The report offers two sets of proposals for improvements—one for schools and districts and another for state and national policy. Instead of waiting for major federal policy changes, superintendents and school administrators can effect immediate change by allocating adequate instructional time and providing ample training opportunities for teachers, said Gamoran.
In particular, the report warns that science instructional time is being squeezed out as early as the elementary level to make room for reading and math, which are regularly assessed under the No Child Left Behind Act.
“A quality science program in the elementary grades is an important foundation that can stimulate students’ interest in taking more science courses in middle school and high school and, possibly, in pursuing STEM disciplines and careers,” the report said.
The report organizes specialized schools in three categories: selective schools, which have selective admission criteria; inclusive schools, which do not have admission requirements; and STEM-focused career and technology education (CTE).
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Whether students who choose to attend specialized schools are predisposed to success in STEM subjects at any school has been a recurring, confounding variable in research on effects of specialized schools. To combat this problem, the report considered findings to give “evidence of success” only if researchers can distinguish the effectiveness of schools from the characteristics of the students attending them—but it says more studies are necessary.
Gamoran suggests one way such research could be conducted: “These STEM-focused schools are highly desirable. When a school is oversubscribed, the fairest way is to have a lottery. What we could do is compare those students who go and those who do not, not just on test scores, but on whether they take advanced courses, go on to major in science in college, or have careers in STEM fields.”
Selective STEM education schools, such as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., have received continuous attention in the press for achieving high test scores and sending students to top colleges. The report finds, however, that not only are selective school environments difficult to replicate on a larger scale, but inclusive and CTE schools also have significant potential to increase U.S. intellectual capital in STEM fields.
“Some people may have expected to see effective STEM instruction mostly in the selective STEM schools, but we found that effective STEM instruction may occur in any of these schools—selective, inclusive, or for career training—and even in regular schools,” Gamoran said.
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