We applaud the U.S Department of Education report last week that presented an “aspirational” vision for STEM teaching and learning by the year 2026. To be sure, the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — have been hot-button issues over the last few years, both inside and outside the Beltway. But why in the world is this blueprint for change slated for the year 2026?
The Business Roundtable and Change the Equation estimate that major American companies — already begging for skilled STEM workers— will need nearly 1.6 million STEM--literate employees for the workforce in the next five years. And these are not just STEM-centered jobs; the Center on Education and the Workforce points out “the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are associated with a STEM education are now in demand not only in traditional STEM occupations, but in nearly all job sectors and types of positions.”
The American economy simply cannot wait until the year 2026 to realize this vision for STEM education. The rest of the world will have long moved ahead.
We need to take action now to ensure high-quality STEM learning experiences for all students and their communities. Congress must provide adequate funding for the innovation and technologies needed to implement STEM initiatives. The STEM Education Coalition and the National Science Teachers Association, and hundreds of other groups, want to see the highest possible funding for the STEM-related programs outlined in the recently passed education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title II and Title IV of the act are slated to improve teaching and provide support to students. Title II support can promote innovative and improved STEM teaching and learning that includes integrated changes in curriculum, technology, teacher professional development, assessment and strong school leadership.
We are especially encouraged with the House of Representatives’s funding for ESSA Title IV Part A that would grant funds to high-need districts so they can provide students with a well-rounded education, improving both instruction and student engagement in STEM. Districts can also elect to use the funds to help increase access to STEM for underserved and at-risk student populations; support students participation in STEM nonprofit competitions; integrate other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs; create STEM specialty schools; bridge afterschool and informal STEM programs; and expand environmental education in their schools.
Equally important, Congress and the administration must work with the business, professional, research and education communities toward a common vision of STEM education that will meet current and future workforce needs.
The process of learning and practicing the STEM disciplines is critical to more than our workforce and economic future. STEM ignites discovery and questioning skills in students and instills a lifelong love of learning. It is critical that we have a STEM literate citizenry that appreciates science and can understand and apply science and STEM reasoning skills to the issues and challenges we face each and every day, such as the startling advances in genetic engineering, the shifting concepts of privacy in an internet-connected world and the challenges of living with a changing global climate.
2026 is just too late!
Brown is executive director of the STEM Education Coalition. Evans is executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.