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STEM Education in the United States

By Nancy L. Hendrickson and Stefan Marinak

Once upon a time, the United States was known for powerful innovations and cutting-edge technologies. Unfortunately, that reality is beginning to fade. Our education system is no longer able to meet the demands of our constantly evolving society. For too long, the United States has trailed the rest of the world in science, math and reading skills. Unemployment in the United States has rapidly increased over the past several years due to a low-wage global workforce that directly competes for the same jobs. Companies throughout the globe are increasingly challenged to find highly skilled employees. The US must be able to compete in a global economy to sustain its leadership in innovation and prosperity or we will lose it for good.

Then along came S.T.E.M! STEM education efforts are helping to reverse this trend by educating students, young and old, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education is finally starting to improve the U.S. workforce into highly skilled and trained personnel. ANCORP fully supports these efforts in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at how STEM is improving the quality of the U.S. workforce.

S.T.E.M. is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This term was first implemented in 2001 by scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). STEM is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons. Students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise. This enables the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy. (Hallinen, J., 2017)

STEM education was developed out of deep concern for the large portion of underperforming students in the United States who are ill-prepared for the rapidly evolving job market. Several studies were conducted showing that American students tested much lower than other countries in scientific competency and knowledge. In 2017, Pew Research reported that U.S. students are still lagging behind other developed countries.

For example, in 2005 the National Academy of Sciences published a report called “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future”. This report showed a link between “prosperity, knowledge-intensive jobs dependent on science and technology, and continued innovation to address societal problems.” It also predicted “dire consequences if the country could not compete in the global economy due to a poorly prepared workforce.” (Hallinen, J., 2017)

Progress is being made through STEM Education

For now, America still stands tall as the great incubator of innovation and technology for several reasons. First and most important is our First Amendment rights of Free Speech and Free Thought. Innovation is developed in a free-flow of thoughts and ideas among a diverse group of individuals who push the boundaries and challenge the norms. Some countries do not allow this free-thought process to develop. In stifling this free-flow of ideas, they also squash innovation.

Secondly, American’s have a culture of persistence and risk-taking. They see failure as part of the learning process. Thomas Edison once said to his critics, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”  (Shapiro, 2016)

Many of the best and brightest immigrate to the U.S. in search of a better life. As a result, America has a great diversity of brilliant minds from all over the globe which brings many perspectives into play. American laws and taxes also favor those with an entrepreneurial spirit. (Shapiro, 2016)

STEM Education in the USA

In response to the “America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010”, President Obama called together a group of 13 agencies to form the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) to design and develop a system for providing STEM education to children regardless of financial or social status. His goal was to move American students “from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.” This 5-Year Strategic Plan for implementing STEM education throughout the public school system was created in May of 2013. (USDE)

Since then, many STEM programs have sprung up throughout America helping to increase education levels of students. In December 2018, President Trump signed a 5-Year Strategic Plan called “North Star” that “charts a course for the Nation’s success in STEM education.” The administration’s goal is threefold: for every American to master basic STEM concepts, like computational thinking, in order to respond to technological change; to increase access to STEM among historically underserved students; and to encourage students to pursue STEM careers. (Camera, 2018)

Local and independently owned programs such as the SAM Academy and Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) also play huge roles and have been vital to this education growth by exposing more students from low-income communities to STEM.

The SAM Academy, located in Fresno, California, helps students by showing them practical applications of STEM concepts with their “lab on wheels”. The lab on wheels is a bus that visits schools and libraries in areas largely made of migrant workers and their families. The bus features internet, computers, as well as science, art, and music equipment that makes learning a fun and interactive experience for students and helps build interest in basic STEM topics. (STEM Education, 2017)

P-TECH is a program created by IBM that pairs high school students from various backgrounds that are interested in technology with mentors from IBM or other companies in the area. The program is now in over 100 schools across eight states. A huge benefit for students who graduate from P-TECH is that they will obtain enough credits to qualify for an associate degree at no cost, and will have real-world work experience in the STEM field. Programs like these are a great way of incentivizing young people into considering the area of STEM. (Stem Education, 2017)

Companies like LEGO® even have their own programs to get early learning, primary, and secondary school students interested in STEM. LEGO® Education is a division of LEGO® solely focused on educating and creating solutions to inspire interest in STEM. They offer educational sets, lesson plans, curriculum material and other resources that teachers and schools can use to make learning more interactive. They also offer LEGO® sets, such as the LEGO® Education SPIKE™ Prime, on their website that also serve as learning tools for STEM concepts.

Unfortunately, even with the number of programs around the country and acts signed by Presidents, the United States has fallen behind internationally in the STEM categories. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the United States is ranked 29th in math and 22nd in science among industrialized nations. It also reports that only 29 percent of Americans rated the K-12 education in STEM subjects as above average or the best in the world.

While progress is being made, the United States still has work to do to catch up to other countries in STEM education. Continuing to foster independent programs like the SAM Academy, P-TECH, and LEGO® Education as well as governmental actions like CoSTEM and North Star will help close this gap over time.

STEM Career Outlook

Occupations in the field of STEM have a very positive outlook moving into the future. STEM positions in management, computers, architecture, engineering, education, sales, physical sciences, life sciences, and social sciences are all available and growing in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected in 2012 that STEM employment was set to grow faster than the average for all other occupations. STEM employment was expected to grow about 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, compared to the 11 percent for all occupations over the same time period. Because of this fast growth, educational programs like the ones discussed before are vital to get the next generation interested in STEM so that those increased number of jobs will have educated and talented people to fill them. (STEM 101, 2014)

The wages for STEM occupations are also a huge benefit compared to many other career fields. Positions in STEM averaged an annual wage of almost $76,000, which is more than double the $35,080 median wage for all positions in May 2013. This is another indicator of how high the demand for workers in STEM is, especially considering how much and how fast jobs are being created. (STEM 101, 2014)

 

Sources

Camera, L. (2018, December 3). White House Outlines Five-Year STEM Push. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2018-12-03/white-house-outlines-five-year-stem-push

Hallinen, J. (2017, April 12). STEM. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/STEM-education

Shapiro, G. (2016, January 8). 5 Reasons the U.S. Is Great for Innovation. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/articles/2016-01-08/5-reasons-the-us-is-great-for-innovation

STEM 101: Intro to tomorrow’s jobs. (2014). Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2014/spring/art01.pdf

STEM EDUCATION IN THE U.S.: Where We Are and What We Can Do | 2017. (2017). Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/STEM/2017/STEM-Education-in-the-US-2017.pdf

U.S.D.E. (n.d.). Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.ed.gov/Stem

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