How to destroy science education in America

March 21, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

Try to think of a great way to destroy math and science education in the United States. Think of something that Osama bin Laden would have tried to do if he had tried to destroy math and science education in the United States. You might propose this: Defund the STEM Fellows GK-12 Program.  Guess what?  The U.S. National Science Foundation has done just that. Here is an excerpt from page 29 of the March 4, 2010 edition of Science (full article available online only to subscribers):

Researchers are shocked and upset by a decision by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to cancel a high-profile and successful fellowship program that is brought more than 10,000 graduate students into elementary and secondary schools around the country. A recent evaluation says the graduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (stem) Fellows in K-12 education program, begun in 1999, brings science to life for students, improves the skills of their teachers, and offers graduate students valuable training in the classroom. So participants don’t understand why the president’s 2012 budget request would abandon a $55-million a year program that addresses key aspects of the Obama Administration’s push to improve US science and math education.

Officials at NSF say that the program has been effective but claim that it is now time to move on. The scientists involved in the program aren’t buying this piece of garbage explanation, however. They know that the program was wildly successful, and that it has been highly touted, even by NSF in its recent budget requests to Congress. In its most recent independent evaluation, last fall, this program was declared to be achieving most of its goals pursuant to “substantial and credible evidence.” It has been a win win win program, except that it had a “modest impact on the graduate students’ research skills.  Of course it has, since these graduate students are spending more time learning to be good teachers.

The fellows became better teachers, learning how to work collaboratively and how to communicate science to a non-technical audience. The public school teachers improve their knowledge of science and welcome to having graduate science students in the classrooms. The fellows’ new skills made them better college instructors, and their off-campus experiences gave them an edge in finding full-time jobs after graduation.

Consider what the NSF has recently said about STEM Fellows:

This program provides funding for graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines to bring their leading research practice and findings into K-12 learning settings. Through collaborations with other graduate fellows and faculty from STEM disciplines, teachers and students in K-12 environments, and community partners, graduate students can gain a deeper understanding of their own research and place it within a societal and global context. The GK-12 program provides an opportunity for graduate students to acquire value-added skills, such as communicating STEM subjects to technical and non-technical audiences, leadership, team building, and teaching while enriching STEM learning and instruction in K-12 settings. This unique experience will add value to the training of U.S. graduate students and will energize and prepare the students for a broad range of STEM careers in a competitive globalized marketplace. Furthermore, the GK-12 program provides institutions of higher education with an opportunity to transform the conventional graduate education by infusing and sustaining GK-12 like activities in their graduate programs.

By slashing the STEM Fellows program, the Obama administration will now save $55 million per year. Let’s put that in perspective. This country spends more than $2 billion per week pretending to fight a war in Afghanistan while actually propping up corrupt leaders and the poppy crop and antagonizing dirt-poor civilians– Afghanistan is a place where the U.S. military struggles to find even 100 members of Al Qaeda, according to the CIA.  The war has nothing at all with which to commend itself, and yet we spend more than $2 billion per week on this “war.”  That comes out to about $1 million for every five minutes.    In other words, we have just destroyed a perfectly good science and mathematics education program, a program that brought 10,000 math and science graduate students into elementary schools and high schools, at a time when we are desperate to find ways to teach those students science and mathematics. We destroyed STEM Fellows GK-12 to “save” $55 million per year, the amount of money we burn in Afghanistan every five hours.

This is an absolutely pathetic display of bad priorities by our Peace President (who is also willing to toss out hundreds of billions of dollars to his buddies on Wall Street). I can’t think of a better way to move the United States toward second world or third world status.

[Lest there be any confusion, I voted for Obama and I am sorely disappointed with him, yet I still consider him a much better President than John McCain would have been–I am not claiming that Obama is trying to destroy math and science education, only that he has made a terrible decision.]

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Category: Education, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Jim Razinha says:

    Erich,

    While I agree with and understand most of the sentiment of this article, I have to take issue with a couple of things you've said. Perhaps I can also share a little experience that might explain a bit.

    …the Obama administration will now save $55 million per year.

    […and…]

    …only that he has made a terrible decision.

    That's not how it works. Yes, the President is ultimately responsible for the budget submitted to Congress, who then debate, massage, shuffle, cut and augment it. But think of the layers between the President and who actually made these decisions. The President appoints the Director – currently Dr. Subra Suresh, who has been Director since October 2010, so I'm not sure if he was responsible for the 2012 budget submission or if it was his predecessor, Dr. Cora Marnett (as acting Director). Regardless of which, while acknowledging that the Director is responsible for the agency, it should be obvious that the neither the President, nor the Director personally developed that FY2012 budget submission. According to wiki, there are 1200 career staff (of the 1700 employees) that work for the NSF that might have a part in that. There are deputy and assistant directors, department heads, division heads, etc that all play a part.

