Federal

Space Agency Urged to Step Up K-12 Education Projects

By Andrew Trotter — December 18, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Despite its vital interest in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills of American students, the U.S. space agency is not reaching its potential as a resource for bolstering performance in those so-called STEM fields in K-12 schools, a new congressionally mandated report concludes.

Released last week, the report by the National Research Council says the National Aeronautics and Space Administration lacks a coherent overall plan—or adequate budget—for evaluating its elementary and secondary projects, which are woven into a wide range of scientific and exploration programs.

A committee of scientists and educators commissioned by the NRC, a research branch of the federal National Academy of Sciences, spent a year examining NASA’s efforts in elementary and secondary education, a task panel members said was hampered by “instability in the program and lack of rigorous evaluation” at the agency.

“When used right, evaluation is a process of continuous improvement; it makes the programs continually get better,” the chairwoman of the committee, Helen R. Quinn, a physicist at Stanford University, said in an interview. “What we saw are programs that have not been updated and modified and revised in the ways they might have been.”

That shortcoming also made it hard for the committee to gauge the effectiveness of NASA’s various education undertakings. “Because there wasn’t sufficient formal evaluation, we had to make judgments on the programs based on our own expert knowledge of what best practices in these areas are,” Ms. Quinn said.

The committee concluded that “various parts of the [education] program don’t seem to reflect what is known about what works in these sorts of things,” she said. “Questions were also raised about cost-effectiveness.”

Overall, the education projects are “somewhat effective at raising awareness of the science and engineering of NASA’s missions and generating students’ and teachers’ interest in STEM subjects,” the 208-page report says. “[H]owever, the projects cannot be shown to be effective at enhancing learning of STEM content or providing in-depth experience with the science and engineering of the mission.”

The committee credits NASA with demonstrating strong commitment to financing STEM education activities, but says those funds were dispersed across many divisions.

The report also finds that NASA does not systematically coordinate with other federal agencies involved in STEM education or draw on their expertise in designing educational projects.

Report ‘Very Timely’

Congress ordered the study in the 2005 law reauthorizing the space agency. The 15-member study committee reviewed documents, heard testimony by NASA officials, and commissioned several research papers.

Of the seven projects managed by the agency’s office of education, the committee gave recommendations for three: the Aerospace Education Service Program; the Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy; and NASA’s Explorer Schools.

The other four projects have begun too recently or lacked sufficient documentation of project performance, the report says. Those are the agency’s Digital Learning Network; its Education Flight Projects; the Educator Astronaut Program; and the Interdisciplinary National Science Program Incorporating Research and Education.

The report notes that, although the space agency does not have the lead federal role in STEM education, “as a discoverer of new science and a creator of new technology, NASA like other federal science agencies has an important complementary role in STEM education.” That role is “closely linked to and guided by the core scientific, engineering, and exploration missions of the agency,” the report says.

The report is “very timely,” said Joyce L. Winterton, NASA’s assistant administrator for education, noting that it would be used as part of a rolling evaluation of NASA programs and “how we can better connect with our mission.”

“We’ve started a process throughout the agency to look at the recommendations; many are ones that we are already working on,” she said in an interview.

Howard E. McCurdy, an authority on NASA who is a professor at American University in Washington, had not seen the report and was traveling. But he said in an e-mail that NASA had encouraged science and engineering education for decades, but that “given current budget constraints … the agency has other things to do.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 19, 2007 edition of Education Week as Space Agency Urged to Step Up K-12 Education Projects

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Working Smarter, Not Harder with Data
There is a new paradigm shift in K-12 education. Technology and data have leapt forward, advancing in ways that allow educators to better support students while also maximizing their most precious resource – time. The
Content provided by PowerSchool
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Biden Administration Lays Out Its Top Priorities for Education Grants
The pandemic's impact and a diverse, well-prepared educator workforce are among areas the administration wants to fund at its discretion.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 5, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a White House briefing.
Susan Walsh/AP