The ideal future of U.S. STEM education would emphasize problem-solving, interdisciplinary approaches and the value of discovery and play, according to a new 10-year vision from the American Institutes for Research for the U.S. Department of Education’s STEM Initiatives Team.
The report, STEM 2026, pulls from the work of experts in science, technology, engineering and math, and the authors point out that current conditions do not ensure equal access to STEM teaching and learning.
“Presently, policies and practices that ensure equitable access to the best STEM teaching and learning are not widespread,” according to the report. “The nation’s persistent inequities in access, participation, and success in STEM subjects that exist along racial, socioeconomic, gender, and geographic lines, as well as among students with disabilities, are therefore concerning and problematic. STEM education disparities threaten the nation’s ability to close education and poverty gaps, meet the demands of a technology-driven economy, ensure national security, and maintain preeminence in scientific research and technological innovation.”
Recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, show that 43 percent of white students and 61 percent of Asian students score at the proficient level in eighth-grade math, compared to 19 percent of Hispanic students and 13 percent of black students. Eighth-grade students with disabilities and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch scored nearly 30 points below their peers in science and mathematics; English learners scored nearly 40 and 50 points below their peers in these two subjects.
STEM 2026 suggests ways to reverse such trends, providing examples of promising programs from around the country.
Courtney Tanenbaum, the report’s lead author, is a principal researcher at AIR and director of its STEM practice area. The report results from workshops convened by the U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with AIR. These workshops featured an exchange of ideas and knowledge among an array of thought leaders, including learning sciences researchers; experts in assessment and measurement; teachers from preschool, elementary-secondary, and higher education; education technology developers; leaders of informal and after-school STEM programs; and leaders of nonprofit organizations.