This report responds to a request from Representative Frank Wolf (VA) for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to identify highly successful K-12 schools and programs in science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics (STEM). In response to a request and with support from NSF, in October 2010 the National Research Council (NRC) convened an expert committee to explore this issue.
The Committee on Highly Successful Schools or Programs for K-12 STEM Education was charged with “outlining criteria for identifying effective STEM schools and programs and identifying which of those criteria could be addressed with available data and research, and those where further work is needed to develop appropriate data sources.” This effort also included a public workshop on May 10-11, 20111 that was planned to address the following charge:
An ad hoc steering committee will plan and conduct a public workshop to explore criteria for identifying highly successful K-12 schools and programs in the area of STEM education through examination of a select set of examples. The committee will determine some initial criteria for nominating successful schools to be considered at the workshop. The examples included in the workshop must have been studied in enough detail to provide evidence to support claims of success. Discussions at the workshop will focus on refining criteria for success, exploring models of “best practice,” and analyzing factors that evidence indicates lead to success. The discussion from the workshop will be synthesized in an individually authored workshop summary.
To carry out its charge, the committee solicited background papers to be prepared for the workshop (see the Appendix for a list of the papers). The committee also examined the limited body of existing and forthcoming research on STEM-focused schools, the broader base of research related to effective STEM education practices, and research on effective schooling generally.2 The goal of this report is to provide information that leaders at the school district, state, and national level can use to make strategic decisions about improving STEM education.
In examining the research, the committee considered findings to be suggestive if they identified conditions that were associated with success, but could not be disentangled from the types of students found in such conditions. We considered findings to give evidence of success if they resulted from research studies that were designed to support causal conclusions by distinguishing the effectiveness of schools from the characteristics of the students attending them.
What Aspects of STEM Are Addressed in This Report?
Although there are a variety of perspectives on what STEM education in K-12 schools entails, for the purposes of this report the committee focused its analysis on the science and mathematics parts of STEM. This decision was influenced by the fact that the bulk of the research and data concerning STEM education at the K-12 level relates to mathematics and science education. Research in technology and engineering education is less mature because those subjects are not as commonly taught in K-12 education.3 Although integrating STEM subjects is not the focus of this report, the committee recognizes the variety of conceptual connections among STEM subjects and the fact that science inquiry and engineering design provide opportunities for making STEM learning more concrete and relevant.
The nature and potential value of integrated K-12 STEM education are the focus of an ongoing study of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council by the Committee on Integrated STEM Education. It is expected to be completed in 2013.