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Shirley Malcom Named to Co-Chair Ambitious NSB Education Panel
Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, has been named to help lead the National Science Board’s ambitious new Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Malcom will co-chair a panel that is being asked to develop “a bold new action plan” for educating young people and preparing a new work force in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She joins Nobel laureate Leon M. Lederman, a physicist and resident scholar at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, who was named co-chair earlier this month.
Both expressed a strong desire to move beyond a mere description of the problems in STEM education to find a practical and effective course of action for meeting future challenges.
The commission has been asked to develop a set of recommendations on how to most effectively use federal resources “to encourage and sustain reform of the national pre-K-16 STEM education system to achieve world class performance by U.S. students, prepare the U.S. workforce for 21st century skill needs, and ensure national literacy in science and mathematics for all U.S. citizens.” The panel’s report is expected within a year of its first meeting, which tentatively is set for the first week of August.
“I am truly delighted that Dr. Malcom is willing—once again—to lend her enthusiasm and widely recognized expertise in STEM education to help guide the National Science Board and the National Science Foundation as Co-Chair of the new National Science Board Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” said Steven C. Beering, chairman of the National Science Board (NSB).
“Shirley Malcom brings everything to this effort—she brings experience, she brings energy, she brings imagination—she’s a dynamo,” said Lederman, who served as AAAS president in 1992 and chairman in 1993. “She’s been through many of these efforts in the past. She was a member of the National Science Board, so she has specific insights on the organization we’re deal with. She’s an educator and a scientist. She’s terrific.”
“I am proud to serve with Leon Lederman in this role,” Malcom said. “Many deeply committed people, myself included, have tried a lot of things, some of which have worked and some of which have not. But even those things that have been demonstrated to be effective have not been well documented, adapted and replicated or scaled. We have abandoned promising efforts or starved them of resources. Imagine, for example, if we took the same non-systematic approach to public health.”
Lederman concurred, noting that since the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, dozens of commissions, assessments and reports have expressed alarm about the state of science education in the United States. And yet, he said, nearly 50 years later, “there’s still no coherent national program to address the significant risk that will confront this country if we fail to educate students and prepare them for the 21st century.”
The NSB is the policymaking body of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and it has launched the new commission at a time of broad and mounting concern about the future of the United States as a world innovation leader. Recent reports from industry, science, education and other groups have detailed declining student interest and performance in STEM fields. Some have suggested that as an accomplished generation of scientists, engineers and S&T teachers advances toward retirement, the nation will find itself at a competitive disadvantage unless it makes an intensive effort to replace them with the best and brightest minds of coming generations.
Such concerns were expressed frequently during three hearings convened by the NSB over the past six months—7 December in Washington, D.C.; 10 February in Boulder, Colo.; and 9 March in Los Angeles. The new Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics emerged from those hearings.
After the hearings were complete, NSB Chairman Warren M. Washington laid out a rationale for the new commission. “Over the last two decades, numerous reports and statements from eminent bodies representing the broad range of national interests in science and technology literacy in U.S. society and skills in the U.S. workforce have sounded alarms concerning the condition of pre-K-16 education in science and technology areas,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, our Nation’s education competitiveness continues to slip further behind the rest of the world.”
The NSB announced the commission’s members on 10 May. The panel’s leadership was set this week, with NSB member and science curriculum expert Jo Anne Vasquez assuming the post of vice chair.
In all, NSB has appointed 14 commissioners, with one more vacancy still to be filled. The commissioners come from a range of fields, including education, science and industry.
In a 30 March 2006 document, Washington set the commission’s chief objective: to “make recommendations to the Nation through the Board for a bold new action plan to address the Nation’s needs, with recommendations for specific mechanisms to implement an effective, realistic, affordable, and politically acceptable long-term approach to the well-known problems and opportunities of U.S. pre-K-16 STEM education.”
Specifically, the NSB asked the Commission to evaluate four areas and what role the NSF might play in each:
How to improve STEM education at every level, in part by assessing the availability of competent teachers; the strength of curricula, materials, and facilities; admission and graduation requirements; and comparing U.S. performance and procedures with those of other countries.
How and why students go into STEM fields and how to expand the appeal of those fields to the broadest range of students. The commission is to pay “special attention to transition points during the educational career where loss of student interest is greatest.”
How to improve mathematics and science education, deriving ideas from education research undertaken in the United States and overseas.
- Principles, options and education strategies that can be used at every level to improve mathematics and science education, “as an agenda for promoting American economic strength, national security, employment opportunities, and social progress that will support U.S. pre-eminence in discovery and innovation.”
“The NSB has asked many of the right questions for the Commission to explore,” Malcom said. “But making the answers actionable means creating strong public demand for the agenda. We need to behave as though our future depended on addressing these challenges.”
As head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, Malcom oversees an array of programs that serve students and educators, from the Internet curriculum resources of Science NetLinks to the Minority Scientists Network, or MiSciNet, and from the award-winning Kinetic City after-school science game for grammar school students to the EntryPoint! internship program for students with disabilities.
Malcom has built a broad record of accomplishment and advocacy, and is regarded globally as a leader in efforts to improve science and engineering education and diversity in those fields. She has chaired a number of national committees addressing education reform and access to scientific and technical education, careers and literacy. In 2003, she received the Public Welfare Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the highest award given by the Academy.
Malcom served on the National Science Board from 1994 to 1998. From 1994-2001, she served on the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. She also serves on several boards—including the Howard Heinz Endowment and the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment—and is an honorary trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. She serves as a regent of Morgan State University and as a trustee of the California Institute of Technology. She holds more than a dozen honorary degrees.
She received her doctorate in ecology from Pennsylvania State University; her master’s degree in zoology from the University of California, Los Angeles; and a bachelor’s degree with distinction in zoology from the University of Washington.
Lederman has long been involved in AAAS initiatives. In 2000, he won the AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize in recognition of his sustained, exceptional contributions to advancing science.
Lederman and Malcom have collaborated frequently on STEM education issues in recent years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, they co-chaired International Council for Science (ICSU) Committee on Capacity Building in Science, promoting programs to connect scientists and educators in support of hands-on, inquiry-based education at the primary level on a global scale. In 2004, they helped organize a landmark AAAS/UNESCO forum in Paris in which scientists and educators called on their colleagues and political leaders worldwide to make the systemic improvements necessary to properly educate children in science and technology.
Edward W. Lempinen
2 June 2006