What Does the ‘March for Science’ Mean for STEM Education?

By Sarah Schwartz — April 21, 2017 3 min read
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Scientists and educators across the country will converge on the National Mall tomorrow for the March for Science, an event meant to highlight the importance of science to society and advocate for evidence-based policymaking.

The march has special relevance for K-12 science teachers, who will be well-represented in Washington and in 374 satellite marches across the country, said David Evans, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, which is partnering with the march.

“Teachers are marching because they want the public to recognize that science is important,” said Evans, whose organization has 55,000 members. “Science is important to our life; science is important to our governance.”

The day’s schedule kicks off with a rally and series of teach-ins around the National Mall, and culminates in a 2 p.m. march from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol.

The march is billed as nonpartisan, and the organizers say that it is meant to counter efforts to discredit and restrict scientific discovery, not to promote any particular ideology. One of the march’s core principles, though, is supporting funding for scientific research and education programs that Evans says are in jeopardy because of President Trump’s proposed budget cuts.

“Science education programs have gotten the same sort of treatment in the priorities of the new administration that science programs have,” Evans said, “and that’s quite disturbing.”

Trump’s proposed budget strips all funding for NASA’s education office, one entity that encourages students to pursue STEM careers. The spending blueprint also cuts all education programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and education support programs at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Teachers are also concerned about the broader consequences of cuts to scientific research funding, said Evans.

“Even those programs that don’t have an explicit education mandate, nevertheless produce lots of very valuable information—lessons, even—that teachers use.”

Seeking Diversity in ‘STEM’

The president’s proposed budget for 2018 also would make major reductions to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget, slashing its funding from $68 billion to $59 billion. Many education advocates fear those cuts will lead to eliminating popular programs not only at the federal level, but also in K-12 districts, as they scramble to make up for lost aid from Washington.

Trump and his advisers have argued that the administration is pushing to fulfill his campaign promises by slashing programs and reducing the size of government.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for instance, has said his budget protects many programs, including those serving vulnerable student populations, and that it empowers parents and students by expanding school choice.

Organizers hope that the march will also bring attention to efforts to strengthen curriculum and improve diversity in STEM education, said Heidy Contreras, the director of diversity and inclusivity for the Los Angeles satellite march.

Laws and policies that dictate science curricula have “silenced” teachers, she said, and attempts to restrict the teaching of evolution are particularly worrisome. Evolution is backed by a mountain of scientific evidence and scholarship, yet the teaching of the concept has for decades met resistance in some school districts.

"[Evolution] is one of the basic principles in science,” said Contreras. “If students aren’t being taught how to think in that way, then they’re really being handicapped to think about science as a whole.”

Creating a more diverse workforce in STEM studies and occupations has been a longtime goal of many in the K-12 community. Organizers of the march want to call attention to the issue, she said.

“A lot of underrepresented students are turned off [from] the sciences really early on,” said Contreras. Girls from minority backgrounds, she said, are even more likely than boys to reject those subjects.

Having a diverse group of scientists advocating for the profession, at the march and in other settings, can convey that diversity matters in science, she said, and highlight the importance of encouraging girls and students of color in K-12 STEM classrooms.

“This is really a good platform to have different voices heard,” said Contreras. “I think a lot of people will be listening.”

Photo: High-definition, composite photo of Earth taken in January by the new GOES-16 weather satellite.From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.