JOIDES Resolution (JR) drilling ship to conduct more research than it could as part of the previous program.

NSF faced concerns over the ability to restock and refuel the U.S. Antarctic research centers due to a lack of icebreakers.  With the icebreaker Polar Sea being decommissioned, Polar Star under renovation, and Healy working in the Arctic, NSF worried research stations would have to operate at reduced levels due to fuel rationing. In a contract with Murmansk Shipping Company, NFS was able to use the Canadian-made, Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk. The contract with Murmansk was renewed allowing use of Ignatyuk again during the 2013 mission.

The Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce released a report investigating the representation of women in the STEM workforce. The report, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, found that disproportionately fewer women obtain STEM undergraduate degrees. While women hold almost 50 percent of all jobs, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. However, women earn 33 percent more in STEM jobs than their non-STEM counterparts, creating a smaller gender wage gap in STEM jobs. Women present an “untapped opportunity” to expand the STEM workforce and improve the competitiveness of the United States.

America COMPETES Act
The America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272), or “America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act”, was introduced in the House in May 2007 and signed into law (Public Law 110-69) by President Bush in August 2007. The 111th Congress approved the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116Public Law 111-358), which authorizes increases in NSF, NIST and DOE Science research through FY 2013. The reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act will need to be addressed again in the 113th Congress.  Expect the Science Committee to introduce a bill in FY2013.  For more information on the 2011 reauthorization and original 2007 law, please visit the Education, R&D, and Workforce Policy page for the 112th Congress.

STEM Education
The science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields have been emphasized in recent legislation, especially with the passage of America COMPETES (H.R. 2272Public Law 110-69) in 2007. Students are not being taught the basic scientific and mathematical principles, how to use a computer, or the problem solving skills that are necessary for most jobs. In order to spur innovation and remain competitive, STEM education must improve. Concern with the falling math and science test scores in American schools and the pressing need to educate students in the STEM areas led to the formation of the Coalition for STEM Education and the House and Senate STEM Education Caucuses. 

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released “The Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Portfolio” in December 2011, which provides a list of all STEM education investments undertaken by federal agencies. According to the portfolio, federal investment in STEM education for fiscal year 2010 was $3.4 billion, accounting for only 0.3 percent of total investment in education ($1.1 trillion). Because two thirds of the $3.4 billion was spent on broad STEM education investments, the America COMPETES Act requested the development of a more specific investment plan. OSTP hopes to consolidate programs, create joint solicitations across agencies, and develop procedures for sharing program data and performance evaluations.

In February 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report to President Obama laying out a strategy to increase the number of college undergraduate majors in STEM fields (currently only 300,000 degrees annually with only 40 percent of initially STEM declared students graduating in STEM fields) by one million graduates over the next decade. The report makes five recommendations to increase STEM education pathways in the first two undergraduate years: implement a system to validate teaching practices, shift from traditional laboratory courses to more engaging research courses, solve the growing mathematics preparation gap, engage stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers, and create a presidential council with leaders from academics and business to help provide leadership for STEM education. President Obama also proposed steps to increase STEM education funding in the United States.

The Next Generation Science Standards are expected to be released in March 2013.

No Child Left Behind
When President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (H.R. 1) into law (Public Law 107-110) on January 8, 2002, he changed the way the federal government approaches educating elementary and secondary school students in math and science. The act was the presidential version of the reauthorization bill for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that established a range of federal programs. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) eliminated the Eisenhower Professional Development programs, which provided support to math and science educators. Some of the Eisenhower programs were replaced by two new Math and Science Partnership (MSP) programs; one administered by the Department of Education (DoEd) and one administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The FY 2012 budget request proposes to replace the DoEd's MSP with the Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program. It has the similar purpose of improving academic achievement in mathematics and science by giving funds to states and school districts to allow local communities to partner with universities, businesses, and educational organizations to help math and science teachers enhance their understanding and ability to teach these subjects. It is a formula grant program to the states, with the size of individual state awards based on student population and poverty rates. The states are responsible for administering competitive grant competitions within their boundaries. The NSF's MSP program is based on competitive grants to fund projects to help improve math and science learning in elementary and secondary schools. In FY 2001, the Eisenhower programs were funded at $485 million. NCLB authorizes a similar $450 million annually for math and science partnerships; but appropriators provided only $183.28 million ($180.5 million for DoEd and $2.78 million for NSF) in FY 2010. The FY 2012 budget requests $254.2 million ($206 for DoEd and $48.22 for NSF), but DoEd and NSF have said that funds from the MSPs are being reallocated to other education programs that will incorporate some MSP aspects.

NCLB requires states to assess each student’s math skills each year in grades 3-8 and at least once during grades 10-12. Reading and math assessments became mandatory for the first time in school year 2005-2006. Science assessments will be added to NCLB in school year 2007-2008. States will be required to test students' science proficiency at least once during grades 3-5, once during grades 6-9, and once during grades 10-12. The future of NCLB is largely unknown, and it has not been reauthorized as scheduled in FY 2008 during the 111th Congress.

The Senate and House will continue debate over rewriting and reauthorizing NCLB in the 113th Congress, and the Obama Administration has said it wants to strengthen and improve the act.

Higher Education Act
The Higher Education Act (HEA) was originally signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The primary aim of the HEA is to help low and middle income students gain access to higher education opportunity. The act, which must be reauthorized about every five years, was reauthorized by President Bush in 2008 (H.R. 4137Public Law 110-315). It was the first major revision since 2003. The act requires colleges to provide tuition information and to rein in rising tuition costs, tries to restore integrity and accountability to the student loan process and simplifies federal student aid applications. It tries to make textbook costs more manageable, expands support for low-income and minority students, expands aid for veterans and members of the military and ensures equal opportunities for students with disabilities. Regarding infrastructure, it improves campus safety and disaster readiness plans and encourages colleges to adopt energy-efficient practices. Of particular interest to the geoscience community, the bill provides incentives to “strengthen our workforce and our competitiveness” by creating programs to bolster students’ interest in science and improve teacher training in the sciences.

Additional STEM Issues
On May 11, 2012, Judge Orinda Evans provided additional guidance on the rules defining ‘fair-use’ of textbooks and e-reserves for teaching purposes at higher education institutions. Ruling in favor of Georgia State University librarians and professors over three prominent publishing companies, the judge stated that the publishing industry must offer materials that are “reasonably available, at a reasonable price” to have a viable claim against the institution. He decided to set 10 percent, or one chapter, of a book as the threshold for distribution to students under protection of fair-use doctrine. The ruling was an important stride for use of publications in academia as it establishes an inexpensive, legal way for professors to educate their students using electronic resources. Publishers may respond by developing licenses for the partial use of books and other materials.

In April 2012, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam allowed House Bill 368, which encourages Tennessee public school teachers to present scientific curriculum in a way that “addresses scientific controversies” without the prospect of disciplinary action, to become state law. The law singles out biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning as topics whose “strengths” and “weaknesses” should be outlined as they inspire “debate and disputation.” While Haslam does not believe the bill will change curriculum, opponents believe it will negatively impact the science education in the state.

Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy staff; Kimberley Corwin, 2013 AAPG/AGI Spring Intern

Background section includes material from AGI's summaries and updates for Education, Research and Development, and Workforce Policy in the 111th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on February 1, 2013

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