NOAA’s Role in the Education Landscape
This chapter describes the complex education landscape in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates, the challenges and opportunities it faces, and the factors it should consider in developing its role in education. We provide a general overview of science education in the United States and discuss why it is appropriate for federal agencies, including NOAA, to have a role in supporting oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental education.
THE SCIENCE EDUCATION SYSTEM
NOAA is one of many agencies, institutions, and organizations working to improve the nation’s science literacy and technical workforce. To understand its role in education it is critical to understand the major players in the system and the role of the federal government in the education system. This section outlines the roles of various entities in the K-12, higher, and informal education systems.
The responsibility for public education is not specified in the U.S. Constitution; hence, individual states have the right and responsibility for K-12 public education. Schools, school administrators, and teachers are held accountable within their state system. Federal agencies and nonprofit and private-sector organizations can offer advice, materials, training, funding, and other support. In 2005-2006, about 90 percent of the approximately
$520 billion spent on K-12 education in the United States came from state and local governments, and about 10 percent came from the federal government (U.S. Department of Education, 2008).
The most important state responsibilities are (1) developing state education standards and associated support (e.g., curriculum guides, curriculum frameworks), (2) implementing statewide high-stakes assessments and enforcing consequences of high or low performance on the assessments, and (3) credentialing teachers and establishing criteria for teacher licensing. In addition, in about 40 percent of states, the state department of education reviews and approves curriculum materials on a statewide basis.
Standards determine the direction and nature of science learning and set learning goals for all students. Establishing standards is an important tool for states to influence science instruction. Establishing standards is a process in which the content of science learning is melded into a montage of learning expectations drawn from a variety of sources; primarily the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996), the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993), and local science teaching traditions. In addition, the way state standards are implemented may be influenced by informal education institutions and organizations in the state, including some that receive funding from federal sources, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), NOAA, and others.
The involvement of the federal government in K-12 science education dates back to the mid-20th century. The federal government currently influences the national agenda in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education through two processes. First, legislation 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, and its reauthorization under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB; U.S. Department of Education, 2004) Act, implemented by the U.S. Department of Education, has significant effects on K-12 STEM education. NCLB requires states to establish academic standards for reading, mathematics, and science in order to apply for specific types of federal support. NCLB also requires states to hold schools and districts accountable for student performance in reading and mathematics. This has resulted in increased instructional time in reading and mathematics to make adequate yearly progress and consequently little time for science instruction (Griffith and Scharmann, 2008). This is particularly true in Title I schools (schools in which 40 percent or more of the students come from low-income families), in which failure to make adequate yearly progress carries significant consequences for the use of federal funding received by the school.
Second, Congress provides funding for federal agencies involved in K-12 STEM education, which influences the types of 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 K-12 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, including NCLB (thereby forgoing its associated funds). Nevertheless, however small the amounts of funding might be, the opportunity to receive federal financial support can and does influence the direction of science education.
Many federal agencies, including the Department of Education, NSF, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Transportation, NASA, and NOAA, fund K-12 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 K-12 level. They develop programs that provide opportunities for learners to understand the nature of science. Agencies with education programs that are deployed across many states (NOAA is one) influence the context and nature of instruction through professional development opportunities and instructional resources offered to teachers. For example, the influence of NOAA can be seen in the curricula of coastal states (Hoffman and Barstow, 2007).
Nonprofit and private-sector organizations also influence the K-12 education system through various avenues, including managing private schools, advocating for policy reform, funding education initiatives, contributing to the standards-making process, among others. And increasingly, they are calling for a higher level of societal awareness about critical issues that require a STEM education. Numerous reports focus directly or indirectly on STEM and environmental education, for example the Kauffman Foundation (2007), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Plumb and Reis, 2007), and the Carnegie Corporation (Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, 2009). Private-sector organizations have highlighted the national need to close achievement gaps with other countries and raise achievement levels for all U.S. students to meet and exceed international benchmarks (McKinsey and Company, 2009; Swanson, 2009) and highlight the importance of building student knowledge and skills to meet the needs of the 21st century global labor market (National Center on Education and the Economy, 2006). They have called for common and rigorous standards, better assessments, and improved human capital management with a focus on recruiting, training, and retaining the best teachers (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2006).
