Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education: A Nation Advancing?

Today the National Research Council (NRC) released a report, "Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education." The report builds on previous work in this area, and establishes key indicators for measuring improvements to the K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education system.

The report recognizes the important foundation laid in elementary school and sets out three goals for U.S. K-12 STEM education:

  • Expand the number of students who ultimately pursue advanced degrees and careers in STEM fields, and broaden the participation of women and minorities,
  • Expand the STEM-capable workforce and broaden the participation of women and minorities, and
  • Increase science literacy for all students

The report emphasizes that making informed decisions about improvements to education in STEM requires research and data about the content and quality of the curriculum, teachers' content knowledge, and the use of instructional practices that have been shown to improve outcomes. However, large-scale data are not available in a readily accessible form, largely because state and federal data systems provide information about schools (personnel, organization and enrollment) rather than schooling (key elements of the learning process).

A major emphasis of this report is to determine what relevant data already exist and identify additional research and data needs. For example, tallying minutes per week spent on science in elementary schools would provide an important picture about the extent to which students are being engaged in science content and practices prior to their arrival at middle school. In addition, gathering data about schools that call themselves "STEM Schools" would give educators and parents more information about student learning and progress in those environments.

The authors point out that the Common Core State Standards in mathematics have been adopted by 45 states and three U.S. Territories. At the same point in time, A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which the NRC published earlier this year, lays the foundation for new science standards that emphasize conceptual understanding of key ideas in each discipline, greater coherence across grade levels and the practices of science and mathematics. Along with educational reforms around the country, these changes have the potential, per the report, to engage students in ways that better prepare them for postsecondary study and STEM careers, and eventually, to address current and future societal challenges and participate in an increasingly global and technologically driven society.