Gillibrand, Tonko, Kennedy Introduce Bill to Improve Engineering Education in Schools

Press Release

By:  Kirsten Gillibrand Joe Kennedy III Paul Tonko
Date: June 18, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA) introduced legislation this week that would help boost science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) education programs in the nation's elementary, middle and high schools. The Educating Tomorrow's Engineers Act (ETEA) would help increase student achievement and interest in science and engineering disciplines by removing barriers at the federal level that prevent schools from expanding math and science to include innovative, hands-on learning through engineering design skills and disciplines.

"America is home to the world's strongest economy, the greatest colleges and universities, and the world's brightest minds," said Senator Gillibrand. "But if we are going to continue to lead, we need to prepare our children for the jobs of the future. Our bold legislation can spark greater interest in science, technology and engineering, equipping students today with the skills they need to lead in the new economy. When we teach America's third graders to build rockets and fifth graders to build robots, it will be them who makes the next big scientific breakthrough that changes the world, and ignites our economy."

"Engineering education helps all students understand the world around us and how things work," said Congressman Tonko. "Exposing more students to engineering will prove to be a tremendous asset as we work to enhance the quality of education they receive. Our future leaders will benefit greatly from this legislation and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to fight for its passage into law. I am thankful for the opportunities I had in engineering education, and I thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this issue in the Senate."

"STEM education is the critical link between a new generation and the jobs of tomorrow," said Congressman Kennedy. "From precision manufacturing to clean energy to life sciences: the industries that will power this country's future depend on a highly-skilled and innovative workforce. This legislation will help ensure that more students are exposed to the creative problem solving skills that an engineering curriculum can provide. I'm proud to join Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Tonko, who have both led the way in ensuring we prepare our students to compete and lead in a global economy."

Despite the importance of engineering, most students in the United States have never enrolled in an engineering course, and a vast majority of schools do not offer these opportunities. Fortunately, a growing number of states, schools, and teachers are recognizing the importance of engineering design and problem-solving skill sets and have begun to integrate these concepts into their classrooms. ETEA is designed to help encourage all states to follow this path and to remove barriers at the federal level so that K-12 engineering education can be adopted more broadly.

To accomplish these goals, ETEA builds upon existing federal education policy in several key areas:

Expands Student Exposure to Engineering Design Skills:

The current federal rules under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) require states to develop "science" standards, but they are often perceived as being related to simply the traditional areas of science -- as a result, engineering is rarely a component of these standards.

ETEA would require states to ensure engineering design skills and practices are integrated into their science standards -- but would not require states to establish a separate set of standards specifically for engineering. It also provides flexibility to states to enable the use of current State Assessment Grants under ESEA to support the integration of engineering concepts into science standards and assessments.

Provides Instructors Tools and Support to Effectively Teach Engineering:

Many schools already face shortages of math and science teachers, and these teachers often have little background in how to teach engineering design skills. Further, there is rarely an extensive curriculum available to help support the teaching of these skills.

ETEA addresses these issues by targeting a portion of current Title II funds under ESEA (Teacher and Principal Training and Recruitment Fund) for states to award grants to support professional development and instructional materials for STEM education.

Enables Schools to Target More Resources Toward Engineering Education:

Schools seeking to expand engineering education find that key federal education programs limit their ability to use funds for such purpose.

ETEA addresses this issue by clarifying the ability for these funds to be used to support engineering education. Specifically, ETEA amends the current Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program by expanding the program to all STEM subjects, including engineering and computer science. Similarly, the legislation amends the 21st Century Learning Centers program (providing funds for after school activities) and the Rural and Low-Income School program by expanding uses of funds to support programs for all STEM subjects.

Promotes Federal Research in the Area of Engineering Education:

The Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is tasked with funding a wide variety of education research, including extensive work in the areas of mathematics and science education. However, the agency does little work in the area of engineering education, in part due to the current law establishing IES.

ETEA amends the Education Science Reform Act of 2002 to expand the mission and duties of IES beyond mathematics and sciences and for the first time, to include all STEM subject areas. The bill also directs IES to specifically support key studies and evaluations related to K-12 engineering education, including identifying best practices and promising innovations.