Lewis-Burke Associates LLC
The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) recently released the federal government’s five-year strategic plan for STEM education. The report, Charting A Course For Success: America’s Strategy For STEM Education, represents a plan for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs, investments, and activities that are implemented by federal agencies. The 2018 plan is a five-year update of the initial 2013 plan released under the Obama Administration. In addition to guiding federal activities and investments, the strategic plan notes its intention to serve as a ‘North Star” for the broader STEM community.
The strategic plan states the key role the federal government has in working with stakeholders to further STEM education. The plan supports three overarching goals:
- “Build Strong Foundations for STEM Literacy;
- Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM; and
- Prepare the STEM Workforce for the Future.”
In setting out to achieve these goals, the plan identifies four pathways. These include:
- “Develop and Enrich Strategic Partnerships.” This pathway is focused on strengthening and creating relationships between educational institutions, employers, and communities. For institutions of higher education, this involves contributing to STEM ecosystems that engage students in work-based learning, including internships, apprenticeships, and research experiences. The plan notes, “Having strategic partnerships also means exploring opportunities within the education community to blend formal and informal learning, and to blend curricula to enable students to complete both core academic and applied technical curricula in preparation for higher education.”
- “Engage Students where Disciplines Converge.” On this pathway, students are encouraged to use multidisciplinary approaches to engage with real-world issues. This pathway also issues a call to address the barrier mathematics often creates in accessing STEM careers.
- “Build Computational Literacy.” This pathway acknowledges the importance of digital literacy, while calling for the advancement of computational thinking in order to solve complex problems with data. Additionally, this platform calls for expanded use of digital platforms for teaching and learning.
- “Operate with Transparency and Accountability.” This pathway calls for the federal government and stakeholders to use open, evidence-based practices and decision-making in monitoring progress towards the strategic plan’s goals.
Each pathway in the plan has associated objectives for federal agencies and departments with STEM programs. These objectives are:
- “Foster STEM Ecosystems that Unite Communities; Increase Work-Based Learning and Training through Educator-Employer Partnerships; Blend Successful Practices from Across the Learning Landscape;
- Advance Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education; Make Mathematics a Magnet; Encourage Transdisciplinary Learning;
- Promote Digital Literacy and Cyber Safety; Make Computational Thinking An Integral Element of All Education; Expand Digital Platforms for Teaching and Learning; and
- Leverage and Scale Evidence-Based Practices Across STEM Communities; Report Participation Rates of Underrepresented Groups; Use Common Metrics to Measure Progress; Make Program Performance and Outcomes Publicly Available; Develop a Federal Implementation Plan and Track Progress.”
The plan envisions that “All Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.” This vision, and the details set forth in the plan, are in-line with themes many policymakers have been sounding, including a global competition for scientific and technical talent and the relationship between STEM and economic prosperity and national security. The plan recognizes education and research organizations as stakeholders who will engage federal agencies in supporting STEM education. Though the plan states that the U.S. higher education system is one of the best in the world, it notes that further efforts in promoting STEM education in specific areas is necessary to further economic and national security needs. Areas specifically mentioned in the plan, where further STEM education is needed to support training future researchers, include artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, quantum information science, and advanced manufacturing.
Federal agencies engaged in STEM education will collaborate to develop a consolidated implementation plan that will include additional actions needed to meet the goals and objectives identified in the strategic plan. Some agencies have already announced commitments related to the release of the strategic plan. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it will be working with other federal agencies in support of the NSF Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES) National Network, a program focused on diversifying the STEM workforce. Progress tracking is a major component of the strategic plan and will entail ongoing review of evidence from current programs, an annual inventory of STEM programs, and publication of rates of participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and persons in rural areas in programs and activities. To support the use of evidence-based STEM practices, agencies will be encouraged to identify and share effective STEM education programs, practices, and policies, including those at the postsecondary level and in lifelong learning. The plan encourages institutions of higher education to use “the objectives as fruitful lines of scholarship, useful guidelines for course design, and touchpoints for teacher preparation programs.”
The strategic plan reinforces the administration’s priority of strengthening STEM education. However, it remains to be seen whether this sentiment will translate into increased funding and support for federal programs. Institutions of higher education and research organizations should consider using the goals, pathways, and objectives in this plan to identify areas of strengths and expertise, and leverage those in identifying and shaping future federal STEM opportunities. Efforts around rural communities, extension projects, increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities, digital platforms, and work-based learning will continue to be priorities for agencies engaged in STEM education.
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