FROM THE ARCHIVES: PCAST Issues STEM Education Report: Social Sciences Not Part of K-12 STEM (September 27, 2010)

In celebration of COSSA’s 40th anniversary, we are diving into the decades of Washington Update archives to share articles from years past that resonate with today’s news.

On September 15, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its long-awaited report on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education. Entitled Prepare and Inspire: K‐12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) For America’s Future, the report was shepherded through PCAST by co‐chair Eric Lander, head of the Broad Institute and a major geneticist, and S. James Gates, Jr., John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. […]

According to PCAST, “STEM education, as used in this report, includes the subjects of mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics, which have traditionally formed the core requirements of many state curricula at the K‐12 level. In addition, the report includes other critical subjects, such as computer science, engineering, environmental science and geology, with whose fundamental concepts K‐12 students should be familiar. The report does not include the social and behavioral sciences, such as economics, anthropology, and sociology; while appropriately considered STEM fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels, they involve very different issues at the K‐12 level.” […]

Later, the PCAST report notes: “The dynamic nature of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ‐ where new advances are constantly expanding our knowledge of the physical, biological, and social world ‐ has enormous implications for STEM education.” However, there is no indication that helping students understand changes in the social world by learning social and behavioral science is something that is part of STEM education.

The report calls for the federal government to create a mission‐driven, advanced research projects agency for education (ARPA‐ED) housed either in the Department of Education, in the National Science Foundation, or as a joint entity. “ARPA‐ED should propel and support (i) the development of innovative technologies and technology platforms for learning, teaching, and assessment across all subjects and ages and (ii) the development of effective, integrated, whole‐course materials for STEM education.” Once again technology will solve a national problem.

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