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Making Education a Priority

Is there a crisis in science education in the US? Some people think so.

The National Academies report Rising above the Gathering Storm has made a considerable impression in Washington. The report expressed "deep concern that the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength." Partly in response to this report, President Bush announced his American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) in his January State of the Union Address. The initiative's goal is to maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology so as to guarantee future economic strength and security for the nation. One resource is critical in achieving this goal—young people with an excellent education in science.

Here SLAC can help. Science education is an intrinsic and crucial element of SLAC's mission. As a school of the University, we are naturally involved in the education of undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford. However, there is also an urgent need to make major improvements to the science education of K-12 students. The DOE national labs are expected to assume a significant and expanded role in achieving this.

Congress is considering several funding bills in response to the 20 recommendations from the Gathering Storm report, one example being the PACE-Energy Act (S 2917) that would provide funds for this expanded role. "I believe that the PACE-Energy Act will help the U.S. maintain its worldwide leadership in science and technology. An important part of this effort will be utilizing some of this country's greatest assets, the national laboratories, to strengthen educational programs for primary and secondary school students through science and engineering internships," states Senator Craig of Idaho.

I have set up a SLAC Education Task Force led by Mike Woods to investigate how we can leverage SLAC's resources and the experience of our staff to help in educating young people. The task force is already up and running, with three separate working groups analyzing how SLAC can best help science teachers; what programs would be the most effective for K-12 students; and how tours, educational events and demonstrations could be enhanced.

Peter Faletra, DOE's Director for the Office of Workforce Development, which manages science education programs at 17 national labs, visited SLAC recently to discuss initiatives for improving science teaching and education, in particular for middle and high school students. Peter is enthusiastic about the Education Task Forces' mission and goals, and in particular about the proposal we are preparing to submit to DOE for a summer workshop for middle school science teachers that would begin in summer 2007.

Passing on our knowledge and enthusiasm to the next generations is an imperative. At SLAC, in the epicenter of scientific advance, we have tremendous potential for motivating and exciting the young people. Have you any ideas? If so please contact Mike Woods, who will be able to include your suggestions in his task force recommendations.

—Jonathan Dorfan
    SLAC Today March 13, 2006