As science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are a part of everything we do, making a STEM-literate society critically important. Last week, the STEM Education Coalition, in conjunction with nearly a dozen other organizations and associations, held a briefing, “STEM 101: Major Policy Issues for the 115th Congress.” Chairman Lamar Smith (TX-21) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology were the congressional hosts.
Briefing panelists discussed the current climate of STEM education for K-12 students. While the focus at this education level has increased in recent years, many students still do not have access to sufficient STEM education or resources. Dr. David Evans (Executive Director, National Science Teachers Association) moderated the briefing, which addressed a number of issues, including appropriations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (PL 114-95), the need for greater and equitable access to engineering and computer science prior to college, and the important role of afterschool programs in childhood education.
Several panelists addressed improvements that could be made within school curricula to advance STEM learning. Dr. Norman Fortenberry (Executive Director, American Society for Engineering Education) described engineering as the silent “E” in STEM since it is not a major focus in K-12 education, although it provides context for teaching math and science. Ms. Allyson Knox (Director of Education and Workforce Policy, Microsoft) highlighted the disconnect between workforce needs and how children are educated. She encouraged expandingaccess to computer science to keep up with workforce demand. Currently, there are still 15 states that do not count computer science courses toward high school graduation credits, which does not incentivize students to choose those courses.
Others spoke of hurdles and opportunities STEM education faces. Mr. Domenic Giandomenico (Director of Government Relations, Project Lead the Way) shared the challenges, especially in lower income areas, of both limited access to teachers educated in engineering and computer science and fewer funds for resources for the classroom. Project Lead the Way works to address these gaps by providing hands-on and project-based learning experiences to schools. Mr. Erik Peterson (Director of Government Affairs, Afterschool Alliance) stressed STEM learning should continue to grow outside the formal classroom environment, advocating that these learning experiences be included in more afterschool programs.
Despite challenges to implementing STEM education, its importance is broadly recognized. Mr. James Brown (Executive Director, STEM Education Coalition) stated that while most parents think focusing on STEM education in schools should be a top priority, less than half think it currently is. Throughout the discussion, a theme of strong bipartisan support for STEM education in the 115th Congress emerged – it remains to be seen if Members of Congress will provide policy directives and funding to advance good STEM education policy.