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3 The Federal Context for Education C urrently, there is strong national concern about the countryâs ability to meet the challenge of preparing a scientifically and technically capable workforce and a scientifically literate citizenry. These con- cerns have led to a focus on the quality of science, technology, engineer- ing, and mathematics (STEM) education and on what can be done at the national level to improve the educational experiences and opportunities in STEM for students in grades Kâ12. Although federal science agencies, such as NASA, have an important role to play, they are often constrained by the focus of their overall mission, which is broader than just Kâ12 education. Furthermore, it is the individual states that have primary responsibility for Kâ12 public education and therefore play the primary role in defining and assessing Kâ12 education. In this chapter we first provide an overview of the role of the federal government in public Kâ12 STEM education. We then examine the roles of the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, the two biggest federal funders of Kâ12 STEM education. Next, we look at the role of other federal science agencies in public K-12 STEM education. Finally, we discuss NASAâs specific educational assets and how they help to define the agencyâs unique role in Kâ12 STEM education. At the undergraduate and graduate levels, which are not the focus of this report, it is gener- ally assumed that the federal science agencies have a different and possibly broader role. 44
THE FEDERAL CONTEXT FOR EDUCATION 45 THE ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT The U.S. educational system is a complex structure consisting of many interrelated systems. Under the Constitution, it is the individual state governÂ ments, not the federal government that are responsible for Kâ12 public education (since it is not specified as a federal responsibility). The role that individual states play in governing education varies, with some states giving greater responsibility to county or local governments or both. That state and local responsibility is reflected in the funding for Kâ12 public school education: in 2005 about 90 percent of the total $536 billion spent on Kâ12 education came from state and local governments; only about 10 percent came from the federal government (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). The involvement of the federal government in Kâ12 STEM educa- tion is relatively recent, dating back only to the mid-20th century. The f Â ederal government currently sets the national agenda in Kâ12 STEM edu- cation through two processes. First, it passes legislation that affects federal funding, which can lead to changes in state and local education systems. For example, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, its reauthorization under the No Child Left Behind Act, implemented by the Department of Education, have had significant effects on Kâ12 STEM edu- cation. Second, Congress provides funding for federal agencies involved in Kâ12 STEM education, which influences the types of Kâ12 STEM education programs that are developed and supported by federal agencies. Even though the influence of the federal government on education has grown, its authority over Kâ12 public education remains limited. The federal government does not set a national curriculum or mandate state or local participation in federal programs. States can refuse to participate in any federal education program (forgoing its associated funds). Yet however small the amounts of funding might be, the opportunity to receive federal financial support can influence the direction science education takes. Many federal agencies, including the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Health and Human S Â ervices, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Transportation, as well as NASA, fund Kâ12 STEM education programs and research. These agencies share their expertise in science and science education through their involvement in education programs for students and teachers at the Kâ12 level. They develop programs that provide opportunities for learners to understand the nature of science, and they provide scientific knowledge, theory, and practice to educational institutions, both formal and informal, According to the report of the Academic Competitiveness Council, other agencies such as the Department of Defense, have significant involvement in STEM education but do not sup- port projects whose primary focus is formal K-12 education.
46 NASAâS ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAM through in-service teacher training and curricular support material. Feder- ally funded research on Kâ12 STEM education helps advance the under- standing of student learning to determine how to improve teacher training and classroom settings and how to create more effective projects to support teachers and students. This research can also be used to inform the develop- ment of Kâ12 STEM education programs. According to the Report of the Academic Competitiveness Council (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a), there are currently 12 federal agencies that provide funding for STEM education programs, 8 of which provide funds specifically for Kâ12 programs. The report says that in 2006 federal agencies spent $3.1 billion on STEM education, $574 million (18%) of which supported Kâ12 STEM programs. About 62 percent of the total f Â ederal STEM budget in 2006 supported programs identified as general STEM programs (including K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and informal), 37 percent supported science- and engineering-focused programs, and only 1Â percent supported specific mathematics-focused programs. NASA accounts for only 4 percent of federally sponsored Kâ12 STEM education. As shown in Table 3-1, about 85 percent of the federal funds for Kâ12 STEM in 2006 were provided by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation (about 42% each). The role of federal agencies in supporting Kâ12 STEM education has been reviewed by two federal cross-agency panels since 1993 (the Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering and Technology and the Aca- demic Competitiveness Council). As described in Chapter 1, these reviews found that federal agencies have an important role in developing Kâ12 STEM programs and supporting research that addresses student learning, student engagement, and teacher quality. Both federal panels stressed the need for collaboration and evaluation. They recommended that federal agencies develop and sustain a culture of interaction, communication, and coordination across the agencies; that they strive to coordinate their efforts with state and local Kâ12 STEM education systems; and that they carry out evaluations to assess the impact of their programs and make changes to programs based on the evaluation findings (Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering and Technology, 1993; U.S. Department of Edu- cation, 2007a). Both panels concluded that the federal agencies have an important role in Kâ12 STEM education, but they did not indicate what specific role each of the federal agencies should play. The differences in â Preserviceteacher education activities are categorized by the Department of Education as higher education activities. â Federal funding of mathematics education may exceed 1 percent because general STEM programs may include mathematics (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a, p.Â 22).
