Belle Boggs, he author of ‘The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine and Motherhood, in an article published in December 2013 , in Orion, draws on some remarkable scenes from Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 work of science journalism, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. After pursuing the Lacks family for a year, Skloot finally gets an opportunity to meet the Lawrence Lacks , the eldest son of Henrietta. He barely remembers her at all and hardly understands what her cells really did, lacking even the basic scientific information that would allow them to understand Henrietta’s legacy or make informed decisions about their own health. One can speculate that Lawrence’s poor education can be attributed to a variety of reasons. The economic and emotional pressure on his family based in a low income neighbourhood in a poor city, after the death of Henrietta could have affected his educational attainment which along with his partial deafness, untreated until adulthood, made it hard for Lawrence and his siblings to follow class instructions. But the fact remains that the public school system in America still struggles to make science education accessible and relevant in our daily lives. Our poorest citizens lack an understanding of the basic scientific principles which denies them a voice in the most important and political issues of our times, from Climate change, genetic engineering, gun safety, end of antibiotics to nuclear safeguards.
STEM curriculum centres on education in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In 2001 American biologist Judith Ramaley, then assistant director of education and human resources at NSF, rearranged the words to form the STEM acronym. The organization previously used the acronym SMET when referring to the career fields in those disciplines or a curriculum that integrated knowledge and skills from those fields. Bybee prefers a broader category and succinctly puts forward the primary goals of STEM education. The broader category, which applies to everyone, is STEM literacy, which refers to an individual’s
- knowledge, attitudes, and skills to identify questions and problems in life situations,
- explain the natural and designed world, and draw evidence-based conclusions about STEM-related issues;
- understanding of the characteristic features of STEM disciplines as forms of human knowledge, inquiry, and design;
- awareness of how STEM disciplines shape our material, intellectual, and cultural environments;
- and willingness to engage in STEM-related issues and with the ideas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as a constructive, concerned, and reflective citizen.
STEM Education was the result of several historical events. Two such events were World War II, and the launch of the, then, Soviet Union’s Sputnik. The technologies invented and implemented during WWII are almost immeasurable. From the Atomic Bomb (and other types of weaponry) to synthetic rubber to numerous types of land and water transportation vehicles it was clear that American innovation was flourishing. In 1957, the Soviet Union attempted and was successful in launching Sputnik 1. This was a technological milestone that triggered the “Space Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union. This event propelled the United States to look at initiating and furthering technological advances in terms of space travel and exploration. In 1958, Congress passed the “Space Act” that formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA has been responsible for many STEM Education initiatives. During summer 2010, more than 150 events, led by NASA and 130 participating partners from across the Nation, engaged over 150,000 students in NASA experiences. Of these, nearly 22,000 students received at least 40 hours of STEM engagement and instruction (NASA 2012, p.12). In the 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama told Congress and the country, “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.” It was his call for the United States to ramp up technological innovation to stay competitive with other nations, spur economic growth, preserve national security, and propel ingenuity. With millions in funding for teacher training, grants, research, and measurability, STEM became a household name in education practice.
In 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in his presidential address. He states ‘Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them.” (Johnson, 1964) In accordance with this vision ,the initiative centred around four pieces of legislation. One of them, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed into law in 1965, established the Title I program subsidizing school districts with a large share of impoverished students, among other provisions. ESEA has since been reauthorized, most recently in the No Child Left Behind Act.
In April 1983, President Ronald Reagan presented the United States with a 36-page report written by a special commission he had put together to examine the state of public schools in America. The report, titled A Nation at Risk, offered a grim picture of American education.. Test scores were rapidly declining, low salaries and poor teacher training programs were leading to a high turnover rate among educators, and other industrialized countries were threatening America’s technological superiority. Among other things it exposed the alarming deficiencies in STEM education. Standards-based education reform in the United States began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2001 and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, is the name for the most recent update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It significantly highlighted an emphasis on increased funding for poor school districts, higher achievement for poor and minority students, English language learners and Students in special education and accountability of schools in their students’ progress — and in the process expanded the role of standardized testing in American public education, requiring that students in grades 3 through 8 be tested every year in reading and math.
NCTM’s publication of the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989) stands as the landmark event that sparked the nation’s current era of standards-based educational reform thereby, initiating a new period of reform in school mathematics, described as the ‘math wars,’ The Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to ensure all students who graduate high school are prepared for college, career, and life. The Next Generation Science Standards is a multi-state effort in the United States to create new education standards that are ‘rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education.'
Effect of standards on students with special needs
As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and NGSS are implemented in states across the country, questions like: What impact will these standards have on students with dyslexia or other disabilities if he or she cannot read or write at the expected level? have been raised and concerns have been expressed by parents and teachers alike. These common standards seeks to improve access to academic content standards for students with disabilities.
The Application to Students with Disabilities document outlines three key points regarding the support and instruction necessary for students with disabilities to meet the high standards of CCSS:
- Supports and related services designed to meet the unique needs of these students and to facilitate access to the general education curriculum (IDEA 34 CFRß300.34)
- Teachers and specialized instructional support personnel who are qualified to deliver high-quality, evidence- based, individualized instruction and support services
- An Individualized Education Program (IEP) that includes annual goals chosen to facilitate their attainment of grade-level academic standards
NGSS For All Students highlights the importance of providing all students with high-quality science education and portrays real teaching scenarios authored by educators and research on the NGSS Diversity and Equity Team. This Appendix, accompanied by seven case studies of diverse student groups, addresses what classroom teachers can do to ensure that the NGSS are accessible to all students thereby justifying the title : All Standards, All Students.
Special education teachers can be trained to provide guidance for making accommodations and modifications in order to help students with IEPs succeed with the NGSS. Two approaches of providing accommodations and modifications has been identified.
- Differentiated instruction: This is a model in which teachers plan flexible approaches to instruction in the following areas: content, process, product, affect, and learning environment (Institutes on Academic Diversity, 2009-2012).
- Universal Design for Learning : This framework with a set of principles for curriculum development that provides equal access to all learners in the classroom (CAST, Inc., 2012). The framework supplies a set of guidelines for teachers to use in curriculum planning that is organized around three principles: (1) to provide multiple means of representation, (2) to present multiple means of action and expression, and (3) to encourage multiple means of engagement.
Persons with disabilities have an unemployment rate twice as high (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017) and have lower monthly median incomes than individuals without disabilities (Brault, 2012). This unemployment trend extends to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, a discrepancy that emerges from differences in the pursuit and completion of related majors during postsecondary education (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2015). The problem is manifold. Firstly, educators are frequently unprepared, or ill-equipped to recognize and address the needs of students with disabilities. As a result, course content may be inaccessible, as teachers fail to develop their pedagogy in accordance with the principles for universal design for learning (UDL). Many may not be aware of strategies or technologies to help them accommodate students, or they may lack the necessary institutional support or resources to make it accessible to the students. In addition to the issue of accommodation, there is a second matter of social inclusion. Often students with disabilities, encounter negative attitudes from teachers and peers (Johnson, 2006). By the time some of these students reach the college level, they are often discouraged from pursuing STEM degrees. The fact remains that people with disabilities remain underrepresented and they frequently experience exclusion. Consequently, there remains a pressing need for resources to ensure that STEM instruction is accessible and inclusive. Such an approach will change lives of many young individuals and will not only create a better future for our youth, but also a better education system.