In the United States, colleges and universities have the primary responsibility to provide STEM undergraduate and graduate education. Individual departments in colleges and universities have significant autonomy to design curriculum, award degrees, and construct educational experiences for their students. Departments are influenced by their own institution’s policies (and for public universities and colleges, these policies are in turn influenced by the state); national higher education accreditation agencies, policies, and reports; private-sector organizations, including discipline-specific professional societies; and the requirements of agency employment.1 Federal influences on STEM curriculum are in the form of direct scholarship and fellowships to students, indirect support for students through their participation in funded research, and support for curriculum development and education research in higher education.
The federal contribution to STEM higher education comes from its support of the university research that students engage in or by directly funding students themselves, through fellowships or scholarships. In 2005, the combined federal contribution to research at universities was nearly $16 billion, of which $9 billion was from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (National Science Foundation, 2005). NSF is the next largest contributor to research at universities and colleges; its annual budget represents 21 percent of the total federal budget for basic research conducted at America’s colleges and universities. The U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, and NASA, all fund extramural research programs that support STEM education as well, in smaller amounts. By awarding funding to research aligned with their mission, they catalyze training and instruction in certain areas, thereby indirectly influencing the curriculum that students experience. For example, the Educational Partnership Program invests in areas of increasing interest to NOAA and helps develop institutional capacity in those areas, including contributing to the creation of new degree programs.
Like the federal government, states also contribute to STEM education through scholarships and fellowships to students in STEM disciplines and support for STEM research in which students participate. However, state governments play a much smaller role in higher education than in K-12 education. States do not credential STEM professors at colleges or univer-
sities, define education standards, or implement any testing of university or college students. States do provide partial funding for their public institutions, although the amount varies considerably. States are the primary funders of state, junior, and some four-year teacher colleges; private institutions receive a much smaller proportion of their funding from the state. For institutions to which they provide a significant amount of funding, states can exercise fiscal oversight, influence admissions policies, and influence the curriculum in the broadest terms. In fiscal year (FY) 2008, state and local funding for public and independent higher education totaled $89.2 billion (State Higher Education Executive Officers, 2008). States exert very little influence on private institutions of higher education.
Private-sector organizations also play a role in the higher education system. Some professional societies influence higher education in STEM by setting professional standards associated with many degrees. By defining standards for admission to the society, many more indirectly influence the degree requirements of the associated field. Many societies also provide forums for improving discipline-related teaching practice in higher education, and offer scholarships to students. In addition, some organizations advocate for and fund initiatives to improve the higher education systems. For example, recent reports (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2007; Building Engineering and Science Talent, 2004; National Academy of Engineering, 2005; National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2006; National Science Board, 2003, 2004, 2009; Project Kaleidoscope, 2006) have outlined the importance of higher education in addressing the crises in U.S. STEM education. The reports consistently call for increasing the number, critical thinking skills, and diversity of the students in higher education science and engineering fields.
Informal Science Education Institutions
Informal education settings are another critical piece of the education system. These environments are often thought of as locations for learning that happens outside school across the life span. These environments include museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, nature centers, libraries, after-school programs, adult community programs, Internet-based learning communities, and TV and radio programming. Informal education participants are diverse and can include learners of all ages, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and abilities. Ideally, educational experiences in informal settings enable learners to connect with their own interests, provide an interactive space for learning, and allow in-depth exploration of current or relevant topics “on demand” (Falk and Dierking, 2000; Griffin, 1998). These types of informal science learning experiences can
lead to further inquiry, enjoyment, and a sense that science learning can be personally relevant and rewarding (National Research Council, 2009).
The federal and state governments play an important role in informal education, managing or providing funding for many nature centers, museums, aquariums, zoos, and after-school and adult science learning programs. In addition, the government can shape how these environments interact with the other parts of the education system. For example, there are calls from federal agencies for informal education institutions and other supporters of informal education (e.g., federal government agencies, national foundations, nonprofit research organizations, and advocacy groups) to be active in the reform of the nation’s STEM education efforts (National Science Board, 2007).
Many organizations focus on informal education in areas related to NOAA’s mission. These groups fund education activities, advocate, provide leadership, and establish organizations for informal education professionals. For example, in the Chesapeake Bay area a number of local organizations collaborate with NOAA on informal education initiatives and advocate for science and environmental education issues, fund education initiatives, and develop education programs.
In summary, many actors are working to improve education in areas related to NOAA’s mission across the three parts of the education system highlighted above. In each part of the education system, federal agencies have various responsibilities and are engaged in many education initiatives. The following section details the role of various agencies in the sciences related to NOAA’s mission and the factors that determine their roles.