THE FEDERAL CONTEXT FOR EDUCATION 47 TABLE 3-1â Kâ12 STEM Education Program Funding by Agency Agency 2005 Funding 2006 Funding 2007 Request Department of Agriculture 1,722,000 1,846,350 1,732,000 Department of Commerce 7,917,000 11,589,000 1,000,000 Department of Education 340,617,984 238,592,000 619,335,000 Department of Energy 3,944,000 4,340,000 5,645,000 Department of Health and Human 52,258,378 52,022,464 48,930,808 Services Department of Transportation 0 1,352,500 1,519,500 National Aeronautics and Space 35,500,000 23,000,000 56,200,000 Administration National Science Foundation 252,110,000 241,600,000 223,000,000 Total, Kâ12 Programs $694,069,362 $574,342,314 $957,362,308 NOTE: Differences between NASA budget amounts in Tables 2-2 and 3-1 are due to the man- ner in which the American Competitiveness Council defines K-12 STEM education programs, which influenced which NASA headquarters Office of Education K-12 projects were included in its budget summary. source: U.S. Department of Education, 2007a, p. 22. agenciesâ missions, staff expertise, and budgets suggest that they have differ- ent capabilities and should play different roles in Kâ12 STEM education. THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION The Department of Education (DoED) and the National Science Foun- dation (NSF) play the largest role among the federal agencies involved in Kâ12 STEM education. The DoEd and NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) are the primary federal funders of Kâ12 STEM education programs and research. Their missions are specifically focused on education, although neither agency actually does science or engineering work in house. The DoEd is an education agency that supports Kâ12 STEM programs as part of its overall education mission. NSF is a science agency, and EHR is primarily focused on STEM education. Thus, these two agencies play different but significant roles in the Kâ12 STEM education system. We believe it is important for other federal science agencies to be aware of the roles of these two agencies in order to minimize duplication of effort and to maximize awareness of the larger context in which their own programs are situated. Furthermore, the education programs, research, and services supported by the DoED and the NSF-EHR can be considered resources for the development of programs within the other federal science agencies.
