Ten of the top 14 fastest-growing industries require significant know-how in science, technology, engineering and math—otherwise known as the STEM fields. The 21st century economy requires STEM competencies like critical thinking and logical inference, as well as the grit and determination that come from persevering in the STEM disciplines.

By the numbers

The people who have these skills are being amply rewarded: Those with STEM degrees out-earn those without STEM degrees, from the lowest level to the C-suite.

"Only 2 percent of students reach the highest level of performance in math, as compared to 31 percent in Shanghai."

If the 21st century is to be the next American century, we need tomorrow’s problem-solvers to invent new solutions, products and even sectors. To do that, they need strong STEM skills today.

Global competition

Yet Americans continue to under-perform in STEM, with the gap widening for women and people of color. Among 34 OECD countries, the United States ranked 27th in math and 20th in science. To put this in context, in math, the United States’ near-peers are Hungary, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic. The United States has too few top performers, too. Only 2 percent of students reach the highest level of performance in math, as compared to 31 percent in Shanghai.

Our students aren’t competing with folks one town over any more. They’re competing with those 31 percent in Shanghai. America’s young people need a world-class STEM education—the kind of education that can only be provided by world-class STEM teachers.

Charting progress

In recent years, a few organizations have led the way in coordinating action toward a goal of bringing top-shelf STEM teachers into American classrooms in the next decade. One example, 100kin10, began in 2011 with 28 organizations and currently selects partners from a pool three times that size, including the California State University, Xavier University and EnCorps. The American Chemical Society and Science Friday also supports STEM teachers to improve, stay longer and inspire more kids. Meanwhile, corporations and foundations like AT&T, Dow Chemical and Carnegie Corporation are providing capital to support the vetted organizations’ STEM teaching work.

We are getting closer to a day when all kids will have the STEM skills to grow our economy, discover new cures, solve old mysteries and address the most pressing challenges of tomorrow. But to give each child the opportunity to dream big and realize those dreams, we still have a long way to go.