In the 1950’s, the federal government begin to largely subsidize the public education through the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). This was stimulated by the competition for global hegemony between America and Russia. According to the research of Jennifer Jolly, the NDEA was a response to launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik and the belief that Russia may have had a superior school system in regards to training scientists. The NDEA was to pump addition money into the school system to be used for loans, scholarships, and graduate fellowships. Jolly also explains that, “Title III of NDEA provided states matching funds to strengthen mathematics, science, and foreign language instruction, which included better equipment and materials, along with professional development for teachers.” Read Jolly’s article on the NDEA called The National Defense Education Act, Current STEM Initiative, and the Gifted.
Of course the NDEA wasn’t the beginning of federal support to education; however, it is the root of the focus on the STEM programs today. Before the NDEA, the federal government focused its support on agriculture through the Morrill Act of 1862. of 1862.
Federal Funding of Today
Note that the intention of the NDEA of 1958 was to expand and establish STEM programs to compete with other nations, Russia in particular.
Today there is a similar trend of federal priority in regards to education. In addition, the amount of federal spending on STEM programs have dramatically increased. According to Jolly’s research the NDEA spent $1 billion over the initial 4 years. According to the FEDERAL SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATHEMATICS (STEM) EDUCATION PORTFOLIO, federal investments in STEM programs was $3.44 billion in 2011. (Page 11, A Report Federal Inventory of STEM Education Fast-Track Action Committee, Committee on STEM Education National Science and Technology Council)
The purpose of this article is not to analyze all of the data in the report. The report does indicate three fiscal years of federal spending on STEM programs which includes billions of dollars each year.
The Results of Increased Spending
Certainly one could expect the academic levels in the areas of interest to increase as funding increases. In order to understand where America ranks against its global competitors, see the results of the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009. PISA assesses students in approximately 55-70 countries in three year intervals.
Also read PISA 2006: Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World. This report explains how PISA evaluates science, math, and reading.
The following is an excerpt from them previously mentioned:
The number of students at Level 6 cannot be reliably predicted from a country’s overall performance. Korea was among the highest-performing countries on the PISA science test, in terms of students’ performance, with an average of 522 score points, while the United States performed below the OECD average, with a score of 489. Nevertheless, the United States and Korea had similar percentages of students at Level 6.
The excerpt points out that the United States has a low average in science despite having some high ranking students. A 500 average is good according to PISA
It takes additional research to know that the academic levels of America as a whole has declined since the federal government has increased its support. I cannot explain all of my finding in this article.
Note the following points:
• Federal spending on STEM programming largely began in 1958
• From 1958 to the present, this spending has increased
• Academic levels have not increased in relation to the available funds
• Based on the PISA, America is below standard academical
Money Isn’t the Answer
After decades of increased spending into education and support programs, it should be noted that more money will not bandage the public education system. This means alternative solutions must be made. The Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) highlights and promotes innovative techniques and methods of educating young people. IDEA leads what they call Innovation Tours which are tours in schools that use innovative methods. I had an opportunity to participate in their New York Innovation Tour in 2011. The experience was nothing short of enlightening. As a young educator, I had no idea that such great work was taking place across the country. The work I saw stimulated me to create new innovative ideas of my own. As I understand it, this was the object of the tours, to promote and exchange ideas of innovative methods of teaching.
Rather than throw more money at an ongoing problem, federal money would serve a better purpose promoting the ideas that are working already and fostering an exchange of ideas.
by Bryant Muldrew