48 NASAâS ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAM The Department of Education The Department of Education was established by Congress as a sepa- rate, cabinet-level department in 1980, taking over the functions and pro- grams of its forerunner agency, the Office of Education (which was part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare). Its mission is to âpro- mote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal accessâ for all Ameri- cans. The department supplements and complements the efforts of states, local school systems, and other entities to improve the quality of education throughout the nation and increase the accountability of federal education programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2007b). Currently, the DoEdâs primary influence over Kâ12 STEM education is through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002. The 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) under NCLB has had a broad impact on the Kâ12 education system. In general, NCLB has placed greater emphasis on accountability through assessments of basic skills, particularly in reading, mathematics, and science. The legislation also emphasizes the need for âhighly qualifiedâ teachers in core academic subjects. The emphasis on accountability and highly qualified teachers has influenced what, how, and when STEM topics are covered in elementary and secondary schools. NCLB has also led to the funding of a small number of Kâ12 STEM- specific programs. However, overall, the departmentâs investment in Kâ12 STEM-specific education programs ($238 million) represents less than 1Â percent of its total 2006 investment in Kâ12 education ($36.5 billion). Most of the departmentâs Kâ12 STEM education budget (about 75%) was allocated to the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) Program, a formula grant program (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a). The MSP Program, authorized under NCLB Title II, supports partnerships between the math- ematics, science, or engineering faculty of institutions of higher education and high school districts to improve science and mathematics teachersâ con- tent knowledge and pedagogical skills. The activities of the MSP Program were formerly funded at a higher level under the Eisenhower Program. DoEd continues its support and involvement in education research through the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), established under the Education Science Reform Act of 2002. IES comprises four centers: the National Center for Education Research (NCER), the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), the National Center for Educa- tion Statistics (NCES), and the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE). The two research centers (NCER and NCSER) provide research grants to develop rigorous evidence on which to ground general and special education practice and policy. NCER requests
THE FEDERAL CONTEXT FOR EDUCATION 49 for research applications cover a wide array of educational issues, including such Kâ12 STEM-related issues as cognition and student learning, curricular and instructional approaches, and teacher professional development. Grant applications are solicited yearly and are awarded on a competitive basis. NCES collects and provides information on the condition of education at all levels. It also produces STEM-specific reports at a national level, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science and math reports. NCEE conducts evaluations of the effects of federal programs and supports 10 regional education labs. The regional labs address student achievement by providing access to high-quality, scientifically valid educa- tion research through applied research and development projects, studies, and other related technical assistance activities. Only a small percentage of the NCEE evaluation and regional lab activities are specific to STEM education. The National Science Foundation The National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal science agency cre- ated by Congress in 1950, funds research in almost all areas of science and engineering. It has had a specific focus on STEM education from the outset, first in graduate and undergraduate education, and then, followÂing the launching of Sputnik in 1957, at the Kâ12 level. Within NSF, Kâ12 STEM education is primarily the responsibility of the Directorate for Edu- cation and Human Resources (EHR). EHR provides limited-term grants for Âeducation research, innovative curriculum development and pedagogy, teacher Âprofessional development, education programs and activities, and other educational initiatives. EHRâs budget was about $797 million in 2006, of which about $242 million (30%) supported Kâ12 education research. Other directorates in the NSF also support a small number of Kâ12 STEM education initiatives. Unlike other federal science agencies, such as NASA, NSF (including EHR) does not hire its own researchers or scientists or directly operate its own laboratories. Rather, its goal is to identify and support leading r Â esearchers and projects to carry out work in areas it deems important. Most grants are awarded to small groups of investigators, with a small frac- â he T NSF science directorates (including geosciences, biological sciences, engineering, and mathematics and physical sciences) support K-12 STEM education through research grants that require recipients to allocate a proportion of the budget to support the âbroader impactâ related to the research they sponsor. These broader impact funds are sometimes used to sup- port education programs run by the grantees. For example, the Directorate for the Geosciences has allocated a portion of its funding to support educational activities that complement efforts by EHR, establish effective models of science education programs that can be scaled up or replicated, and leverage the directorateâs research investments.
