The decline of U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and the resulting shortage of workers with those skills has become a “silent national crises,” and without significant new focus and investment, the nation risks slipping further behind, says a leading public-private partnership group.
In a report released Tuesday, the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation recommended federal, state and local leaders in education as well as industry, non-profit organizations, and U.S. post-secondary institutions galvanize support and launch a “national challenge” to attract students and job seekers to STEM professions. The report is one of series of calls to action aimed at senior government leaders, issued by the American Council of Technology and the Industry Advisory Council.
The report sites inadequate preparation in math and science in the nation’s K-12 school system as a main determinant for students entering STEM fields. The report notes that a third of U.S. 8th grade students are taught science and math by teachers without degrees in those fields and that the U.S. 15-year-olds now ranks 17th in science and 25th in math proficiency internationally.
Additionally, while current STEM initiatives exist, of the $3.4 billion spent on STEM education, only $967 million (28%) is spent on activities that target specific workforce needs of the agencies.
The report outlines three key recommendations in reversing this trend:
1. Increase leadership and focus on STEM education. The first goal is to focus federal leadership by establishing a national challenge for STEM through increased public awareness campaigns, coordination efforts, and a more urgent expression of the STEM problem. This eliminates today’s lack of coordination, information sharing and shared vision that leads to inefficient solutions, inconsistent application, and poor measurement methods.
2. Establish a permanent “Committee on STEM Education” and elevate its role in the federal government’s leadership. The committee should involve an effort to establish a clear, consistent and repeatable methodology to set and measure the outcomes of Federal STEM initiatives.
3. Complete deployment of broadband digital infrastructure to provide tools and training to improve digital literacy. While broadband availability has grown rapidly, to combat the 14 million people nationwide that currently do not have broadband infrastructure access — and approximately 100 million people do not use it home, due to cost — preventing students from perusing STEM career or education options. Broadband infrastructure underpins virtually every aspect of our 21st century education system, the report said.
The report was prepared by a group of more than 100 volunteers from government and industry to address some of the nation’s most pressing challenges, as part the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation’s Quadrennial Government Technology Review. (Breaking Gov is a sponsoring member of the Institute for Innovation.)