FEDERAL INVOLVEMENT IN OCEANIC, ATMOSPHERIC, CLIMATE, AND ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION
Two issues complicate the federal landscape in which NOAA defines its role in education. First, as mentioned earlier, the fields that underpin NOAA’s operational and stewardship mission include overlapping scientific and social science issues. Second, several federal agencies have missions that overlap, and thus the science supported by each agency has themes in common with other agencies.
In the federal government, NOAA’s responsibilities include a broad range of multidisciplinary fields (e.g., oceanic, coastal, Great Lakes, climate, atmospheric, and environmental science). In addition, the combination of science and stewardship responsibilities means that its education initiatives need to include the goals of improving environmental literacy and influencing stewardship behaviors. Thus, the agency engages in science education,
environmental education, and environmental science education, which have both unique and common features (see Figure 2.1).
“Science is both a body of knowledge that represents current understanding of natural systems and the process whereby that body of knowledge has been established and is being continually extended, refined, and revised” (National Research Council, 2007, p. 26). Both elements are essential to science and science education; however, science learning involves much more than learning content knowledge and process skills. In fact, science learning has been said to include six intertwined strands: developing interest in science, understanding science knowledge, engaging in scientific reasoning, reflecting on science, engaging in science, and identifying with the scientific enterprise (National Research Council, 2009).
Environmental education is directed to help people understand human impacts, to change social behavior and individual behavior, and to affect the decision-making choices of individuals. In effect, environmental education addresses some of the stewardship elements of NOAA’s educational mission. Although there is significant overlap between environmental education and science education, the former has goals and practices that extend well beyond the latter, and it would be a mistake to envision environmental education as a subcategory of science education, or vice versa.
For example, environmental education is rooted in the study of the outdoors, nature, and its conservation. It often focuses on how to change human behavior toward the environment to help preserve nature (e.g., recycling, energy conservation) and the impact of natural systems on humans (e.g., natural resources, recreation). Environmental education by NOAA is a specific type of environmental education, environmental science education. NOAA’s environmental education initiatives align with two common approaches to environmental science education. One approach is to infuse the scientific principles of ecology and the interrelationships among organisms and the physical/chemical world (environment) with human impact and decision making. The second approach is concerned less with human impacts and decision making and more with science and the interdisciplinary nature of the study of the environment, spanning the domains of biology, physics, geography, geosciences, chemistry, and mathematics, and uses technology to make various measurements of environmental processes.
A productive way to think about the relationship among science, science education, and environmental education may be to think systemically of a system in which science, science education, and environmental education, working in concert, form a closed loop or feedback system. However, stewardship aspects of environmental science education may sometimes be in conflict with the commerce responsibilities of NOAA (e.g., management of fisheries) and could create potential conflicts across NOAA line offices. Stewardship is also unlikely to align with K-12 STEM learning goals, since these rarely include behavior change.
Coordination of the efforts of the federal agencies that support oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental education has been the subject of many reports, white papers, and discussion documents. These documents have emphasized the need for collaboration, cooperation, and cohesion across the educational efforts of the many federal agencies that support STEM education. This will lead to the avoidance of inefficiency and redundancy and the delivery of a coherent message. Such changes require leadership from within the federal agencies to implement effective changes in the way science, technology, environmental, international, economic, social, and political concepts are conveyed in educational settings.
Each agency has a specific mission, and aspects of all the agency missions overlap and complement each other. Thus, it is not surprising that the education activities the agencies run in support of their missions also overlap and complement each other. Based on their overlapping missions and education efforts, the Academic Competiveness Council (U.S. Department of Education, 2007) has called for coordination and collaboration across agencies that fund STEM education activities; however, such coordination and collaboration can be difficult because of the restrictions on joint funding of programs and incompatible mandates.
Federal Agency Programs
This section is a brief description of the federal agencies, other than NOAA, that have significant oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental education activities, including NSF, the U.S. Department of Education (DoED), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, the National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). We describe DoED and NSF first because they are the primary federal funders of K-12 STEM education programs and research, and their missions are specifically focused on education, although neither agency actually does science or engineering work. We then provide a description of the education activities of the other agencies whose missions include aspects that overlap with NOAA’s mission.
