How the U.S. Is Encouraging STEM Education

It’s been a decade since President Barack Obama launched his 2009 “Educate to Innovate” Campaign and in December 2018, President Donald Trump released his own plans for continuing STEM education. While the approach of political parties towards STEM education may differ, there is a resounding agreement that STEM education is important for today’s students.

According to founder and executive director Andrew Raupp, “there are obviously a lot of criticisms, but what I will say is there’s been a lot of coordination across the aisle. It’s one of the few politically neutral topics. […] When it comes to STEM, there seems to be a consensus that its important. So, we are seeing funding towards STEM, some from the private sector, so we’re seeing over $250 million in funding. So, it’s really a public-private collaboration.”

President Obama launched his “Educate to Innovate” campaign in November 2009 with three main goals: increasing STEM literacy, improving the quality of math and science education, and expanding access to STEM education and careers for underrepresented groups. At the time, the U.S. scored 14th in math and 12th in science according the OECD’s PISA report. The Obama administration sought to get American students from the “middle of the pack” to the top by motivating them to excel in STEM courses.

At the Third Annual White House Science Fair in April 2013, President Obama said, “One of the things that I’ve been focused on as President is how we create an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, technology, engineering, and math… We need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve.”

“Educate to Innovate” didn’t just focus on how the government could help students excel. The Obama White House Archive reports, “This campaign includes the efforts not only of the Federal Government, but also of leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies who have come forward to answer the President’s call for all-hands-on deck.” There was a call-to-arms, so to speak, for private companies to take part in the growing STEM education market. During its term, the campaign collected over $700 million in public-private partnerships and over 100 CEOs were recruited to take part. The campaign also emphasized the importance of teacher training, with a goal of preparing 100,000 new STEM teachers over the following decade.

In September 2010, the campaign was augmented by the launch of Change the Equation, a non-profit with the goal of “mobilizing the business community to improve the quality if STEM education in the United States” through the creation of privately-funded school programs, according to the archive. “Change the Equation was founded by astronaut Sally Ride, former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, and Eastman Kodak CEO Antonio Perez, with support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York,” the archive goes on to say.

Even after the Obama administration came to an end and the Trump administration began, STEM education remained a large bipartisan issue across the nation. In September 2017, the White House reported that President Trump had “signed a Presidential Memorandum expanding access to high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Computer Science education to K-12 students.” The Presidential Memorandum called for $200 million per year in grants for STEM education in schools, with an emphasis on STEM’s importance in finding stable work in the future. President Trump was quoted saying, “we will help give our children a pathway to success in the workforce of tomorrow.”

The Trump administration did not release a STEM education plan until over a year later. In December 2018, the Trump White House released a report titled “Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education”, which outlined the administration’s five-year plan for STEM education in the U.S. U.S. News reported, “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.”

        According to Education Dive, “The strategy relies on four pathways: developing strategic partnerships between educational institutions, employers and the community; engaging students in trans-disciplinary activities to promote innovation; building computational literacy, and operating with transparency and accountability.” This involves the expansion of STEM internships and apprenticeships amongst students, recruitment and support of STEM educators, sharing STEM curriculum materials, and distance-learning support for rural students.

The report says, “all Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation and employment.” Much like the previous administration, there still seems to be concern about where Americans rank in comparison to the rest of the world on STEM education. There is also a continued focus on beginning STEM education at an early age. According to the report “[b]asic STEM concepts are best learned at an early age—in elementary and secondary school—because they are the essential prerequisites to career technical training, to advanced college-level and graduate study, and to increasing one’s technical skills in the workplace. Increasing the overall digital literacy of Americans and enhancing the STEM workforce will necessarily involve the entire U.S. STEM enterprise.”

        However, STEM education in the U.S. is not limited to the government. As mentioned above, both administrations have called for public-private collaboration. One such collaboration is the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM). CoSTEM is an Obama-era committee comprised of 13 agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education. The committee is focused on investing federal funds in K-12 STEM education, increasing youth engagement in STEM, improving the STEM experience for undergraduates, demographics in STEM fields, and improving graduate education for the STEM workforce.

        There are also many independent organizations that work towards education in STEM, both of the regional and national variety., for instance, is an organization focused on global STEM education. Andrew Raupp, the founder of the website, says of the organization, “We’ve really transitioned over the years. What’s really important to us […] is the democratization of STEM education. Making it affordable to everyone, making it accessible to everyone.” How do they intend to achieve this goal? He went on to say, “What we will continue to do is digitize our technology and continue to look for foundations to support,” and “[l]ooking back and understanding the history of STEM is how we’re able to look ahead.”         Since the American education system varied from state to state, there are also regional organizations working with communities. Christopher Kennedy of STEM Teachers NYC puts it as, “There’s 50 states and 50 different plans.” His organization focuses on teacher training and the STEM teacher shortage in New York City. Another program he highlights is “CS for All”, which focuses on bringing computer science into the classroom.