50 NASAâS ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAM tion awarded to research centers or to provide instruments and facilities. For example, EHR has funded large-scale curriculum development projects to provide schools and districts with access to research-based and user- tested science curriculum resources, as well as professional development. In the 1990s, EHR, concerned that years of investment in curriculum development and teacher training had not yielded the hoped-for level of improvement in science and mathematics education, changed its course to support âsystemic reformâ efforts that targeted large regions or states. Through this reform, the agency attempted to create coordinated efforts to improve science and mathematics teaching throughout targeted regional systems and structures. Over time, the original statewide targets changed to targets of urban or rural regional projects and then to âlocal systemic reformâ projects involving one large or several smaller school districts. However, even with its relatively large budget, EHR does not have the capacity to initiate programs in all of the nationâs schools. In 2002, EHR began supporting teams composed of institutions of higher education, local K-12 school systems, and their partners through the Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) Program. The MSP program supported through NSF, funded at $63 million in 2006, is smaller than that supported by the Department of Education. Most recently, EHR has increased attention to research on learning and teaching and has reorga- nized its grant programs related to K-12 into a single Division for Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. THE ROLES OF OTHER SCIENCE AGENCIES Given the major contributions of the DoEd and the NSF, what role is played by other federal agencies in work related to Kâ12 STEM education? What additional contributions might they make, and what need is there for cross-agency agreements and coordination to maximize impact? The answers to these questions differ slightly for each agency. The role that each plays is grounded in the legislation that defines its individual mission and in the fact that each is an employer of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers and a supporter of the research based in universities and research organizations. The questions then become: What role should these scientists and engineers, and the scientific and technological contributions they make, play in aiding STEM educators at the Kâ12 level? How can these resources be used most effectively? Again, these questions must be addressed by each individual agency in its own way. However, certain aspects of how the dif- ferent agencies strive to make valid contributions to Kâ12 STEM education are common across agencies. This section briefly discusses three of those
THE FEDERAL CONTEXT FOR EDUCATION 51 aspects: the reasons for agency involvement, their resources, and the limita- tions of their involvement. Reasons for Agency Involvement Many federal science agencies are involved in training the next gen- eration of engineers, technologists, and scientists at the graduate level, where supporting education and supporting research are closely connected. However, research suggests that the seed for student interest in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering careers must be planted dur- ing childhood and cultivated through effective educational opportunities at every stage along the path to a career in STEM (Tai et al., 2006). As a result, many federal agencies other than DoED and NSF-EHR see their involvement in Kâ12 education as part of an effort to keep students in the STEM pipeline and to produce a strong workforce that might some day contribute to their own fields of work. In addition to NASA, those agencies include the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Commerce, particularly the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A second reason for many federal science agenciesâ involvement in Kâ12 STEM education is their commitment to repaying the American public for their support of agency-related science and engineering work. For example, much of the âvalue addedâ by NASA, especially in regard to its science mis- sions, are advancements in human knowledge. Those advancements need to be made accessible to the public as well as to other scientists. In other words, federal agencies see a responsibility to support or develop programs that seek to increase the nationâs scientific literacy. The goal is not to give each citizen the ability to make judgments about purely scientific issues, but rather to give all citizens enough basic knowledge to allow them to partici- pate in public discourse on issues related to science. Although those issues usually also involve questions of economics, ethics, moral philosophy, or any of a number of other subjects, knowledge of the basic science is critical. For example, if a person does not have some knowledge of the complex set of scientific factors that influence the earthâs climate, whatever his or her personal values, it would be hard to thoughtfully participate in discussions on issues related to alternative fuels and global warming. In this sense, one can think of scientific literacy as the necessary âticketâ that provides access to the civic arena.
52 NASAâS ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAM Resources That Enable Agency Involvement From the perspective of sharing knowledge about science, federal sci- ence agencies have two key resources that they can leverage to support Kâ12 STEM education. The first resource is the agenciesâ knowledge: that is, agencies âhave the science.