Editor’s Note: The following post is the final part of a series on “The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools,” in which AM Rounds asked a few of the projects’ participants to share their thoughts and impressions on the collaboration.
By Karina Meiri, PhD, Professor of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Director, Center for Translational Science Edication, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA.
We were so excited to see news about our paper in Academic Medicine; within a couple of days, school districts around the country began contacting us about using our curriculum. We were particularly delighted because the fundable score on our National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) proposal would take the project to the next level – national dissemination using our graduate student and post-doc team to mentor teachers in the best way to implement this challenging new material in their classrooms. The districts contacting us would begin this process, and maybe even start a legitimate career opportunity for PhDs who didn’t want a life at the bench but loved education. If even a few of the 100,000 new science teachers President Obama was proposing were already scientific experts trained in curriculum development, they could provide on-the-job support for teachers already in classrooms and hungry to learn about up-to-date health science.
And then the other shoe dropped. Grantees of our program, run by the Office of the NIH Director, were invited to a conference call. We were optimistic – the new K-12 science standards had effective health education up-front and center on the very first page of the rationale for why new standards were necessary in the first place. Was NIH planning to increase its commitment to health science education? Not so fast. The Deputy Director told us that NIH is pulling out of K-12 health education altogether. The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), getting a jump on the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s report and the President’s 2014 budget call to consolidate K-12 STEM education programs, is ceding NIH’s STEM programs to National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian. All funding would ‘pause’ while the logistics were worked out: This means axing all recently awarded grants and cutting off non-competitive renewals after 2013. To put this sequester windfall in perspective, these programs cost NIH about 0.001% of its budget, not much more than a single clinical trial.