Meanwhile, Back at PCAST

The boy with the marshmallow cannon grabbed the attention, but the White House Science Fair wasn’t the only Presidential-level science activity on Tuesday.  The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology released its second report on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education (and tenth overall).  The first STEM report focused on K-12 education, and this one targets undergraduate education.  There was a release event, which you can watch/read online, should the agenda pique your interest.

Titled Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the report outlines the need and the challenge of the big goal implied by the title.  To accomplish this, the current annual graduation rate of undergraduates in STEM disciplines must increase by one third.  As you might suspect, we’re not in a position to ramp up that quickly.

There are four broad recommendations in the report, which focuses not only on four-year colleges, but also technical and community colleges.

  1. Catalyze widespread adoption of empirically validated teaching practices.
  2. Advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses.
  3. Launch a national experiment in postsecondary mathematics education to address the math preparation gap.
  4. Encourage partnerships among stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers.

While the recommendations are generic, and to me not terribly new for those who follow the field, there could be some merit in hearing it from a Presidential-level Council.  The report claims the recommendations can be handled by a reshuffling of existing federal investments in STEM education.  With STEM education programs a target for federal budget cuts (based on what some consider unnecessary duplication), such revenue-neutral suggestions stand a better chance of getting anywhere.

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