This is not a comprehensive list of agencies involved in education in these areas, nor is the description of each agency’s investment comprehensive. Instead, these descriptions are meant to be a sketch of the federal portfolio, illustrating that many agencies are involved and that their approaches to supporting education are varied. We relied primarily on the information that the agencies make available on their websites, the information in other National Research Council documents, the expertise of the staff and committee, and the investigative information the committee assembled.
The summary below illustrates that the amount of oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental education supported is agency dependent. Overall the federal agencies value diversity. They have different approaches to build workforce diversity and to reach diverse learners. The approach that each agency takes is unique to the kinds of science it supports. Collectively, the agencies have an opportunity to further support diversity.
National Science Foundation
NSF supports all of the fundamental fields of science and engineering. Unlike other federal science agencies, NSF does not hire its own researchers or scientists or directly operate its own laboratories. Its goal is to identify and support leading researchers and projects to carry out work in areas it deems important. NSF funds a range of education programs, including ones that support education research and development, as well as broader impacts in science, engineering, and mathematics research. The programs reach across the STEM disciplines, and some specifically target oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental education.
The Education and Human Resources Directorate is one of eight NSF directorates, which provides limited-term grants for education research, innovative curriculum development and pedagogy, teacher professional development, education programs and activities, and other educational
initiatives. Its budget was about $797 million in 2006, of which about $242 million supported K-12 education research. A small percentage of the grants to principal investigators involve oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental education content.
The 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 “broader impact” related to the research they sponsor. Education activities are one of several activities that provide a broader impact. The Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) is an example of a directorate that supports various relevant education initiatives. For example, it runs a program to broaden participation in the geosciences. In addition, the Division of Ocean Sciences, within GEO, supports Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence, which is a network of coordinated centers that seeks to support ocean education.
U.S. Department of Education
DoED is one of two federal agencies whose primary mission includes the support of education (NSF is the other). Of its FY2009 budget of $68.6 billion, about $324 million was for education research and development (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2009). The department’s role in education is to establish policies on federal financial aid for education and distribute and monitor these funds, to collect data on U.S. schools and disseminate research, to focus national attention on key education issues, and to prohibit discrimination and ensure equal access to education. Currently, the department’s primary influence over K-12 STEM education is through the No Child Left Behind Act and the Education Science Reform Act of 2002. It also provides grants and loans for students to attend college. The department’s Institute of Education Sciences has supported education research, but not related to NOAA science or to oceanic, atmospheric, climate, or environmental education content.
DoED supports education in fields critical to NOAA’s mission through a new initiative that delivers technical assistance to help five states develop “green” or environmentally friendly career-technical training programs of study. In addition, statewide Math Science Partnerships funded by the department fund districts and schools that train teachers using curricula related to these topics.
Environmental Protection Agency
The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment, which gives the agency broad potential ability to contribute to environmental education. EPA was mandated to prioritize environmental educa-
tion in the National Environmental Education Act (P.L. 101-619), and even though the mandate has expired, it is still the reference document for the agencies’ environmental education efforts. The overarching goals of the mandate were for EPA to arrange environmental education initiatives at the federal level and to provide national leadership for the public and private sectors.
EPA provides online education resources on a variety of topics, such as air, waste and recycling, water, conservation, ecosystems, and health and safety. Resources are available for K-12 students and teachers. There is an environmental education working group that works to make web-based environmental education materials accessible, technologically sound, and educationally appropriate.
EPA also provides a number of other programs for educators and students, including distance education, grant programs that support environmental education projects, student fellowship programs, a student award program, informal science education, and other education programs. A few EPA education projects focus on engaging learners of diverse backgrounds. For example, EPA recently formed a partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso to promote a more culturally diverse workforce.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA’s mission is to pioneer in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research. It has a multitude of education activities that reach many audiences in formal and informal settings. Its education portfolio includes elementary and secondary education programs, electronic education programs, higher education programs, a national space grant college and fellowship program, and a cluster of university and college programs that support minority research and education. Some programs cover climate, atmospheric, oceanic, and Earth observing issues similar to those addressed by NOAA programs.
An example of an education program that includes aspects of ocean, atmospheric, and climate, and environmental education is the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE). This is an international program with students from many countries and classrooms collaborating with research investigations on climate change, water conservation, energy use, human health, and other investigations. In addition, NASA recently received funding to support the development of a program called Global Climate Change Education: Research Experiences, Teaching and Learning.
U.S. Department of Energy
The DOE mission to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States includes the support of scientific and technologi-
cal innovation, and the agency ensures the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex. One of the agency’s overarching goals is to prepare a diverse workforce, including a cadre of diverse middle school and high school master science educators, and a diverse population of students to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.
