EDUCATION AND SOCIAL ISSUES

America’s Skilled Technical Workforce

©iStock/gorodenkoffSkilled technical jobs — those that require a high level of technical knowledge, but not a bachelor’s degree for entry — can be found in a variety of occupational groups, from health care to construction to manufacturing. Examples of skilled technical jobs include medical laboratory technicians, installation and repair technicians, and computer support specialists.

Although rigorous evidence is scarce on how well labor markets for skilled technical jobs are faring in aggregate at the national level, the U.S. is experiencing imbalances in worker supply and demand in certain occupations, industry sectors, and locations, says . Gaps are particularly evident in health care and manufacturing — industries that increasingly require workers with proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Citing evidence that the United States is not adequately developing and sustaining a workforce with the skills needed to compete in the 21st century, the report calls on policymakers, employers, and educational institutions to take steps to strengthen the country’s skilled technical workforce.

Currently, students face major hurdles in starting and completing education and training for skilled technical jobs. These hurdles include the rising cost of tuition, inadequate preparation in elementary and secondary education, lack of career guidance and information on the returns to investing in technical skills, and a lack of support services to address challenges faced by many students who juggle work, family, and school obligations. State and federal policymakers should support and enhance strategies that help students successfully complete their skilled technical training. And community colleges and other educational organizations should be given incentives to create more flexible and integrated programs and to offer supportive services.

The report also calls on the secretaries of education and labor to offer incentives to stakeholders to reward program completion by students and workers — for example, by implementing funding formulas tied to metrics focused on higher rates of enrollment and completion for programs in demand among local employers. Congress should then require the secretaries of education and labor to prepare annual progress reports on implementing and allocating resources to reforms. Congress should also provide resources to support states in investigating the return on investment in education and training as part of their efforts to develop their local skilled technical workforce.

In addition, federal agencies should study conditions under which apprenticeship programs can be applied effectively and more broadly. Actions are also needed to support lifelong learning for workers. For example, the Department of Education should consider ways to reform financial aid — currently limited to undergraduate students in for-credit programs — so that it includes students taking continuing education classes in certificate programs.

The Academies’ study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor, grants from the Spencer Foundation, and additional support from the National Academy of Sciences W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fund.

Responding to the Demand for Computer Science Education

©iStock/vitrancU.S. colleges and universities are seeing a dramatic surge in the number of students enrolling in computer science majors and courses. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded nationally in computer and information science has increased by 74 percent at not-for-profit institutions since 2009, compared to a 16 percent increase in bachelor’s degrees produced overall. And the number of students attaining computer science bachelor’s degrees is expected to rise sharply for at least the next several years.

Multiple factors are driving this growth, including the job market, where jobs in computer occupations have increased even faster than the number of computer science graduates being produced. Expertise in cybersecurity, data science, and machine learning are in particularly high demand. In addition, computer skills are now valued across a range of academic disciplines and occupations, spurring interest in courses even among those who do not wish to major in the field.

Colleges and universities should respond with urgency to the surge in student demand for degrees and courses, says . The report examines the benefits and drawbacks of a range of strategies that institutions could pursue — such as adding faculty and resources, imposing targeted controls on enrollment, or using innovative technologies to deliver instruction to large numbers of students, among many other options.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, all institutions of higher education need to make strategic plans to realistically and effectively address growing student demand. As part of this planning, college and university leaders should work with their computer science departments to develop appropriate targets for faculty size and new strategies for hiring and retaining faculty, given that the majority of new computer science Ph.D.s tend to take jobs in industry.

Institutions should monitor the effects of their actions on the diversity of their student body in computer science — currently one of the least diverse disciplines — and take deliberate steps to increase it. Institutions should align their actions and the culture of their programs with best practices for supporting diversity and retention, and should leverage the growing interest as an opportunity to recruit and retain more women and underrepresented minorities into the field.

The National Science Foundation can be helpful in advancing undergraduate computer science education in the current context of increasing enrollments, for both majors and non-majors, the report adds. The agency should consider bringing computer science faculty and institutional leaders together to identify best practices and innovation in computer science education. The agency could also support research on how best to use technology in teaching large classes, and on best practices for supporting diversity. In addition, NSF should consider creating an initiative to expand instructional resources for undergraduate computer science education.

The Academies’ study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Educational Success for Children Learning English

©iStock/monkeybusinessimagesEducating English learners (ELs) effectively is a national challenge with consequences both for individuals and for American society, says . Despite their potential, many English learners — who account for more than 9 percent of K-12 enrollment in the U.S. — do not receive adequate instruction and social support to acquire English proficiency with access to academic subjects at the appropriate grade level, jeopardizing their prospects in postsecondary education and the workforce as well as their health and well-being. The report examines what research reveals about learning English from birth to age 21 and covers early education as an important starting point for educational outcomes.

While standards for assessing students exist to guide instruction, a gap exists between these standards and how assessments of English learners at the individual student and system levels are actually conducted and the results implemented. Federal and state agencies and organizations that fund and regulate programs and services for English learners should examine the adequacy and appropriateness of school and district practices for these students and give all providers of these services and local education agencies information about the range of valid assessment methods and tools along with guidelines for their use, says the report. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education should provide more detailed guidelines to state and local education agencies on the implementation of requirements regarding family participation and language accommodations in the development of education plans for these students. To understand the influences on ELs’ success from early education programs into the K-12 system, further research is needed on topics such as policy, demographics, language development and proficiency, effective programs and practices, students with disabilities, development of valid assessments, and preparation and continuing development of educators.

This report was cited by the “California English Learner Roadmap State Board of Education Policy: Educational Programs and Services for English Learners,” which was passed by the California State Board of Education on July 12, 2017.

The Academies’ study was funded by the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the Foundation for Child Development, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation.

The Impacts of Proactive Policing

©iStock/AlexSava“Proactive policing” refers to strategies that police organizations implement with the intent to prevent and reduce crime. They differ from traditional reactive approaches in policing, which focus primarily on responding to crime once it has occurred. The shift toward proactive policing began in the 1980s and 1990s, and today these strategies are used widely in the United States.

The National Academies were asked to assess the application and results of proactive policing strategies. finds evidence that a number of proactive policing practices are successful in reducing crime and disorder, at least in the short term, and that most of these strategies do not harm communities’ attitudes toward police. However, the effects of proactive policing on other important outcomes — such as racial bias in policing behavior, and the legality of policing behavior — are unknown because of gaps in research.

Examples of strategies that show effectiveness in reducing crime include “hot spots” policing, which focuses resources on locations where crime is concentrated, and problem-oriented policing, which seeks to identify and respond to the underlying causes of crime problems. Broken-windows policing and stop-question-frisk also show evidence of effectiveness when used in a tightly focused way, rather than broadly applied. However, little is known about proactive strategies’ long-term impacts on crime.

In comparison with the amount of research on the impact of proactive policing strategies on crime, there is little field research exploring the potential role that racially biased behavior plays in proactive policing, the report says. When police target high-risk places or people, as is common in proactive policing programs, there are likely to be large racial disparities in the volume and nature of police-citizen encounters. Existing evidence does not establish conclusively whether and to what extent such disparities are indicators of statistical prediction, racial animus, implicit bias, or other causes. These research gaps leave police departments and communities who are concerned about racial bias without an evidence base from which to make informed decisions. Research on these topics is urgently needed, the report says.

The Academies’ study was funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Protecting the Integrity of Scientific Research

©iStock/xubingruoThe scientific research enterprise has faced new challenges to its integrity in recent years. The number of retractions of published papers in scholarly journals has increased, with a significant percentage of those retractions due to research misconduct. And a growing body of evidence indicates that a substantial percentage of published research results in some fields are not reproducible. While a certain level of irreproducibility is a normal part of research, data falsification and detrimental research practices also appear to play a role.

examines these and other threats to the integrity of scientific research, and recommends that all parts of the research enterprise — researchers, institutions, publishers, funders, scientific societies, and federal agencies — improve their practices and policies to respond to these concerns.

