As part of national-level efforts to address the challenges facing K-12 education in STEM, a 2011 report from the National Research Council (NRC), Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, described three goals for U.S. K-12 education in the STEM disciplines (pp. 4-5):
GOAL 1. Expand the number of students who ultimately pursue advanced degrees and careers in STEM fields and broaden the participation of women and minorities in those fields. This goal focuses on the flow of students to STEM majors and careers as scientists and engineers.
GOAL 2. Expand the STEM-capable workforce and broaden the participation of women and minorities in that workforce. STEM-related careers—including medical assistants and computer and energy technicians—are an increasingly significant part of the U.S. economy (Carnevale, Smith, and Melton, 2011). Most of these careers require an associate degree or vocational certification with specialized STEM knowledge, rather than a bachelor’s degree.
GOAL 3. Increase STEM literacy for all students, including those who do not pursue STEM-related careers or additional study in the STEM disciplines. Another goal of education in STEM is to increase students’ knowledge and understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity (National Research Council, 1996).
The 2011 report also identified key elements that would be needed to support progress toward these goals: a coherent set of standards and curriculum, teachers with high capacity to teach in their discipline, a supportive assessment and accountability system, adequate instructional time, and students’ equal access to high-quality learning opportunities. At the school and district levels, the report recommends specific actions that education leaders and policy makers can take to ensure that these key elements are in place:
• Consider a variety of STEM-focused schools and programs.
• Devote adequate instructional time and resources for science, especially in grades K-5.
• Ensure that curricula in the STEM disciplines are focused on the most important topics in each discipline, are rigorous, and are articulated over time as a sequence of topics and performances.
• Enhance the capacity of K-12 teachers to teach in the STEM disciplines.
• Provide instructional leaders with professional development to create school conditions that support student achievement.
Key elements for improvements and goals in Successful K-12 STEM Education (National Research Council, 2011).
As shown in Figure 1, to support these changes at the local level, the previous report (National Research Council, 2011) also recommended commensurate enhancements to the national and state infrastructures:
• Elevate science to the same level of importance as reading and mathematics.
• Develop effective systems of assessment for science.
• Invest in supports for teachers in the STEM disciplines.
• Support rigorous research to identify instructional practices that improve student outcomes.