DOE education programs support science learning about clean energy research and technologies. These programs support physical science education at precollege, college, and graduate levels. The DOE also runs the National Science Bowl, a nationwide academic competition that tests middle and high school students’ science knowledge in a style similar to the TV show Jeopardy. It also supports the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists Program, providing opportunities for K-20 students and teachers to engage in STEM activities: competitions, fellowships, and training.
National Park Service
NPS cares for nearly 400 natural, cultural, and recreational sites across the nation. It helps communities near the parks preserve and enhance important local heritage and close-to-home recreational opportunities. NPS conducts several programs with educational goals and has a separate office for higher education and park initiatives.
The agency engages in a range of place-based education experiences that provide visitors the opportunity to learn about the resources of the national parks. Individual parks support a range of environmental education and stewardship opportunities. Most of the individual parks work with surrounding communities and incorporate regional and local themes of diversity. In addition, the central NPS website provides resources (e.g., lesson plans and datasets) for students and teachers to benefit from field trips to the national parks. A few formal education activities that use the national parks have been supported with NPS as a partner, for example teacher-to-teacher workshops with the Department of Education. Overall, the agency supports a small number of education and stewardship programs, most of which are place-based experiences.
Working Groups, Partnership Programs, and Interagency Collaborations
Existing federal working groups, partnership programs, and interagency collaborations also address education topics related to NOAA’s mission. A few examples of these efforts include
The Committee on Ocean Policy, under the Council on Environmental Quality, which has an Interagency Working Group on Ocean Education.
The National Ocean Partnership Program, also part of the Committee on Ocean Policy, which seeks to bring coordination to ocean education programs within its 10 federal member agencies (including NOAA).
The Climate Change Science Program, which integrates federal research on climate and global change, and has supported the Essential Climate Literacy Principles.
Federal agencies, education institutions, and private-sector organizations have also collaborated to create literacy principles for ocean science, earth science, and atmospheric science.
THE ROLES OF FEDERAL AGENCIES IN SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION
With so many agencies contributing to education on topics related to NOAA’s mission, it is critical that each agency has a clear role in education and clear responsibilities for education. The role of a federal agency’s education program 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” (National Research Council, 2008). The role of each agency must be carefully considered by each individual agency in its own way. However, certain aspects of how the different agencies strive to make valid contributions to science and environmental education are common across agencies. This section briefly discusses three of those aspects: the reasons for agency involvement, their resources, and the limitations of their involvement.
Reasons for Agency Involvement
Many federal science agencies are involved in training the next generation of engineers, technologists, and scientists at the graduate level, where supporting education and supporting research are closely connected. Yet the seed for student interest in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering careers can be planted during childhood and cultivated through effective educational opportunities at every stage along the path to a STEM career (Tai et al., 2006).
The involvement of federal agencies in science and environmental education is partially drawn from a commitment to the American public for their support of agency-related science and engineering work. For example, many of the scientific contributions of NOAA, especially in regard to its science missions, are advancements in knowledge—about weather, the
ocean, coastal and deep-water resources, and climate, for example. NOAA is committed to making those advancements accessible to the public as well as to other scientists, which requires communicating with and educating the public.
Federal agencies also see a responsibility to support or develop programs that seek to increase the nation’s 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 be informed participants in public discourse on issues related to science. Although those issues usually also involve questions of economics, ethics, and moral philosophy, among other subjects, knowledge of the basic science is critical. For example, when people have some knowledge of the complex set of scientific factors that influence the Earth’s climate, whatever their personal values, it enhances their ability to thoughtfully participate in civic discussions on issues related to alternative fuels and global warming.
In the areas of education related to NOAA’s mission, the role of each agency is unique to the federal mandates that shape its resources and audiences. From the perspective of sharing knowledge about science and encouraging stewardship, federal science agencies have three key advantages to support education systems: access to working scientists and engineers, the knowledge generated through their funded programs, and oversight of national resources (National Research Council, 2008).
First, 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 are accurate, up to date, and engaging. Agency education programs can involve their scientists and engineers 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 them a real-world glimpse of the possibilities that such careers offer.
