July 13, 2021

NASEM report – Call to Action for Science Education: Building Opportunity for the Future

Posted by Laura Guertin

Book cover for Call to Action for Science Education

Scientific thinking and understanding are essential for all people navigating the world, not just for scientists and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals. — Call to Action for Science Education: Building Opportunity for the Future (NASEM report)

The National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine has recently released a new report titled Call to Action for Science Education: Building Opportunity for the Future. Although the NASEM has produced several reports over the years on science education, this report sets a bold vision for the future of high quality science education looking across all of grades K-16 and puts equity and opportunity at the center. This report also explores the role of science education for participation in democracy and daily life, with less emphasis on the workforce. I attended the webinar on July 13, 2021, which was the official launch of the report.

Science education is not the national priority it needs to be. — NASEM report

Although President Biden is the first president to elevate the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to a cabinet-level position (Subbaraman, 2021, for Nature), there still exists a great need for leadership and action at all levels so that all students can attain personal and professional success through better and more equitable science education. The webinar presented reasons why we need a better, more equitable science educational approach. These reasons include but are not limited to the following:

    • Science is an essential tool for solving the greatest problems and understanding the world around us;
    • Science is essential to a fully functioning democracy;
    • Systemic inequities make it harder for some students to have the opportunity to continue in science;
    • Elementary students spend, on average, less than 20 minutes a day on science (compared to 60 minutes a day on math and 90 minutes a day on English/language arts);
    • Students in high poverty elementary and middle schools are less likely to do hands-on work due to lackof access to materials/resources;
    • Eight out of nine science teachers in high school are White;
    • The “weed-out” culture for introductory science courses in college still exists;
    • Lecture is still the prominent mode of instruction in STEM courses;
    • Students spend 87% of their time listening to instructors.

Along with identifying areas of inequity and access, there are recommendations in the report for how to move forward (from this NASEM report resource page).

ACTION AREA 1: Elevate the Status of Science Education

Recommendation 1: The White House, with leadership from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP),should act to raise the profile of science education and elevate the importance of access to high quality science learning opportunities for all students across K-16. Specifically, OSTP should encourage national stakeholders, including federal agencies, along with those in the education, business, non-profit, scientific, and philanthropic sectors, to focus resources and leverage their assets to increase the quality of and accessibility to K-16 science education.

Recommendation 2: Congress should include science as an indicator of academic achievement when it next reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Accountability for science should focus on students gaining conceptual understanding of science and should not be based on single tests. It should involve a system of assessments and indicators that together provide results that complement each other and provide information about the progress of schools, districts and states.

Recommendation 3: State Departments of Education should act now to include science in their accountability systems for K-12 education. A state accountability system for science needs to include assessments that support classroom instruction, assessments that monitor science learning more broadly (at the school, district and state levels), and indicators that track the availability of high-quality science learning opportunities.

Recommendation 4: National stakeholders in STEM education should undertake coordinated advocacy to improve science education K-16 with particular attention to addressing disparities in opportunity. These stakeholders (including professional organizations, advocacy groups, scientists, and business and industry) will need to balance advocacy for STEM broadly with attention to the importance of high-quality learning experiences in science as well as in each of the other STEM disciplines.


ACTION AREA 2: Establish Local and Regional Alliances for STEM Opportunity

Recommendation 5: Leaders of local and regional K-12 systems and post-secondary institutions should work together to form Alliances for STEM Opportunity that involve key stakeholders in STEM education, such as informal education organizations, nonprofits, afterschool and summer programs, business and industry, and the philanthropic sector. Each alliance should develop an evidence-based vision and plan for improving STEM education that includes specific attention to high-quality science learning opportunities and addresses disparities in opportunity. Plans should include, at minimum, strategies for:

  • providing access to high-quality science learning experiences across K-16 and addressing existing disparities in access;
  • providing high-quality instructional materials and other resources to support these experiences;
  • building a high-quality, diverse workforce for teaching science to include provisions for professional development and ongoing support;
  • creating pathways for learners in science across grades 6 through 16 with supports for learners who want to pursue STEM careers.

Recommendation 6: The federal government, philanthropic organizations, and business and industry should provide funding to support the work of local and regional Alliances for STEM Opportunity as they work to improve science education. Funding should be targeted first to communities where a significant number of students live in poverty. Funds should support coordination and management of the alliances, programmatic efforts, and research and evaluation.

ACTION AREA 3: Document Progress Toward Better, More Equitable Science Education

Recommendation 7: States should develop and implement data driven state-level plans for providing equitable K-16 STEM education with specific attention to science. These plans should include “STEM Opportunity Maps” that document and track where opportunities are available, where there are disparities in opportunity, and how much progress is being made toward eliminating disparities and achieving the goals of the state STEM education plan. The STEM Opportunity Maps should incorporate documentation from local and regional Alliances for STEM Opportunity.

Recommendation 8: The federal government should develop an annual “STEM Opportunity in the States” report card that documents the status of K-16 STEM education across each of the states and territories and tracks equity of opportunity for students in science and the other STEM disciplines.


At the conclusion of the webinar, the presenters asked the audience to start thinking not if our students are ready for school, but if our schools are ready for 21st century learners. There is concern that there will be pushback to some of the content of the report (“tremendous source of concern” voiced in the webinar), especially in the current way science is taught.

All of us in the audience were tasked to take this report and use it to advocate at the state and federal levels to make a diffference in our communities, and make change for our students by removing the inequities in science education and ensuring full participation in democracy to make decisions relating to science. This is our call to action – a call we should all engage with if we want to make the changes in STEM we want to see.