Shifting Programs

The Obama administration's plan to reorganize US science education goes before a House panel.

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As a biologist and an

As a biologist and an educator, I have to agree with Representative Hultgren (R-Ill.) that “this reorganization seems rushed and poorly planned.” Plans had been in the works for the past few years to reduce the duplication of education programs across federal agencies, and the President’s plan effectively pulled the rug out from under these efforts. Why the sudden nature of this reorganization? Why move forward without a clear plan in place? Perhaps most disturbing (at least to me): why is this reorganization happening without the input and expertise of the key stakeholders most closely involved with these programs and agencies? The President’s plan effectively eviscerates federally-funded K-12 science education programs related to health and biomedicine. Case in point: as a result of the President’s announcement, the Office of Science Education at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be closing on September 30. There has been no clear guidance as to where health and biomedical education (particularly at the K-12 level) might move, or if it will be retained at all. Under the President’s plan, all science education will fall under one of three agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF), Smithsonian Institution, and Department of Education (DoE). More than 65 NIH-funded, K-12 health and biomedical science education projects currently operate in 40 states. These include “in-person” programs for more than 82,500 K-12 students and 5,750 K-12 teachers each year, and online programs that reach more than 20 million K-12 students and educators annually. NIH-funded exhibitions at some of the nation’s largest museums and science centers reach millions more students, teachers and families. While one could imagine the NIH-funded exhibitions falling under the Smithsonian Institution [if they somehow increased their institutional capacity by several orders of magnitude], what about all of the other programs? NIH is not the only agency impacted by these cuts; programs at over a hundred agencies will be eliminated. The bottom line: Teachers will have less innovative and current science content to teach in their classrooms. We always hear the President and others in government talk about the economic importance of STEM in general – and biomedical research in particular – yet these NIH programs will come to an end by autumn…. Where will our future biomedical innovators come from? And how can we ensure a scientifically literate citizenry, especially among those who do not go on to study science after high school? You can read more about the impact on NIH-funded programs here: