Understanding the Need for STEM Education in the United States
Five Reasons That STEM Education Matters to the U.S.
Five years ago, the White House launched the “Educate to Innovate” initiative which is designed to improve the global competitiveness of American children in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. One of the goals of this initiative is to develop 100,000 additional STEM educators by the end of the decade.
The reasons for improvements in STEM education are complex and multi-faceted, but can be encapsulated in the following points:
1. Reputation as an Innovation Leader
From the 1800s to the late 1990s, the United States had an undisputable reputation for ingenuity and invention. That status has faded over time as globalization has made innovation a worldwide pursuit. While we still have science and technology trailblazers among us, the pace of research and discovery pales in comparison to the constant outflow of innovation that was the hallmark of 20th century America as a world leader. Reviving our society’s passion for the sciences and other STEM disciplines is the key to regaining our footing.
2. Success in the Global Marketplace
Additional statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that the United States ranks 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among other developed countries. Strategic plans are in place to improve our standing into the upper ranks, with funding for key programs that will serve to sustain student involvement in the STEM fields, in grades pre-K-12. Recent figures show that 28 percent of freshmen go into high school with an interest in STEM. However, by their senior year, 57 percent of these students will have moved on to other fields.
3. Diversity as a Competitive Advantage
Hand-in hand with increasing our competitiveness as a nation, comes a chance to increase diversity in the STEM fields. The traditional STEM workforce of white males is reaching retirement age, creating a widening skills gap. Promoting STEM education among women, people with disabilities, and other underrepresented minority populations will be integral to capitalizing on the opportunities of tomorrow – whether students choose to enter the workforce, join the military, or attend college.
4. Elevation of the Teaching Profession
In addition to training 100,000 qualified STEM educators, the U.S. Department of Education has invested $20 million in creating the National STEM Master Teacher Corps. This program vets existing STEM educators against the highest standards of performance in the classroom. Educators chosen to become Master Teachers are incentivized to serve as mentors and role models within their local communities, share their best practices with other teachers on a state and national level, and grow their own capacity as STEM leaders.
5. Improved Economic Growth & Prosperity
Data from the Brookings Institution indicates that approximately 20 percent of all jobs in 2011 required significant knowledge in at least one of the STEM fields. These opportunities will continue to grow into the future with STEM jobs outpacing all other areas of employment. Over half of all STEM jobs are currently in healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. Many of these jobs do not require a college degree for an entry-level position, and can be considered a pathway toward good earnings and continued career development. All of which benefits our consumer economy in measureable ways.