The nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education crisis has been well documented:

  • STEM jobs are expected to grow 70 percent faster than overall employment during the next several years, yet few students show interest in math and science in schools.
     
  • The United States is falling behind other countries, ranking 20th in science and 27th in math among 34 major countries evaluated in international student assessment tests.
     
  • Fewer than 40 percent of the nation’s 12th graders are academically prepared for college coursework in math and reading upon graduation.
     
  • Critical gaps exist in STEM achievement among low-income students, minorities and female students. Women and minority groups represent roughly 70 percent of American college students, yet represent only 45 percent of undergraduate STEM degree holders.

Supporting our students

We can all agree on the serious ramifications that may result from the nation’s lack of achievement in STEM education, but what can we do about it?

I believe real change begins in the classroom—and we must support and invest in our schools, teachers and students to transform education.

First, we need to create more interest in STEM subjects among students, beginning at an early age and continuing through secondary education. It’s important that all children believe they can succeed in rigorous coursework, and we need to encourage all students to pursue college-level courses in high school, regardless of their gender, income level or minority classification.  

"It’s important that all children believe they can succeed in rigorous coursework, and we need to encourage all students to pursue college-level courses in high school, regardless of their gender, income level or minority classification."

We have witnessed substantial improvements in college-level test scores after implementing programs that challenge and encourage students to tackle more demanding assignments. For example, one high school in Oklahoma recorded a 160 percent increase in passing scores after just two years. And studies have shown that when low-income students take and pass exams in college-level studies, they are more likely to attend and graduate from college.

Put learning first

Second, we must improve how STEM subjects are taught in the classroom. We need to help teachers improve their approach and hone the techniques that motivate students and help them learn. We also need to produce more highly qualified STEM teachers armed with the degrees and knowledge that can bring STEM subjects to life and motivate our students. As a start, the National Math and Science Initiative has replicated and expanded the successful University of Texas UTeach program to 34 additional universities nationwide, and has a goal to produce 25,000 new math and science teachers by 2025.

Raising standards

Finally, we all need to concentrate on closing the achievement gaps that exist in American education and make sure more kids graduate from high school ready to attend college. In school programs that raise standards and build a culture of college-readiness have been proven to make major strides in these areas. For example, African-American students who participated in the National Math and Science Initiative’s in school College Readiness Program were 69 percent more likely to graduate from a four-year college than students not in the program. Hispanic students were 83 percent more likely to graduate. This means we are opening doors to college success for underserved student populations who have not had the encouragement to tackle challenging coursework in math and science before now.

There are similar pockets of success in schools throughout the country. I believe we can build on this success by replicating the most effective programs.

We’ve done the math. Now let’s inspire more children to do the math.