The second resource is the agencies’ knowledge and support of science and engineering. They support cutting-edge research, engineering, and technology through their grants and contracts as well as through the efforts of their scientific and engineering research staff. Through these efforts they contribute compelling data and ideas that are valuable resources to students, educators, and the public. As public agencies, they have a responsibility to promulgate this information and to make sure that all members of the public, and educators in particular, have access to what they have learned. In some cases, the data themselves can be made available in ways that allow people to interact with them in meaningful scientific investigations and engineering design activities, thereby providing a window on the
world of science and engineering that goes far beyond that of classroom investigations and school laboratories.
The third resource is access to the national resources that agencies monitor and protect (National Research Council, 2008). For example, NOAA, EPA, and NPS have responsibilities to monitor and protect some of the country’s most delicate and important natural resources. With the exception of some very remote locations, the areas under the purview of these agencies are unique environments in which people of all ages can engage in hands-on authentic educational experiences that can support STEM learning and can change how people interact with the natural world.
Limitations of Agency Involvement
Federal agencies have limited means to support education and research on teaching and learning. In all their educational 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 for agencies, including NOAA, to achieve this marriage of science and education is to use and encourage connections between the science, engineering, and education expertise inside and outside the agency.
Universities and academic research organizations as well as organizations of professional educators, such as the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science and Technology Centers, are key resources for knowledge of the specific needs of classroom teachers and planetariums, nature centers, aquariums, museums, and science centers. Experienced curriculum development 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 systems, 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 science and environmental education.
The role of federal science agencies in education is also limited in terms of the breadth and depth of the initiatives that they can undertake. These agencies are not in a position to independently develop and support programs that affect teaching practices, student learning, 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 therefore faced with striking a difficult balance between trying to make a broad impact and 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 science and education agencies and organizations. Agency activities to address the needs of the education system should give priority to the needs of a nation and the local communities in which it works. Therefore, as an overarching rule, federal agencies should strive to understand and complement what schools, school districts, states, informal education institutions, and other actors in the national education landscape are doing. The assets of the agencies can complement ongoing initiatives in the education landscapes and support initiatives that could not take place without their help.
The role of federal agencies is also limited by the fact that programs must be matched to the primary mission of the agency. If an agency embarks on education programs that have little or nothing to do with its mission, it will be acting without expertise or authority. The resulting project is unlikely to be sustained.
Agencies’ education programs are also limited by the lack of control they have over the direction of the larger mission and funding. Shifts in the primary mission of an agency as a whole can affect its education programs, especially those with long-term objectives. Radical shifts from changes in administration or changes in agency priorities can result in lack of stability in education programs and erratic funding, which can seriously diminish the program’s effectiveness. A funding pattern that fluctuates with federal and agency priorities can hamper the development and maintenance of effective education work—in NOAA and in other federal science agencies.
The reasons and resources for agency engagement and limitations to that engagement apply to the federal agencies that support K-12 STEM education. How the agencies address their role, use their resources, and address their limitations varies depending on their mission, expertise, and funding. Next we take a closer look at where NOAA fits into the landscape of federal involvement in education.
Factors That Define NOAA’s Role
NOAA’s mandate includes research, education, and stewardship. This provides a unique opportunity for information to flow among these activities—for example, new scientific discoveries can flow into education activities, and questions about effective stewardship can influence research priorities. NOAA’s role is further defined by the areas of need in science and environmental education that align to its mission and mandates, such as broadening participation and interest in the related fields. This section describes the unique attributes that the agency can bring to education as well as the areas of need that the agency seems well positioned to address.
Assets for Supporting Education
Place-based learning environments have been shown to be well suited for increasing interest in and understanding of the environment for individuals of all ages (National Research Council, 2009). The educational opportunities afforded by the natural resources managed and protected by NOAA (often in collaboration with other federal and state agencies) are vast and important. Management of such places provides the agency with connections to the surrounding communities and organizations concerned with environmental issues—connections that can be used to create partnerships with states, localities, and other organizations. Such partnerships and coordination with other federal, state, and local entities that manage similar areas for education programs can engage learners with hands-on participation in science and give them opportunities to witness science taking place, as a core part of the activities.
Another major asset that NOAA brings to education is the science, engineering, and technology that it supports and produces. The agency has access to scientists and engineers doing cutting-edge work in oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental science, both within NOAA and through its support of external scientists and engineers by way of grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts. These endeavors involve a range of technology and scientific resources to investigate the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and climates, including research ships and remotely operated vehicles, satellite systems, data systems, and technology that is sometimes jointly used by other scientific agencies. Technologies, scientific resources, and data systems can provide opportunities for students and citizens to see scientists in action and participate in research, data collection, and analysis.
