STEM education focuses on increasing student achievement in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Many educators and business leaders want students to excel in these subjects because these fields will power the innovative economy of the future. Traditional educational models have left American students behind, with US students consistently scoring behind students from other developed nations. To bridge this gap, many governmental and nonprofit initiatives have begun to increase the efficacy of STEM education around the country. However, a recent budget draft released by the Obama administration may put some of these programs in jeopardy by having their funding reduced or reassigned to other programs.
Other countries are not going to stagnate while the United States figures out where it stands on STEM education. In Poland, Warsaw schools recently received a $300,000 grant to expand STEM offerings in their schools. In Singapore, a country traditionally ranked at the top of worldwide math and science learning, they are experimenting with a transition to STEAM learning. STEAM learning takes STEM subjects and adds the arts into the mix to encourage creativity and problem solving. As other countries continue to prioritize education and continue to advance in science and math, the United States must continue to take strides for or continue to be left behind all other developed nations in international education test scores.
However, policymakers waiting for a groundswell of public opinion to shift policy may want to rethink their tactics. While only 22 percent of people thought that STEM fields were not useful to today's students, a 2013 Pew Research study showed that 46 percent thought the subjects were too hard and 20 percent thought they were too boring for the average American student. With a broad perception that are easier ways exist to make both a career and a life, many students are being turned away from STEM education before they even have a fair chance to become engaged by these subjects.
So, what should lawmakers do? First, current successful STEM initiatives such as the Science Education Partnership Awards should be extended so that students can continue to be exposed to high-quality STEM education during their K-12 years. Consolidating resources and defunding ineffective programs are both effective ways of getting the maximum effectiveness out of limited education dollars. However, shifting money around in the dark without public input can lead to potential waste or can bring about the cutting of programs that provide true benefits to students across the country.
Second, if the United States wants to make serious goals toward STEM growth, then it needs to keep the country's focus on innovation and education. As Dr. Matthew Lynch pointed out in a recent op-ed, people become initially upset with poor test scores as soon as they come out, but this furor dies down quickly and is replaced with a focus on how to get the most work done with the least amount of effort. When the conversation lessens, progress dies. If the US is serious about making STEM education progress, poor test scores should be a source of public concern and debate, not a "temporary success" story that ultimately leads to nothing. Policy leaders, government officials, and local educators should keep the public informed so that everyone knows what is being done to educate today's students for tomorrow's STEM-based economy.
Ask any teacher and they can tell you: education isn't easy. But by putting the education sector's focus and resources into programs that provide positive outcomes for students, the United States can start to assist our students and future workers to become more in touch with the STEM fields and how these subjects can be used in their lives and careers.