What Does STEM Mean to Education?

By Alexa Koschier

Since the launch of the Educate to Innovate initiative in 2009, much focus has been placed on STEM education in the United States. But what is STEM, why is STEM education important, and what is the action plan?

What is STEM?

The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, while STEM education refers to the curriculum based on those four disciplines in an integrated and applied approach.

The U.S. has typically been a global leader in large part through STEM workers who drive innovation and competitiveness. However, today, fewer American students are interested in pursuing careers in STEM-related fields.

Why is STEM education important?

A 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce highlights the critical need for STEM workers to help sustain growth and stability for the U.S. economy in the coming years:

  • In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the U.S., representing about 1 in 18 employees.

  • STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17.0 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.

With growth in STEM jobs in the coming years, the question is: Will the U.S. be able to educate enough young Americans to fill them? According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in pursuing a STEM-related career. And, among those who do go on to pursue a college major in a STEM field, only about half choose to work in a related career.

Where does STEM fit within the future of education?

In its Educate to Innovate campaign, which includes efforts from the federal government, the private sector, and non-profit and research communities, the Obama Administration identified three long-term goals for STEM education:

  • Increase STEM literacy so all students can think critically in science, math, engineering and technology

  • Improve the quality of math and science teaching so American students are no longer outperformed by those in other nations

  • Expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities

To date, the campaign has brought in more than $700 million in public-private partnerships. As of mid-2014, the campaign has hit the following two major milestones:

  • Building a CEO-led coalition to leverage capacities of the private sector: Together with more than 100 CEOs, President Obama helped launch the non-profit Change the Equation. Change the Equation’s goals are to improve STEM teaching at all grade levels; inspire student and excitement for STEM, especially among women and under-represented minorities; and to achieve a sustained commitment to improving STEM education.

  • Preparing 100,000 new and effective STEM teachers over the next decade: More than 150 organizations have partnered to create the 100Kin10 movement, whose mission is “to prepare all students with the high-quality STEM knowledge and skills needed to tackle the most pressing national and global challenges of tomorrow.” The organization’s goal is to meet the need for 100,000 excellent STEM teachers by 2021.