Areas of Need in Which NOAA Can Contribute
There are five areas of need to which NOAA can contribute, although it does not have to act alone. NOAA needs to work in collaboration with appropriate partners to effectively contribute to the nation’s education systems.
Integration of science, education, and stewardship. The science, education, and stewardship goals that guide NOAA’s mission are interconnected. In the United States, very few organizations can lay claim to expertise and authority in all three of these domains. NOAA has the potential to support an integrated feedback loop by leveraging its collaborations with the science, engineering, education, and stewardship communities. For example, NOAA personnel and programs could partner
with the academic research community, industry, and states (schools, state agencies) to gather data about the oceans and atmosphere through systematic observations, convert these data into understandings about process via modeling and other interpretive techniques, and develop education materials and train teachers to convey these scientific understandings to learners of all ages. In a connected and parallel effort, NOAA could work with partners to develop stewardship programs to encourage environmentally sustainable behaviors and decisions, as well as interest in and input into scientific research priorities.
Diversity in the ocean, atmospheric, and climate science workforce. The rate of minority participation in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences is lower than in many other sciences, in spite of several well-intentioned and ongoing programs (see Figure 2.2). Multiple reports highlight the continuing lack of diversity among degree seekers, recipients, and the workforce in fields related to NOAA’s mission (Levine, González, and Martínez-Sussmann, 2009). A recent National Research Council report (2009) points out:
The challenges in engaging nondominant groups in the sciences are reflected in studies showing that (1) inadequate science instruction exists in most elementary schools, especially those serving children from low-in-come and rural areas; (2) girls often do not identify strongly with science or science careers; (3) students from nondominant groups perform lower on standardized measures of science achievement than their peers; (4) although the number of individuals with disabilities pursuing postsecondary education has increased, few pursue academic careers in science or engineering; and (5) learning science can be especially challenging for all learners because of the specialized language involved.
Several lines of reasoning are the basis for supporting participation of individuals from underrepresented populations. The demographics of the United States are changing. By 2039, the working-age population will include over 50 percent of current ethnic minorities (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). Success in workforce development therefore depends on attracting and retaining individuals from minority backgrounds. Equally important in a service-oriented agency like NOAA is that its ability to serve the population depends on having a workforce that reflects it. Others argue that diverse groups should be served because in a democratic society all people are equally entitled to a quality education and to the knowledge that will enable them to participate in civic decisions, including an increasing number of decisions related to the environment. In fact, the idea of environmental justice suggests that minority participation in and knowledge of environmental sciences is a tool for ensuring that minority communities do not suffer disproportionately in decisions about the use of environmental resources and the disposal of pollutants. Finally, there is also an argument that having a diverse scientific workforce has a positive benefit on the outcomes accomplished by science. When diverse perspectives are included in science, different views of the natural world are introduced, different interpretations of findings are made, different questions are asked, and different methods are used (Bang, Medin, and Atran, 2007; Fox Keller, 1995; Longino, 2003; Louis, 2007). For example, when women began to enter the field of women’s health, different scientific questions were posed, and advancements in the field followed (Longino, 2003).
The especially low rate of minority participation in the field of geosciences (which includes the oceanic, atmospheric, climate, and environmental education categories) raises a number of questions regarding whether unique factors are involved in that field. Levine, González, and Martínez-Sussman (2009) reviewed the published literature and identified factors that may be impacting the geosciences:
The small size of the field means many people do not know the field or a role model in the field (Huntoon and Lane, 2007).
In many school systems, geosciences are not taught at the high school level.
Students in schools with high poverty levels or high minority percentages are less likely to take mathematical prerequisites for these sciences, such as trigonometry, advanced algebra, and pre-calculus (National Science Board, 2009) and are more likely to be taught mathematics by a teacher whose specialization is not mathematics (Education Trust, 2008).
Cultural and religious beliefs may conflict with geoscience practices or ways of interacting (National Science Foundation, 1996; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). For example, reductionism in science and association with mining is a negative factor for some Native Americans.
Obligations to serve the community in more specific ways may be higher in certain underrepresented communities (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997).
Competitive emphasis in geosciences (and other sciences) may be more at odds with cultural practices in minority communities (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997).
