Policy Alert: Sign ASTC Letter Requesting Changes in U.S. Federal STEM Education Priorities

Please help ASTC demonstrate the largest possible level of support
for these modifications to the U.S. Secretary of Education’s
Proposed Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs.

Add your institution’s name to the letter below by Thursday, November 9, so that ASTC and its
Public Policy Committee can deliver it to the U.S. Department of Education the following week.

CEOs/Executive Directors can write to ASTC to add their organizations to the list.




November 10, 2017


Ms. Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 6W231
Washington, DC 20202

Docket ID ED-2017-OS-0078


Dear Ms. Bell-Ellwanger:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, which collectively provide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in and out of our nation’s schools, we are pleased to provide the following comments to the some of the Secretary’s Proposed Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs (as published in the October 12 Federal Register)—those that are within our area of expertise. While not endorsing everything within the proposals, given our focus we are particularly pleased that the proposed priorities related to STEM would significantly expand upon those currently in place and elevate the importance that STEM educational opportunities play in preparing the 21st century STEM workforce and tomorrow’s innovators.

The need for a greater focus on these areas is well founded, and was highlighted as part of the September 25th Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Education, which noted:

“Today, too many of our Nation’s K-12 and post-secondary students lack access to high-quality STEM education, and thus are at risk of being shut out from some of the most attractive job options in the growing United States economy.”

We strongly agree with this statement and believe that expanding opportunities for more grantees – including science centers – to carry out far more STEM related activities is critical if we are to address this current shortage. For this reason, we encourage the adoption of the following modifications in order to further strengthen these priorities:

Suggested modifications within Proposed Priority 6— Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education, With a Particular Focus on Computer Science.

1. Recommendation—Clarify and highlight the role of innovative STEM education providers, such as science centers, in the list of STEM/CS activities.

Today, science centers across the country are playing an increasingly important role in providing both students and teachers STEM learning opportunities. Each year, more than 69 million visitors, including 13 million children, pass through science center doors to engage in challenging scientific explorations and engineering design challenges. Nearly all science centers provide direct services to schools including professional development for tens of thousands of teachers and several create standards-based science and engineering curricula.

Proposed changes:

“(a) Increasing the number of educators adequately prepared to deliver rigorous instruction in STEM fields, including computer science (as defined in this notice), through recruitment, evidence-based (as defined in 34 CFR 77.1) professional development for current STEM educators, or evidence-based retraining for current educators seeking to transition from other subjects to STEM fields, as provided by innovative and alternative providers such as science centers.

“(f) Creating or expanding partnerships between schools, LEAs and/or SEAs, local businesses, not-for-profit organizations, science centers, or institutes of higher education to give students access to internships, apprenticeships, or other work-based learning experiences in STEM fields, including computer science (as defined in this notice).”

“(j) Working with schools, municipal libraries, science centers, or other partners to provide new and accessible methods of accessing digital learning resources, such as by digitizing books or expanding access to such resources for a greater number of students.”

2. Recommendation—Highlight the additional and equally as critical building blocks of STEM education.

More and more states are adding engineering design skills and practices to their science standards and assessments. The engineering design process is a systematic way to solve problems that includes making tradeoffs or optimization, learning from failure, and persistence. Computation thinking allows for students to solve complex problems even without access to a computer.

Proposed Change:

“(b) Supporting student mastery of key prerequisites (e.g. Algebra I) to ensure success in all STEM fields, but particularly computer science coursework (notwithstanding the definition in this notice), and exposing students to building block skills (such as critical thinking and problem solving, gained through hands-on, inquiry-based learning, grade-appropriate engineering design challenges and computational thinking, as well as the proficient use of computer applications necessary to transition from a user of technologies, particularly computer technologies, to a developer of them.”

3. Recommendation—Include language that continues to prioritize the need to expand access to and participation in all STEM subjects across all grades.

Current language under paragraph (d) highlights the critical need to expand access and participation in rigorous computer science to underrepresented students. We agree with this need and believe that it should extend beyond to all STEM content and across all grades.

Proposed Change:

“(d) Expanding access to and participation in rigorous STEM and computer science (as defined in this notice) coursework across all grades, for traditionally underrepresented students such as racial or ethnic minorities, women, or students in communities served by rural local educational agencies (as defined in this notice).

4. Recommendation—Strengthen provisions related to hands-on learning by providing more clarity on the various ways in which hands-on learning opportunities are provided.

We are pleased to see that paragraph (e) highlights the importance of hands-on learning opportunities and the critically important lessons students take away when they have the opportunity to “learn by doing”. It is important to note that access to educational materials to conduct scientific, engineering, and computational thinking instruction are also essential to providing high-quality, hands-on learning opportunities to students.

Proposed Change:

“(e) Increasing access to STEM coursework and materials, including computer science (as defined in this notice), and hands-on learning opportunities, such as through and expanded course offerings, such as dual-enrollment, or other innovative delivery mechanisms including high-quality online coursework.”

Suggested modifications within Proposed Priority 8—Promoting Effective Instruction in Classrooms and Schools.

5. Recommendation—Highlight the role of innovative providers, such as science centers, in providing high-quality professional development for STEM teachers.

Access to high-quality professional development is absolutely essential to providing STEM teachers with the background and skills needed to prepare students for success in STEM fields. Nearly all science centers throughout the United States provide direct services to schools including professional development for tens of thousands of teachers. Several create standards-based science and engineering curricula which support the needs of teachers as professionals and adult learners.

Proposed Change:

“(f) Increasing the opportunities for high-quality preparation of, or professional development for, teachers or other educators of science, technology, engineering, and math subjects, including through innovative providers such as science centers.


Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) and the following ASTC members:


Bootheel Youth Museum, Malden, Missouri

Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York

Connecticut Science Center, Hartford, Connecticut

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis

The Discovery Museums, Acton, Massachusetts

Exploratorium, San Francisco, California

Gateway to Science Center, Inc., Bismarck, North Dakota

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, New York City, New York

Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, New Jersey

Maryland Science Center, Baltimore, Maryland

Museum of Discovery & Science, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Museum of Science, Boston, Massachusetts

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois

New York Hall of Science, Queens, New York

Paper Discovery Center, Appleton, Wisconsin

Pensacola MESS Hall, Pensacola, Florida

River Discovery Center, Paducah, Kentucky

Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota

Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia

Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, Reno, Nevada

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