â They produce cutting-edge research and engineering, thus contributing compelling data and ideas that are valuable resources to Kâ12 educators. As public agencies, they have a Âresponsibility to promulgate this information and to make sure that the public, and edu- cators in particular, have access to what they have learned. In some cases, the data itself can be made available in ways that allow students to interact with it in meaningful scientific investigations, thereby providing students with a window on the world of science that goes far beyond that of class- room investigations and school laboratories. The second resource is the agenciesâ access to working scientists and engineers, both their own employees and the large numbers of researchers whom they support. Agency-supported scientists and engineers can play an important role in ensuring that education curricula present science, the scientific process, engineering, and the process of design and development in ways that engage students; correctly model the ways in which science and engineering are actually done; and provide educators and their students with accurate and up-to-date information. Agency education programs can capitalize on this unique asset and involve their scientists in modeling the nature of science and engineering and in improving teacher understanding of the science content they teach. Scientists and engineers can also be used as role models for students, sharing their enthusiasm for their work and its challenges and allowing students a real-world glimpse of the possibilities that such careers might offer. Limitations of Agency Involvement Federal science agencies have expertise in science and engineering, but they have limited expertise in education and in research on teaching and learning. In all their education efforts, agencies need to be informed by the best available knowledge about what is effective in education and how their programs contribute to a larger national education effort. The best way to achieve this marriage of science and education is for agency scientists and engineers to partner with people who are experienced in education (such as state and local leaders in STEM education), knowledgeable about research on learning, and who understand the educational landscape much in the same way that scientists and engineers understand their own. Organizations of professional educators, such as the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science Technology Centers, are
THE FEDERAL CONTEXT FOR EDUCATION 53 key resources for knowledge of the specific needs of classroom teachers and planetariums, museums, and science centers. Experienced curriculum devel- opment and professional development organizations know how to produce and disseminate educational materials that are both effective and compatible with national and state science education standards. State and local STEM education leaders can provide knowledge about the regional education sys- tems, standards, and needs. Agencies need to be attentive to opportunities to develop contractual or partnership relationships that build on the expertise of people and groups knowledgeable about Kâ12 STEM education. The role of federal science agencies in Kâ12 STEM education is also limited in terms of the breadth and depth of the initiatives that they can undertake. Federal science agencies are not in a position to independently develop and support programs that affect teaching practices, student learn- ing, or systemic reform at a level that would result in national change. Even efforts by the largest federal agencies are dwarfed by the number and variety of school systems in the United States. Agency projects are there- fore faced with striking a difficult balance between trying to make a broad impact while still providing meaningful engagement on a smaller scale. This balance can be mediated through modern technology, such as the Internet, which can be used as a distribution tool, and through strategic partnering with other federal science agencies and education organizations. The need for and impact of such coordination is supported by recent and past reviews of federal STEM programs that found a considerable over- lap across programs, the report of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (1993) and the report of the Academic Competitiveness Council (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a). Given âthe extent of the STEM challenge and the unique contributions of each agencyâ (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a, p. 28), agencies that focus on similar areas of STEM and have developed parallel programs could benefit from the sharing of knowledge and coordination of efforts. The organizational overhead of attempting to coordinate programs across agencies, or even within the entire distributed system of a single agency, can be high. Interagency work makes the most sense where common science interests drive it, particularly where there is science collaboration as well. In such situations, the pooling of resources can expand the reach and improve the quality of an agencyâs Kâ12 STEM education programs. For example, the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) project, which is a partnership between NASA, NSF, and the Department of State, draws on the relevant resources of the three sponsor- ing agencies and a number of collaborating agencies and organizations to engage primary and secondary students in hands-on data collection and analysis of the environment and the earth system. The programâs vision is to create an international community of students, teachers, scientists, and
54 NASAâS ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAM citizens working together to better understand the earthâs environment. To achieve this vision, the program aims to engage students in ârealâ science, to improve studentsâ understanding of science, to help students and teachers meet local educational goals, and to increase student awareness of the envi- ronment from a scientific viewpoint. The collaboration of the sponsoring agencies has made the international scope of this project a reality (Penuel and Means, 1999). The role of every federal agency is also limited by the fact that pro- grams must be matched to the primary mission(s) of the agency. If an agency embarks on a program that has little or nothing to do with its mission, it will be acting in an area where the agency staff has no inherent expertise. The resulting project is unlikely to be sustained. Conversely, shifts in the primary mission of an agency as a whole can affect its education programs, especially those with long-term objectives. Radical shifts, due for example to changes in administration or changes in agency priorities, can result in lack of stability in education programs and erratic funding that can seriously diminish the programâs effectiveness. A funding pattern that fluctuates with federal and agency priorities can hamper the development and maintenance of effective education work in NASA and in other federal science agencies. The roles and limitations described above apply to all of the federal agencies that support Kâ12 STEM education. The manner in which these agencies address these roles varies depending on the agencyâs mission, expertise, and funding. NASAâS ROLE IN Kâ12 STEM EDUCATION NASAâs original charter in 1958 gives the agency the responsibility of managing U.S. civilian aeronautical and space activities for âpeaceful pur- poses for the benefit of all mankind.â Those purposes specifically include the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space, the preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology . . . [and] the most effec- tive utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment. With the exception of having âknowledge of the earthâ added to its respon- sibilities, these purposes have remained unchanged through all subsequent amendments to the original charter. Taken together, these purposes can be used to define three major roles for NASA in science education. First, âexpansion of human knowledgeâ
