participation by domestic nonwhite and non-Asian students in STEM. Efforts in K-12 to serve these groups will play a major role in addressing this crucial issue.
Although there is a clear need to increase the number of students who obtain advanced degrees in the STEM disciplines, it is equally important to the U.S. economy to increase the number of people who are prepared for STEM-related careers, such as being K-12 teachers in the STEM disciplines, medical assistants, nurses, and computer and green energy technicians.20 These careers generally require vocational certification with specialized STEM knowledge, an associate degree, or a baccalaureate degree with a major in a STEM field.21 The current demand for STEM-capable workers surpasses the supply of applicants who have trained for those careers. Moreover, 16 of the 20 occupations with the largest projected growth in the next decade are STEM related, but only 4 of them require an advanced degree.22 Given these unmet needs for a STEM-capable workforce, the nation’s economic future depends on preparing more K-12 students to enter these fields.
Personal and societal decisions in the 21st century increasingly require scientific and technological understanding. Whether about health, the environment, or technology, a certain level of scientific knowledge is vital to informed decision making. Thus, another goal of STEM education is to increase STEM literacy—defined as the knowledge and understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity for all students. 23 Targeting all students, not just those who will pursue postsecondary education or careers in STEM or STEM-related fields, will better prepare citizens to face the challenges of a science- and technology-driven society.
Schools and districts might not consciously adopt and work toward these three broad goals for STEM education. Instead, they may have their own, intermediate goals for success, such as increased enrollment in STEM courses, achievement test scores, high school graduation rates, college or career readiness, and matriculation into postsecondary institutions. Scientific research provides little evidence about how to accomplish the three broad goals. Research is even limited with respect to the intermediate goals, including goals related to accountability, when success is often measured at the school or district level.