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Emily LakdawallaMay 23, 2013

Statement from the AAS on Proposed Elimination of NASA Science Education & Public Outreach Programs

Many people have contacted me about the part of the Administration's proposed 2014 budget that would eliminate NASA's education and public outreach programs as part of a plan to consolidate several dozen such programs under a single federal office outside of NASA. We have certainly been talking about it a lot at The Planetary Society but there is so little information in the budget proposal about what exactly would be happening to existing education programs, which ones were being eliminated and which ones not, which ones would be moved and to where and under whom and so on, that it's been impossible, for me at least, to figure out what to say. Except this: while the goal of increasing efficiency is a good one, the total chaos that's been caused by the sudden announcment of elimination with no details about what that means does not appear, to me, to be a good start down the road to increasing government efficiency.

Please know that The Planetary Society is talking about the education and public outreach problem, and welcomes information from anyone who actually knows specific details about what changes are being made. If specific, awesome education and public outreach programs have been told they are being shut down, we want to know. Tell Casey Dreier.

I'm glad to see that the American Astronomical Society shares our confusion about NASA's plans regarding their highly successful and visible education and public outreach programs, and that they have issued a strongly worded statement to that effect. Here is the entirety of the AAAS statement as posted on their website.

AAS Issues Statement on Proposed Elimination of NASA Science Education & Public Outreach Programs

23 May 2013

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has issued a statement addressing the potential elimination of the education and public outreach (EPO) activities in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, as called for in President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget proposal. The AAS enthusiastically supports the Administration’s goals to increase the impact of federal education investments and to increase the numbers of teachers and graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM. But, according to the AAS, the proposed cuts “would dismantle some of the nation’s most inspiring and successful STEM education assets.”

The Administration’s FY 2014 budget proposal consolidates many federal education programs within the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. "These agencies are perfectly capable of managing current programs that suit their expertise," says AAS Education Officer Edward E. Prather (Center for Astronomy Education/University of Arizona), “but they are unprepared and ill-equipped to take on the job of duplicating the many existing NASA science EPO efforts that already address the Administration’s goals through evidence-based, innovative, and cost-effective education models.”

"In classrooms and public spaces all over the country I see NASA images and logos highlighting our achievements in space science and planetary exploration," says AAS President David J. Helfand. “No other federal agency has been as successful at inspiring and mentoring our nation’s youth through its science education and outreach efforts. To keep the U.S. competitive in the 21st century, we should be asking NASA to do more, not less.”

The full text of the AAS statement, approved by the CAPP and the AAS Executive Committee on 21 May 2013, follows:

American Astronomical Society Statement on the President’s FY 2014 Budget Proposal to Eliminate the Education & Public Outreach Programs in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is encouraged by the goal in the President’s 2014 budget proposal to increase the impact of the federal education investment. The AAS has contributed significantly to advancing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) literacy in all four areas called out in the proposal — K-12 instruction, undergraduate education, graduate education and career mentoring, and education activities that take place outside the classroom — as well as to programs aligned with the President’s desire to increase opportunities for, and participation by, individuals from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields. Furthermore, we agree that our nation’s students must improve their STEM knowledge and critical-thinking abilities if they are to become the innovators our country needs to ensure the future competitiveness of the United States. We also strongly support the President’s ambitious goals of generating 100,000 new and effective STEM teachers and 1,000,000 more STEM graduates in order to achieve the outcomes called for in the 2014 budget proposal.

While it is certainly appropriate and reasonable to assess critically how taxpayer investments are being used to create federal education programs in order to decrease duplication and increase programmatic effectiveness, it is not at all clear that the proposed reorganization of federal education efforts would produce more efficient and productive education programs than those that currently exist through the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) programs of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD). The proposed budget reorganization would dismantle some of the nation’s most inspiring and successful STEM education assets. Over the past 15 years NASA SMD EPO efforts have developed a network of national partnership among mission scientists, formal and informal STEM education professionals, faculty from university STEM departments and colleges of education, K-12 educators, and school-district policy makers. Many of the resulting educational programs have matured into national models that have produced tremendous broader impacts, serving as an incredible source of inspiration for our society and providing a robust pathway into STEM careers over the widest possible range of STEM disciplines. 

NASA SMD EPO programs provide some of the nation’s best examples of how federal funding is used effectively to achieve the broad impacts and evidence-based strategic outcomes that are the goal of the 2014 budget reorganization. Many of the most successful NASA SMD EPO programs are funded through a rigorous peer review process that requires the clear identification of both a target audience and strategic impacts, accompanied by an evidence-based evaluation plan. This process results in EPO programs that are uniquely capable of translating cutting-edge science, technology, and engineering into one of the nation’s most powerful vehicles for educating learners at all levels (K-PhD) and increasing participation and opportunities in STEM fields for individuals from historically underrepresented groups.

The AAS strongly recommends that those NASA SMD EPO programs that have demonstrated success with implementing evidence-based educational methods and have robust assessment outcomes that document significant achievement of the STEM objectives of the 2014 budget proposal be exempted from the proposed consolidation and streamlining efforts.

Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116

Joel Parriott
AAS Director of Public Policy
+1 202-328-2010 x120

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,000 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. Among its activities, the AAS publishes three of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: The Astrophysical Journal, The Astronomical Journal, and Astronomy Education Review.

Read more: Space Policy, FY2014 NASA Budget

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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