The report stresses the important role played by institutions and research environments in supporting scientific integrity. Institutions should maintain the highest standards for research conduct, going beyond simple compliance with federal regulations and applying these standards to all research independent of the source of funding.

Research institutions and federal agencies should also ensure that good faith whistleblowers — those who raise concerns about the integrity of research — are protected and that their concerns are addressed in a fair, thorough, and timely manner. Inadequate responses to such concerns have been a critical point of failure in many cases of misconduct where investigations were delayed or sidetracked, the report notes.

Stronger standards for transparency are also needed in order to support reproducibility and the ability to build on previous work, the report says. Federal funding agencies and other research sponsors should allocate sufficient funds to enable the long-term storage, archiving, and access of datasets and code necessary to replicate published findings.

To bring a unified focus to addressing these challenges across all disciplines and sectors, the report urges the establishment of a nonprofit, independent Research Integrity Advisory Board. The board could facilitate the exchange of information on approaches to creating environments of the highest integrity and to handling allegations of misconduct and investigations. It could also provide advice and support on what needs to be done by research institutions, journal and book publishers, and other stakeholders in the research enterprise. The board would have no direct role in investigations, regulation, or accreditation, but would instead serve as a neutral resource that helps the research enterprise foster scientific integrity.

In addition, the report recommends that government agencies and private foundations fund research to quantify conditions in the research environment that may be linked to misconduct and detrimental research practices, and to develop responses to these conditions.

The Academies’ study was funded by the U.S. Geological Survey of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Office of Research Integrity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation, the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Society for Neuroscience, the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Guidance for Editing the Human Genome

©iStock/kirstypargeterPowerful genome editing tools such as CRISPR/Cas9 have led to an explosion of research opportunities and potential clinical applications that could address a range of human health issues. But along with the excitement these technologies have generated are various scientific, social, and ethical concerns, including whether editing should be used for “enhancement” that modifies physical traits or capacities beyond what is considered typical of adequate health. In addition, heritable genome editing — adding, removing, replacing, or making targeted alterations to DNA in gametes or early embryos — has long been contentious because the resulting genetic changes could be inherited by future generations.

Heritable genome editing is not ready to be tried in humans, and much more research is needed before it could meet the appropriate risk and benefit standards for clinical trials, says , a report from the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine. However, the technology is advancing rapidly, making heritable genome editing of early embryos, eggs, sperm, or precursor cells a “realistic possibility that deserves serious consideration,” the report says. Heritable genome editing could provide some parents who are carriers of devastating genetic diseases with an avenue for having genetically related children who are born free of these diseases.

Currently, heritable genome editing is not permitted in the United States due to an ongoing prohibition against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration using federal funds to review “research in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.” A number of other countries also have signed an international convention that prohibits heritable genome modification. If current restrictions are removed, and for countries where heritable genome editing could already be permitted, the report identifies a number of stringent criteria that should be met before going forward with clinical trials.

Human genome editing is already widely used in basic research and has begun to enter trials for clinical applications that involve non-heritable cells. These therapies would affect only the patient, not any potential offspring. The development of such therapies should continue following the existing ethical norms and regulatory framework for such work, and should be used only for treatment and prevention of disease or disability, says the report, which recommends a set of overarching principles that should be used by any nation to govern human genome editing.

The study was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Greenwall Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Wellcome Trust, with additional support from the National Academies’ Presidents’ Circle Fund and the National Academy of Sciences W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fund.

The Value of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences

As part of its portfolio, the National Science Foundation funds basic research in the social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences. Do these investments help NSF achieve its mission and support the missions of other federal agencies? And do they advance the work of American industry and businesses? A National Academies study committee was tasked with answering these questions.