    I spent a bit of time combing through the 4879 lines of the outlays spreadsheet from the OMB for a piece I hope to post tonight. There are only 12 lines of that 4779 associated with the NSF. The FY2011 budget for the NSF is $8.6B, while the FY2012 proposed budget is $7.9B. That $55M for the Graduate K-12 program would be 0.7% of the overall budget for the NSF. That’s “decimal dust” when talking big budget.

    Having been a cog in a large federal organization and currently part of a municipal organization, I have seen how this gets communicated. “What if we needed to cut 10% from the budget?” Division directors come up with possibilities, argue their cases with their department directors who present to some sort of executive/management steering group who then present the entire package to the board, council, or whatever governing body to chop and endorse for submission to the higher body (OMB in this case). In my current employ, we are mandated by law to balance the budget. That means we have to make hard decisions and folks above me have to make other hard decisions, and things may get cut even if they are "good". In the fed case, we all know that’s not the law, so whatever gets through the process gets funded whether there is money or not. Example: I had a tiny piece of the Base Realignment and Closure funding in 1995 that got submitted (separate from the rest of the budget for the command) to a higher headquarters that rolled it into a bigger chunk that got reviewed by the Navy Comptroller’s office. Which was rolled into a bigger chunk and a bigger chunk and yet a bigger chunk that eventually the Secretary of the Navy submitted to the Department of Defense which submitted it to the President. I think I can say with confidence that neither President Clinton nor SecDef at the time Perry, nor SecNav Dalton, nor Chief of Naval Operations ADM Boorda for that matter, saw my piece of the pie. But someone looked at my line items before they turned into fewer and fewer lines. That’s who “made the decision”. Regardless of that, though, it’s a rare slash and cut decision that doesn’t come from within (NPR excepted of course).

    Now what happens when someone outside the organization gets hold of one line and focuses on (spins?) it (“[r]esearchers are shocked and upset by a decision…”)? The guy at the top gets blamed, and spokespeople unfamiliar with the holistic process say something like “that the program has been effective but …it is now time to move on” when that may not really be the reason. Or it might well be. I pulled the FY12 summary breakout for the NSF from the OMB site and in the four pages (yes, it’s the executive level summary of an $7.9 billion program) and you might be interested to know that

    The Administration proposes $40 million to launch a new teacher-training research and development program, with $20 million for K-12 Teachers and $20 million for Undergraduate Teachers.

    as well as

    $20 million for an overarching, comprehensive science and technology workforce program to engage undergraduates from historically unrepresented groups

    <del datetime="2011-03-22T19:08:59+00:00">The education and human resources line item for FY2012 is 21% more than the FY11 number – it’s just for different things. </del>

    (I should be ashamed that I was harboring a little smugness when I learned that the FY11 NSF budget was as big as it was ($8.6B) while the budgets for the National Endowment(s) for the Arts and Humanities were only $172M and $156M respectively.)

    {Edit: My bad. I was looking at the wrong column for the NSF (FY2010 vs FY 2011) – there was an increase in the budget request from 2010 to 2011 but a decrease from 2011 to 2012. So educational programs for the NSF went from $926M to $882M, but the narrative does not change – they are proposing adding those new programs. The NEA funding for FY12 is $168M and the NEH funding went up to $163M.}

    One other line bothered me – “pretending to fight a war in Afghanistan”. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are not pretending. I'm not disputing the questions – I ask the same questions of why we are (still) there – but for the people that are there, there is no pretending.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Jim: Thanks for your comments. I agree that there are real U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and real bullets and real risk. There is no coherent objective we are trying to achieve, other than supporting a massively corrupt government and chasing ghosts. It is only that fact that we choose to continue being there that the is any military action. People try to hurt our soldiers because they don't want us there. We are not defending any American interests other than the soldiers that we have chosen to station in Afghanistan. This is a military occupation the main goal of which is to continue the military occupation.

      I didn't mean to suggest that tens of thousands of soldiers aren't working hard, often at great risk of death. My qualms are not with the soldiers, but with the politicians who have told them to go to Afghanistan where they will be shot at in order to keep a corrupt government in power.

      I have been humbled by your explanation of the budgetary process. How can it be that a program hooking up 10,000 science and math grad students with many times that number K-12 students gets lost in the mess? I guess you've explained it, but this type of program is perfectly aligned with a critically national priority, as it should be. If I understand your comment, there will be new good things replacing STEM fellows, but I'm nonetheless concerned that a major science publication has taken the position it has taken, if it's true that we're not doing major damage to K-12 science.

  2. Jim Razinha says:

    Erich, not sure if the new programs will be "new good things", as I was just reading off of the summary. But we can hope. As I don't have a subscription to Science, was there anything in the rest of the article about those other programs? It may be just as I was thinking: that someone latched on to the cutting of one program and the calls to the agency answered the question asked – about that one program – and the answerer either didn't know/think about the new ones in its place or didn't volunteer that info.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      The article went for an entire page, referring to more than a few scientists who were highly disappointed. Nothing was mentioned about those other programs. It seems like a wasteful approach to cancel and replace a thriving much-admired program rather than just continuing it, thereby avoiding startup costs, including training for those running the program.

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