STEM Education: Preparing Future Generations of PEs

 

August/September 2013

NSPE TODAY: POLICY PERSPECTIVES
STEM Education: Preparing Future Generations of PEs

NSPE endorses legislation to support tomorrow's engineers.

BY ARIELLE EISER

studentA Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education is one of the most discussed legislative issues in Washington, D.C. As the recognized voice and advocate of licensed professional engineers, it is also one of NSPE's foremost priorities to ensure that future generations receive the proper education and training necessary to practice the profession.

This has been a particularly important year in STEM education for NSPE. In April 2013, the NSPE Board of Directors adopted Position Statement No. 1768: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education. This position statement, recommended by the Legislative and Government Affairs Committee, recognizes the critical importance of a robust education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the continued economic prosperity and national security of the U.S. The position statement also recognizes the consequent need for a strong national STEM education policy to ensure that all students receive an adequate education in these fields.

NSPE's position statement further emphasizes that STEM education is especially vital at the K?12 level, when students develop a foundational understanding of STEM concepts and form opinions about these areas that will influence their future educational and career choices. Although early education is vital to developing the skills and interest to become an engineer, there are few federal programs that advance engineering and technological literacy at the K?12 level.

On June 18, 2013, the Educating Tomorrow's Engineers Act was introduced in Congress to remedy this issue. Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in the Senate as S. 1178 and by Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA) in the House as H.R. 2426, the act would enhance K?12 engineering education and provide for expanded research to inform best practices.

Specifically, the ETEA has four primary goals. First, the legislation would expand student exposure to engineering design skills. The legislation would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require states to ensure that engineering design skills and practices are incorporated into the already mandated state science standards, which currently focus only on the traditional areas of science.

Second, the bill would provide instructors with the tools and support to effectively teach engineering. Many schools are already dealing with significant shortages of math and science teachers. Moreover, these teachers often have little background in how to teach engineering, nor is extensive curriculum available to help support the teaching of these skills. Therefore, this bill targets a portion of current funding under Title II of the ESEA (the Teacher and Principal Training and Recruitment Fund) for states to award grants to support professional development and instructional materials for STEM education.

The third major component of ETEA is that it enables schools to target more resources toward engineering education. Currently, schools seeking to expand engineering education find that key federal education programs, such as the Math and Science Partnership, limit their ability to use funds specifically for engineering. ETEA addresses this issue by amending the current partnership program by expanding it to all STEM subjects, including engineering. The bill also makes this change to other federal programs, such as 21st Century Learning Centers and the Rural and Low-Income School program.

Lastly, this legislation promotes federal research in engineering education. Specifically, the bill would amend the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 to expand the mission of the Institute of Education Sciences to include engineering research. Currently, IES focuses only on math and science. This would yield expanded research to inform best practices.

NSPE has formally endorsed the Educating Tomorrow's Engineers Act and is working closely with the bill's sponsors to add new cosponsors to the legislation in both chambers of Congress. Three new cosponsors representing both parties have already been added to H.R. 2426: Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-NC), and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ). You can contact your elected members of Congress and take action on this important legislation today by visiting the ETEA action alert at NSPE's Legislative Action Center. Please visit: http://capwiz.com/nspe/home.

Arielle Eiser is NSPE's government relations manager.