The committee’s report, , concludes that the SBE sciences do make significant contributions to the National Science Foundation’s ©iStock/gilaxiamission to advance health, prosperity and welfare, national defense, and progress in science. The understanding, tools, and methods provided by the SBE sciences — including research supported by NSF — also provide an essential foundation that helps other agencies achieve their missions.

For example, NSF-supported research has provided valuable information about the behavioral patterns of hackers and the vulnerabilities of the nation’s cyber networks. NSF-funded SBE research has also served as the foundation for the development of tools and applications that contribute to military capability in current conflicts and the prevention of future conflicts, as well as to efforts to combat terrorism, which are central to the missions of the U.S. Department of Defense, intelligence agencies, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The SBE sciences have provided advances applicable to business and industry and enhanced the U.S. economy as well. Social science methods such as polling and forecasting, for instance, are routinely used to inform consequential business decisions related to marketing, customer relations, and product development. In addition, the original version of the Google search engine resulted from a formula developed with NSF funding in the late 1990s.

The report recommends steps that could better enable SBE research to meet national priorities. NSF should undertake a strategic planning process to articulate the most important scientific questions in SBE disciplines and to prepare the next generation of scientists to be more data-intensive, interdisciplinary, and team-oriented. NSF should also undertake more systematic efforts to communicate the results and value of the SBE research it supports.

The Academies’ study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Improving Public Safety During Severe Weather and Disasters

Our ability to observe and predict severe weather events and other disasters has improved markedly over recent decades. However, this progress does not always translate into similar advances in the systems used in such circumstances to protect lives. A more cohesive alert and warning system that integrates public and private methods of communication and adopts new technologies quickly is needed to deliver critical information during emergencies. At the same time, better understanding of social and behavioral factors would improve how we communicate about hazards, inform response decisions such as evacuations, develop more resilient urban infrastructure, and improve our weather readiness. Two reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine propose steps to accomplish this to increase public safety and resilience in the face of extreme weather and other disasters.

FEMA graphic of wireless emergency alertAs technology advances, government systems such as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) will need to evolve, and both technological research and social and behavioral sciences research should inform their transformation, says . The information ecosystem has broadened from broadcast media and wireless alerts to include a wider variety of delivery mechanisms including first-person reports on social media platforms. Private companies like Google and Facebook are also collecting information from emergency management agencies to issue notifications. Government systems need to fit into this larger structure of communication, the report says.

The report calls for an integrated alerts system that continually takes advantage of new technologies and knowledge emerging from events and research. Emergency managers should increase the use of WEA and incorporate current knowledge of how the public responds to emergency notifications to craft more effective alert messages in the near future.

The second report, , emphasizes the need for government agencies, industry, and academic institutions, all part of the weather enterprise, to integrate social and behavioral sciences into their work. While efforts to improve physical weather prediction should continue, the report says, realizing the greatest return on investment from such efforts requires understanding how people’s contexts, experiences, knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes shape their responses to weather risks.

The report suggests strategies to better engage researchers and practitioners from multiple social science fields to advance those fields, to more effectively apply relevant research findings, and to foster more cooperation on this endeavor among public, private, and academic sectors. The report includes a special focus on social science research related to road safety, given that road weather hazards are by far the largest cause of weather-related deaths and injuries in the United States.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will need to play a central role in driving this research forward in order to achieve the agency’s goals of improving the nation’s weather readiness, the report says. It details several possible channels for the agency to advance its capacity to support social and behavioral science research, including innovative public-private partnerships for interdisciplinary weather research and creating social science-focused research programs within NOAA’s Cooperative Institutes. Other federal agencies that are needed as key partners in this work are the National Science Foundation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA.

Emergency Alert and Warning Systems: Current Knowledge and Future Research Directions was funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, First Responders Group (DHS S&T FRG). Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences Within the Weather Enterprise was funded by NOAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation.