No technology can replace high-quality teachers. But what happens when high-quality STEM teachers become hard to find, and what happens when STEM teacher applicant pools dry up? And how can the U.S. extend critical STEM learning opportunities to its youngest students?

Students today need more STEM learning opportunities inside classrooms and outside of school. Those opportunities can occur across content areas. But there are barriers to this learning, including teacher recruitment and training, the way STEM learning is structured in some schools, and existing policies.

A Top Education Priority

One of President Obama’s top education priorities involved building a pipeline of 100,000 highly-qualified and highly-trained STEM educators to imbue STEM learning with rigor and engagement. This led to the 100Kin10 movement, which aims to do just that by 2021. The movement’s efforts aim to tackle some of these lingering questions and challenges around high-quality STEM teachers.

“We’ve known about the need for STEM teachers for a long time, and we need to make sure our country is STEM-prepared,” said Grace Doramus, head of strategic initiatives and chief of staff for 100Kin10, during a webinar to address the STEM teacher conundrum. “We need to think about how we support teachers who are currently in the classroom and how we get them the PD and supports they need to continue teaching and continue improving their skills as they stay in the classroom.”

New research sheds light on these issues. Both STEM Starts Early: Grounding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in Early Childhood, published by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America with support from the National Science Foundation, and Can UTeach? Assessing the Relative Effectiveness of STEM Teachers, published by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), a program of the American Institutes for Research (AIR), explore these challenges.

(Next page: What the research says reducing the STEM teaching and learning shortage for young students)