THE FEDERAL CONTEXT FOR EDUCATION 55 requires the widest practicable dissemination of information about NASAâs activities and the results and discoveries from its missions. Second, âpreser- vation of . . . the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technologyâ requires constant attention to inspiring and training the next generation of scientists and technologists. Third, âeffective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies . . . to avoid unnecessary duplica- tion of effortâ implies a role for NASA as a partner in providing knowledge and expertise about the earth, aeronautics, and space to augment the efforts of the agencies that have primary responsibility for the nationâs science edu- cation programs. Indeed, NASAâs role in education was underscored in the 2001 review of the NASA education portfolio. The report concluded that NASA has âfiduciary and moral responsibilities to transfer and translate the knowledge gained from sophisticated science and engineering ventures into compelling educational experiences for students, teachers, and faculty throughout the nationâ (Westat, 2001, p. 3). Although NASA clearly has an important role to play in STEM educa- tion, the agency does not have the primary responsibility for overseeing, establishing, improving, or setting the agendas for STEM education in the United States. As described above, to the extent that there is a federal role in K-12 STEM education, the primary role is filled by the Department of Education and by the Directorate for Education and Human Resources of the National Science Foundation. NASA receives only a small portion (4%) of the federal funding of Kâ12 STEM education, and it is only one of several scientific and research federal agencies that have missions and resources that are charged with a role in science education. Yet NASA is uniquely positioned to contribute to the nationâs STEM education programs with its awe-inspiring facilities and missions; the data, images, and findings from five decades of space missions; and the scientists and engineers employed by the agency. Furthermore, NASA is the most publicly recognizable federal mission agency (Hopkins, 2007b) and has great public access through print, television, and web media. In Kâ12 STEM education, NASA can provide a unique set of opportunities linked to its science and engineering missions. The agency has the capacity to develop programs that address both general and specific topics in Kâ12 STEM edu- cation. NASA supports a collection of pioneering science and engineering missions and a roster of scientists and engineers, all of which can play a critical role in Kâ12 STEM education. NASA can share the manner in which its scientists and engineers pursue their innovative work with teachers and students, thus bringing the workings of science and engineering, as well as the products, into the classroom. NASA is affiliated with a small number of precollege STEM education projects that support and encourage promising students to study STEM-
56 NASAâS ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAM related subjects throughout high school and college. Such projects have the potential to influence the scientific and technological literacy of Â teachers and students and to contribute to the development of a scientifically and technologically literate workforce, for NASA and throughout the U.S. economy. NASA may be particularly well positioned to increase interest in tech- nology and engineering. Although the term âSTEM educationâ is often used for the Kâ12 level in U.S. education, there is historically very little focus in Kâ12 curricula and in the education programs of federal agencies on the technology and engineering components of the acronym. NASAâs expertise in engineering could contribute to helping to fill the gap. With the challenges and lessons learned from designing and building spacecraft and advanced flight systems, NASA could bring the topic of technological chal- lenges and the processes of engineering design to Kâ12 STEM education. NASA is more widely known to the U.S. public than any other federal science agency and associated in the public mind with the challenges and excitement of space exploration (Hopkins, 2007b). The high level of public interest generated by its missions means that NASA has the capability to inspire students in a way that other education-related agencies or institu- tions cannot. There is no doubt that the thrill of space exploration can act as a magnet to attract public interest in science. Downloading the latest pictures from the surface of Mars or from the Hubble Space Telescope can be a catalyst for the eventual formulation of deeper questions: Was there ever life on Mars? How do you design a vehicle that can cross the terrain of Mars? What drives the expansion of the universe? The exploration of these questions may lead to greater interest in and future engagement in science and engineering topics. The inspirational role NASA plays with the public has the potential to draw students to the pursuit of academic study and eventual careers in STEM areas and thus makes NASA a valuable player in STEM education. The agencyâs access to the public through print, television, and elec- tronic media also affords it a distinctive opportunity to engage and inter- est students in aerospace science and engineering. For example, television coverage of a Mars Rover and the pictures it sends back can draw millions of viewers. When this coverage is supplemented by a well-designed web presence that provides teachers and students with access to more in-depth exploration of the data and what the scientists are learning from their work, it can become a rich and widely available educational resource. NASA uses this approach to share the excitement and the discoveries of its missions (National Research Council, 2007c).