Occupations in STEM fields are the second fastest growing in the nation, just behind health care, according to a Georgetown University study. A report to President Barack Obama from his science advisers back in 2010 urged the federal government to improve science and math education in U.S. schools by both leading the way and rooting from the sidelines (Mervis, 2010). Speaking on behalf of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), co-chair Eric Lander said that the country needs many more specialized schools that focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Lander called for a program that would give special recognition to master STEM teachers – “not the rare award, but maybe 5% of the teacher corps” – so that they could help improve the performance of their colleagues. In addition, he said that the effective use of technology means a lot more than giving schools computers. The fact that the federal government provides only about 8% of total funding for elementary and secondary education, however, means that it must work closely with states to achieve these and other goals, Lander added.
Despite spending nearly $3 billion annually on STEM education, America ranks 25th in math and 17th in science when compared to other countries on international assessments. Out-smarting our global competitors in the near future will prove difficult. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, just 16 percent of high school seniors are “proficient” in mathematics and say that they are interested in STEM careers. Of those who do choose to major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in college, less than half go on to work in those fields. The most current international assessment test administered by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and development, American 15 year olds were ranked 17th in the world in science and 25th in math (Beach, 2013).
A 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office found that 83 percent of federally funded STEM education efforts had duplicative elements. Today, 13 federal agencies run 226 different STEM programs, most of them not being accountable for results. President George W. Bush started work through the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America Competes Act, which targeted funding to critical areas like increasing the number of college graduates with STEM expertise (Shea, 2013). President Obama has continued to build off what Bush started. Obama’s latest budget proposal takes the key step of proposing to consolidate more than 100 STEM programs into larger initiatives that are geared toward specific, critical goals. Stem programs will operate in a framework that emphasizes evaluation—so that government can build on what works and change or stop what doesn’t (Gordon, 2013).
The STEM gap is costing us Americans jobs and money. U.S. students fall behind 31 countries in math proficiency, according to a 2011 Harvard study that concluded the U.S. could increase GDP growth per capita by enhancing its students’ math skills. Over an 80-year period, economic gains from increasing the percentage of math proficient students to Canadian or Korean levels would increase the annual U.S. growth rate by 0.9 percentage points and 1.3 percentage points, respectively. That increase could yield $75 trillion.
Mervis, Jeffery. "Greater Emphasis on STEM Education." Obama Advisers Call for Greater Emphasis on STEM Education | Science/AAAS | News. Science Insider, 02 Sept. 2010. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.
Gordon, Robert Shea; Robert. "No Time to Waste in Making STEM Education Work."US News. U.S.News & World Report, 28 June 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.
Beach, Gary J. "Collectively, Not a Bargain for America." US News. U.S.News & World Report, 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.
Cardona, Maria. "Why The National STEM Education Fund Is So Important." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 May 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.