READ THE REPORT
We must raise the bar in education and rethink the design of school if we want excellent math and science learning for all students. The Opportunity Equation report provides a roadmap for this vision with recommendations for key stakeholders.
Is There a Special Formula for Successful STEM Schools?
With all the attention to poor U.S. student achievement in math and science, the questions that Congress put to the National Science Foundation (NSF) 18 months ago tackles the problem from the opposite direction: What is the United States doing right in precollege science and math education? And what can the rest of the country learn from the schools that do it best?
This week an expert panel, convened by the National Academies’ National Research Council to answer those questions put to NSF, held a workshop in Washington, D.C., to explore “successful STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education in K-12 schools.” Although the panel’s report won’t be out for another month or so, the overriding message from workshop participants seemed clear—and perhaps not surprising: A successful science and math school is a successful school first, with skilled, knowledgeable teachers who address the needs of all students in a supportive, resource-rich environment. Anything that dilutes those ingredients—budget cuts, poor teacher preparation and professional development, a disregard for low-achieving students, to name three factors—will lower the chances of success. And none of the elements is enough to make a difference by itself.
Over 2 days of presentations and panel discussions, participants explored the relatively scant data available about the characteristics of good STEM education. They also heard lots of anecdotes about best practices at different types of schools, from selective, specialty STEM schools for college-bound high achievers to comprehensive high schools that give disadvantaged students a better chance to graduate and attend college by offering them more science and math than they would otherwise receive. A consensus also seemed to form on two other important points that may not be music to the ears of elected officials: Successful STEM education is a lot easier to describe than to implement, and researchers still can’t answer the question that matters most to a school superintendent, namely, "What would work best in my district?"