EDUCATION AND SOCIAL ISSUES

Strengthening K-12 STEM Education

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The need for better science and engineering education in the U.S. has been a long-standing concern for many business leaders and policymakers. A growing number of jobs require knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as do many decisions that almost everyone faces in their everyday life.

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas identifies the key scientific ideas and practices that all students should learn by the end of high school. The new framework is designed so that students will gradually deepen their knowledge of core ideas in four disciplinary areas -- life sciences; physical sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science -- rather than acquire shallow knowledge of many topics. The report strongly emphasizes the practices of science -- helping students learn to plan and carry out investigations, for example -- and to engage in argumentation from evidence.

The framework recognizes seven crosscutting concepts that have explanatory value across much of science and engineering, such as "cause and effect" and "stability and change." These concepts should be taught in the context of core ideas from the disciplines of science and become familiar touchstones as students progress from kindergarten through 12th grade. Just as important are scientific and engineering practices, which have been given too little emphasis in K-12 education. The framework specifies eight key practices -- such as asking questions and defining problems, and analyzing and interpreting data -- that should be integrated into and applied throughout students' K-12 education.

Since the report was released, more than 25 states have announced that they are joining the effort now under way to develop new science standards, which would replace those issued more than a decade ago.

Another report, Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, calls for state, national, and local policymakers to put K-12 science on a par with reading and mathematics and recommends ways that leaders at all levels can improve K-12 STEM education. For example, assessments for science subjects should be done as frequently as for reading and math, using an assessment system that supports learning and understanding. States and national organizations need to develop assessments that are aligned with the next generation of science standards, which emphasize the practice of science rather than factual recall.

National and state policymakers should also invest in helping educators in STEM fields teach more effectively, the report says. And schools and school districts should devote adequate instructional time and resources to science in grades K-5 to lay a foundation for further study. Research suggests that interest in science careers may develop in the elementary school years.

The Research Council studies were funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the National Science Foundation.

Traffic Impacts of Military Base Realignments

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett

In 2005 the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to close several installations and transfer tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel at or near 18 U.S. bases. Several of those bases are located in major metropolitan areas with already congested roads and highways.

Federal Funding of Transportation Improvements in BRAC Cases says that transportation and congestion problems resulting from the realignment would impose substantial costs on some of the surrounding communities and could be detrimental to the military as well.

The U.S. Department of Defense should accept more financial responsibility for transportation problems related to military base expansion, just as private developers pay impact fees to cover costs for improvements made to access their sites, the report says. Communities that benefit economically from the presence of military bases should also help pay for necessary transportation improvements. To determine the military's share of the costs, a transportation impact study is needed to assess traffic delays from additional personnel traveling to and from military bases.

Since the report was released, DOD has agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for traffic improvements in the Washington, D.C., area, one of the regions most affected by the realignment. The National Research Council study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Commutes and Pilot Performance

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After investigators learned that one of the pilots of the fatal 2009 Colgan Air crash had commuted cross-country before the flight, concerns were raised about whether pilots with long commutes are arriving to work too tired to fly safely. Congress asked the National Research Council to examine the issue.

The Effects of Commuting on Pilot Fatigue says there are not enough data to determine the degree to which commuting may be a risk or whether it should be regulated. However, based on research that shows fatigue can lower performance, the report says pilots should plan their commutes and other pre-duty activities so that they will not have been awake more than 16 hours by the time their duty is completed. They should also try to sleep at least six hours before reporting for duty and consider the amount of time they've spent asleep and awake when deciding whether to fly. For their part, airlines should consider policies to help pilots plan commutes that do not affect their performance.

Since the report was released, the Federal Aviation Administration has established new rules that limit the length of an airline pilot's workday and require pilots to get at least 10 hours of rest between shifts. The National Research Council study was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.