The National Science and Technology Council's Committee on STEM Education Releases 5-Year Strategic Plan

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Publication date: 
21 June 2013

The President’s FY 2014 budget request includes a 6.7 percent increase for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education while reducing the number of federal STEM education programs from 226 to 110.  The FY 2014 proposal eliminates 78 federal STEM education programs and consolidates 38 programs.  Fourteen federal agencies have STEM education programs and the President’s proposal consolidates those education programs into three agencies, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. 

These changes are outlined in a 5-year Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, released May 31, that is aimed at defining the Administration’s path forward for the restructuring of federal STEM education programs.  The Strategic Plan was a requirement set by the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010 and was prepared by the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the National Science and Technology Council.  Included in the Plan is a FY 2011 inventory of STEM education programs. 

There has been a long-standing concern regarding the number of STEM programs and the ability of the federal government to measure their effectiveness.  While this Strategic Plan addresses coordination of overarching Administration priorities in STEM education, it does not provide specific details about the process for selecting programs for elimination and consolidation.  Whether resources from the science mission agencies will be transferred to other agencies was not addressed. 

The Plan provides an overview for the revised roles of the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation and defines the role of the Smithsonian Institution in federal STEM education.  In addition, the Strategic Plan defines the Administration’s priority STEM education investment areas and approach for the coordination of federal STEM programs as follows: 

“The Department of Education will play an increased role in improving P-12 STEM instruction by supporting partnerships among school districts and universities, science agencies, businesses, and other community partners to transform teaching and learning. It will invest an additional $80 million in support of the 100,000 new STEM-ed teachers goal and $35 million for the launch of a pilot STEM-ed Master Teacher Corps, as well as in creation of new STEM Innovation Networks to better connect school districts with local, regional, and national STEM resources. The Department will also collaborate with all of the CoSTEM agencies to ensure that Federal scientific assets are utilized in the improvement of P-12 STEM education.

“The National Science Foundation will increase its focus on improving the delivery of undergraduate STEM teaching and learning through evidence-based reforms, including a new $123 million program aimed at improving retention of undergraduates in STEM fields. NSF will also receive $325 million to expand and enhance its graduate fellowship programs, including creation of a new National Graduate Research Fellowship, using a common infrastructure at NSF to reach more students and offer a set of opportunities that address national needs and mission-critical workforce needs for the CoSTEM agencies.

“The Smithsonian Institution will receive $25 million to focus on improving the reach of informal STEM education by ensuring that materials are aligned to what students are learning in the classroom. The Smithsonian will work with NSF, ED, the other CoSTEM agencies including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other science partners to harness their unique expertise and resources to disseminate relevant, evidence-based materials and curricula, on-line resources, and delivery and dissemination mechanisms to reach more teachers and students both inside and outside the classroom.“

While the Strategic Plan explicitly states that all of the CoSTEM agencies “will continue to be key players in the re-organized effort,” details about the role of these federal STEM agencies were not specified.  The document instead describes the current state of Federal STEM education efforts and presents five priority areas for STEM education investment.  The plan also outlines strategies to improve the coordination of the STEM programs at the mission agencies through cross-agency collaborations. 

The five priority investment areas for STEM education include:

  • Improve STEM Instruction: Prepare 100,000 excellent new K-12 STEM teachers by 2020, and support the existing STEM teacher workforce;
  • Increase and Sustain Youth and Public Engagement in STEM: Support a 50 percent increase in the number of U.S. youth who have an authentic STEM experience each year prior to completing high school;
  • Enhance STEM Experience of Undergraduate Students: Graduate one million additional students with degrees in STEM fields over the next 10 years;
  • Better Serve Groups Historically Under-represented in STEM Fields: Increase the number of students from groups that have been underrepresented in STEM fields that graduate with STEM degrees in the next 10 years and improve women’s participation in areas of STEM where they are significantly underrepresented; and,
  • Design Graduate Education for Tomorrow’s STEM Workforce: Provide graduate-trained STEM professionals with basic and applied research expertise, options to acquire specialized skills in areas of national importance, mission-critical workforce needs for the CoSTEM agencies, and ancillary skills needed for success in a broad range of careers.

The coordination approach defined in the Plan includes designating lead and collaborating agencies in certain priority STEM education investment areas and the plan encourages the expansion of existing collaborations.  The two primary coordination approaches include building new models for leveraging assets and expertise and building and using evidence-based approaches in conducting STEM education research.  The evaluation of program effectiveness methods will be used across agencies and shared with the general public “to improve the impact of the Federal STEM education investment.” 

The Implementation Roadmap, as outlined in the Strategic Plan, is includes objectives for the Department of Education to “identify, develop, test, and support effective teacher preparation efforts that encourage teachers’ use of evidence based practices that provide students with rich STEM learning opportunities; and increase the number and quality of authentic STEM experiences for pre- and in-service P-12 teachers participating in federally supported internship, fellowship, and scholarship programs.”

Strategies to increase and sustain youth and public engagement include “Federal engagement investments that support the integration of STEM into existing school readiness and after-school programs with significant local, regional, or national reach; and Federal engagement in authentic STEM experiences related to improved student learning or interest outcomes.” 

The Strategic Plan includes STEM education goals previously introduced by the Administration.  Graduating one million additional students in STEM fields over the next 10 years was addressed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in a February 2012 report.  Among the strategic objectives for achieving this is the goal to “improve support of STEM education at 2-year colleges and create bridges between 2- and 4- year postsecondary institutions.”  Incentivizing “the development of university-industry partnerships, and partnerships with federally supported entities, to provide relevant and authentic STEM learning and research experiences for undergraduate students, particularly in their first two years; and addressing the problem of excessively high failure rates in introductory mathematics courses at the undergraduate level,” are also included among the objectives.   

Another goal of the Administration is to “increase the number of underrepresented minorities that graduate college with STEM degrees in the next 10 years and improve women’s participation in areas of STEM where they are significantly underrepresented.”  The plan recommends focusing “investments on developing and testing strategies for improving STEM preparation for higher education for students from groups underrepresented in STEM;” and being “more responsive to the rapidly changing demographics and issues for particular groups and particular STEM fields through investments in broadening the participation of groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM.” 

The Plan suggests redesigning graduate STEM education to include providing “graduate-level trained STEM professionals with basic and applied research expertise, options to acquire specialized skills in areas of national importance and mission agency’s needs, and ancillary skills needed for success in a broad range of careers.”

Implementation constraints were acknowledged and include budget fluctuations and planning and also the lack in ability to alter legislative authorizing language to promote minority participation.  Lastly, “infrastructure and expertise for STEM education investments varies widely across departments and agencies.”