Urging the nation to “do school differently,” a new report recommends a set of concrete actions for federal, state, and local education leaders to take to transform math and science instruction and bring the United States back to the forefront of global competition.

“The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy,” released by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and its Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, advocates for several changes among American schools and colleges.

(See this summary of the report’s recommended actions: http://www.opportunityequation.org/report/executive-summary/)

Specifically, the report calls for common standards in math and science that are fewer, clearer, more rigorous, and accompanied by closely aligned assessments; improving teacher preparation and recruitment so that every child has an effective teacher for math and science, regardless of his or her socio-economic status; redesigning school systems so they deliver math and science instruction more effectively; and initiating a public-awareness campaign to boost understanding of the link between effective math and science instruction and the current job market.

The U.S. needs better math and science education for all students and should place math and science at the center of educational innovation, improvement, and accountability, the report says.

“The president has issued a call to action for American students to move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was present at the report’s release earlier this month.

Duncan praised the efforts of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) advocacy groups and urged stakeholders to explore education reform at a time when the nation’s administration has made deep commitments to educational excellence.

“The report released today offers a plan for our students to get there,” Duncan said.

The Carnegie report is the latest in a series of studies calling for dramatic changes to math and science education in the United States.

Nearly a decade ago, the Glenn Commission issued a report titled “Before It’s Too Late,” which also called for better math and science teaching in American schools (see “Glenn Commission: Math, science ed crisis threatens U.S. “). And in 2006, the National Academies of Science came out with a report called “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which prompted legislative action but no corresponding funding (see “Summit: Save STEM or watch America fail“).

But observers say the climate in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals around the nation is different this time around, and the Carnegie report’s recommendations could stand a better chance of being acted upon.

“We have a public perception that science education is more important now than in the past, states are focusing on STEM [education], and our president has spoken very loudly about science education,” said Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

“What’s really terrific about this report is that [it shows] we need to move science and math more squarely into focus,” he said.

One of the report’s biggest strengths is that it includes a good amount of detail on how the federal government and other players might help bring about a change in STEM education, said Elena Silva, a senior policy analyst with Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

Although not all of its recommendations are new–people have been advocating for better STEM education and the need to be globally competitive for a number of years, Silva said–its timing is well-planned.

The report “takes advantage of the fact that we have big pots of stimulus money to be spent,” Silva said. “People are looking for roadmaps.”

She added: “While there have been other reports [urging this action], the combination of this report being thorough and timely is meaningful, so it’s different in that regard. The common standards movement is an opportunity for this report to have impact, and it’s asking that essential question of what students should be learning.”

As Silva suggests, the idea of establishing rigorous, common standards is beginning to take hold, as 46 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to a voluntary effort to draft common, internationally benchmarked standards in reading and math (see “Stimulus funds to advance national standards“).

Standards that vary from state to state mean that a student could do well in his or her own state, but could be ranked near the bottom of the achievement scale in another state–and education leaders are realizing that identifying and fixing this achievement gap is a step toward boosting the nation’s global competitiveness, Eberle said.

The nation’s ability to grow economically, and the ability of U.S. workers to succeed in a global economy, depend on high-quality math and science instruction, the Carnegie report says–making STEM skills more essential than ever.

All young Americans should be “STEM-capable,” no matter where they live, what educational path they pursue, or in which field they choose to work, the report declares.

“Over the coming decades, today’s young people will depend on the skills and knowledge developed from learning math and science to analyze problems, imagine solutions, and bring productive new ideas into being,” the report says.

Yet “math and science education today falls far short of meeting students’ future needs or the needs of society. Recent rounds of school reform have paid far too little attention to math and science,” said Phillip A. Griffiths, chair of the commission and past director of the Institute for Advanced Study.

“Schools must inject rigorous and relevant math and science throughout the curriculum,” Griffiths said. “The goal of improving math and science should sound a call for change that will reverberate throughout our schools and increase student learning in all areas.”

To build broad public understanding and commitment toward excellence and equity in math and science learning, the report recommends mobilizing the nation through an extensive public-awareness campaign.

Colleges and universities can raise awareness about the need for stronger and more coherent math and science preparation, the report says, while businesses, hospitals, technology-based industries, and other local organizations should work with schools to convey how building strong math and science education programs can translate into real-world opportunities.

Math and science education also must be enhanced by improving teacher preparation and recruitment, the report says. It recommends that federal, state, and local education leaders experiment with scholarships and pay incentives to lure math and science teachers to high-need areas; enable museums, research institutions, and others to become teacher certifiers; and design innovative, targeted math and science preparation routes that encourage science and math majors to enter teaching, among other measures.

In addition, colleges should increase the number of science and math classes they require for graduation, and they should strengthen their connection with local school systems to improve teacher effectiveness, the report says.

Schools can be redesigned for better math and science achievement, the report maintains, by linking math and science to college and careers to cultivate high expectations for student achievement in those subject areas; turning around ineffective and poorly performing schools with the help of data management systems; and reaching out to businesses, government, and philanthropists to narrow the gap between research and practice in improving science and math instruction.

Links:

“The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy”

National Science Teachers Association

Education Sector