Quality and quantity of oceanic, atmospheric, and climate education across the country. In general, ocean sciences are only sparsely represented in K-12 science education standards. This is true of the national standards and of the state standards, even in many coastal states. In atmospheric sciences, weather is the one topic that is widely taught, but climate, including climate change (Kastens and Turrin, 2008), has not yet found its way into the standards of many states.
As mentioned above, NOAA’s education programs must align with the existing education standards in the localities in which they operate. However, NOAA can also play a useful role in major science education efforts, such as the new National Assessment of Educational Progress in science, the revision of the National Science Education Standards (also known as common core science standards), as well as revisions to state education standards in states in which it has facilities. Scientists sponsored by NOAA could serve as content experts, and education staff supported by NOAA could provide exemplary materials and assist in other ways. As a federal agency, NOAA would have to be careful to respect the state’s primacy in K-12 education; in many ways this can be done by using local academic research and education resources. Given how full the K-12 science curriculum is already, standards revision efforts should look for opportunities to intertwine oceanic, atmospheric, and climate concepts throughout the core sciences, for example by
contrasting marine and terrestrial food webs in biology, or considering the mechanism of the greenhouse effect in the physical sciences. Concepts from the oceanic, atmospheric, and climate sciences may also provide exciting, nearly tangible, and locally relevant examples of “big idea” or core concepts common to many disciplines (core concepts in science are discussed further in Chapter 3). Efforts to inform standards should be coordinated with other federal and state agencies in promoting these changes.
Field-based education. Field-based learning experiences offer personal experiences and direct contact with the actual environment and have been shown to contribute to people’s understanding of and commitment to environmental conservation and stewardship (Bogner, 1998; Dillon et al., 2006). The need for field-based education in formal educational settings is becoming stronger with the passing years, as many urban and suburban children spend little of their free time in unstructured outdoor play or exploration in natural settings (National Research Council, 2009). Field-based education is a critical component of oceanic, atmospheric, and environmental education. Yet it is one aspect of education that schools find hard to do well.
To optimize field-based learning experiences, the education staff at each NOAA-sponsored venue must work closely with the teachers and administrators of regional schools to build a relationship of trust and ensure that the field experience is well integrated with the curriculum. Learning goals should be clearly articulated, with a purposeful balance between science and stewardship goals. In addition to striving to accommodate the schools that come to them, NOAA-supported field sites should proactively reach out to underresourced schools and schools with populations that are under-represented in science and engineering.
Coordination across federal agencies. With so many players involved in science and environmental education at the federal level, there has been a proliferation of differing goals and standards, different methodologies, and even different values, norms, and cultures. Education initiatives are rarely coordinated across agencies, and cross-agency cooperation is limited. Collaboration, coordination, efficiency, and cohesion are needed to limit redundancy across the science and environmental education that NOAA is involved in and to ensure that teachers and learners get a productive and complementary view of the science. To take on such a critical role, NOAA is likely to need both fiscal and legislative support. This need to coordinate federal agency activities and address interagency disputes is highlighted in reports from the Pew Ocean Commission (2003) and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (2004).
Coordination of education efforts entails a high level of coordination
both within NOAA and with other agencies, particularly with regard to the sharing of promising practices, awareness of education initiatives at each agency, and promoting partnerships. The range of fields that NOAA supports through its scientific and engineering endeavors makes the agency well suited to develop education initiatives and also to support coordination and cohesion across agency education projects. NOAA has taken on coordinating roles on interagency education groups, including the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Education and the Climate Change Science Program’s informal interagency climate outreach and communications group. NOAA could take a leadership role in other areas of earth systems education, in which such coordination does not yet exist.
Other agencies may also have the capability of taking a leadership role in these areas, but we did not carefully review the assets of other federal science agencies. We think NOAA has the needed assets and capabilities to be one of the federal agencies that take a leadership role in coordinating federal education efforts. In climate, for example, NOAA (possibly along with other agencies) could step up to support the call for interagency coordination laid out in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. If NOAA can convincingly integrate its two mandated sciences, atmospheric science and ocean science, then this could be a model for how to reach out to the many agencies that support learning in all of the earth sciences. As it does so, it may be able to draw on the more interdisciplinary approach of its regionally focused education efforts, like the marine sanctuaries, Sea Grant colleges, and the estuarine research reserves. In addition, many natural settings are protected, managed, and maintained by other federal, state, and local agencies and tribes that are similar to those protected, managed, and maintained by NOAA. Coordination between NOAA and the other federal, state, and local agencies and tribes would allow materials and priorities to be streamlined.