“It's hard to improve what you don't measure," said Jessica Mislevy, director of digital learning and technology policy at SRI International, a research group helping with the STEM hotspot and STEM desert work. "Key indicators will allow schools, teachers, parents and communities to know what their students need, foster wider and more equitable adoption of these practices, and measure how conditions change over time." This work will help identify STEM deserts. For now, here are three things parents can look for:

Equitable paths toward high-level math and science courses

Early access to foundational math and science, such as Algebra I and Biology, gives students greater opportunities to excel in advanced high school courses.

Well-trained and supported STEM teachers

“[W]e need excellent and well-supported STEM teachers in every school.”

Studies show that students have greater success when they are taught by teachers who are well-trained in their STEM fields and are well supported with classroom and lab resources.

Community demand and support

Policies, funding and other supports are critical to ensure high-quality STEM education reaches all students.

“Recent federal data show that half of American high schools don’t offer advanced math courses and more than 60 percent of high schools with large populations of African American or Latino students lack advanced math,” said Melissa Moritz, NMSI’s vice president for strategic initiatives. “These gaps deny students critical skills and knowledge, and we are committed to correcting that.”

Organizations like these and others focus on STEM because those skills and knowledge dominate a growing majority of jobs and heavily influence others.

“STEM knowledge and skills allow us to tackle the world’s biggest challenges – from climate change to hunger,” said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, executive director of 100Kin10. “Children in every community should have the opportunity to develop those skills. For that to happen, we need excellent and well-supported STEM teachers in every school.”