Over the past 15 months, Americans have had delivered to them a powerful message about why science is essential to the well-being of the United States. The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines was a 21st century moonshot. We have seen firsthand why science is a powerful public good that we must preserve and prioritize. It is a foundational part of our national infrastructure, essential to our physical health, to the nurturing of an informed citizenry that makes fact-based decisions in everyday life, and to an economy that is becoming increasingly dependent on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Science is remarkable. Yet, as this call to action will demonstrate, science education is not the national priority it needs to be, and states and local communities are not yet delivering high-quality, rigorous learning experiences in equal measure to all students from elementary school through higher education.
This report was prepared at the request of the Carnegie Corporation of New York by a consensus committee appointed via the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The committee was tasked with developing a national call to action to advance science education programs and instruction across elementary, secondary and postsecondary education in ways that will prepare students to face the global challenges of the future both as engaged participants in society and as future STEM professionals (see Box 1 for the charge).
To address their charge, the committee reviewed a large volume of previous National Academies’ reports related to science education and analyzed the evidence in those reports most pertinent to policy. We invited a dozen experts on research and practice in K-12 and postsecondary education to speak with them and collected input from more than 700 public comments, as well as contributions assembled by the National Science
Teaching Association from more than 1,000 of their members. The committee synthesized the evidence and input to prepare this call to action for federal, state, and local policy makers.
The committee calls on the policy-making community at state and federal levels to acknowledge the importance of science, make science education a core national priority, and empower and give local communities the resources they must have to deliver a better, more equitable science education and track progress. We call for a new locally grounded approach, bolstered by state and national support, in which community members and leaders work together to ensure widespread, consistent, coherent opportunities for high-quality science learning are available to all students across K-16 and that people of all backgrounds are welcomed in science learning environments, in STEM careers, and as contributors and decision makers in their own communities.
In the next section of our call to action, we explain why state and federal policy makers should elevate science to a national priority, and include arguments related to our nation’s economic growth, the health of our democracy, and the ongoing struggle to bring greater racial and gender equity1 to the United States. We then articulate a vision for what better, more equitable science education looks like, the benefits it brings, and the obstacles that stand in its way. We conclude by laying out a set of recommendations that if enacted will help the nation make this vision a reality. This report is designed to highlight broad, evidence-based strategies for improving science education and to provide information to support the policy makers we call on to act. It does not provide detailed guidance on changes at the institution or classroom level. Extensive information on strategies for those levels can be found in other publications from the National Academies as described in the section at the end of this report on “For Further Reading.”
In summary, the eight recommendations we make call for federal and state policy makers to (1) elevate the status of science education, (2) foster the creation of local and regional alliances to advance better, more equitable science education across communities, and (3) institutionalize mechanisms to track progress and determine where there are disparities in access to high-quality science learning experiences so that resources can be directed to where they are needed most.