The United States has historically been a leader in STEM skills which includes the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics but this is no longer the case. Just 15% of Americans pursue natural science degrees today which is significantly less than other nations such as 38% in South Korea, 47% in France, 50% in China and 67% in Singapore. According to the 2005 statement, “Rising About the Gathering Storm” produced by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, U.S. students were considered academically behind in achievements in these areas. These findings were backed by American 8th graders also placing 12th behind Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong in math and science skills that same year according to the International Math and Science Study. These findings are of concern because it predicts a future of economic consequences if there is a lack of an equipped workforce in the US. At the time of these studies, the U.S. Patent Office already began granting more patents (51%) to foreign nationals and foreign companies instead of Americans.
To help remedy this growing problem the America COMPETES Act of 2007 increased funding for STEM education and research programs. And in 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was created. Today 71% of students in the U.S. have used a science curriculum that was influenced by NGSS. Two years later in 2015 the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was created to increase federal funding for K-12 STEM education that included activities, after-school programs, and field trips as well as professional development and teaching materials. High school graduates today are some of the first that has gone through the full K-12 STEM-focused education.
In the twenty years between 1995 and 2015 U.S. students improved upon their math skills significantly. 4th graders had their average scores increase from 518 to 539 and 8th graders increased from 492 to 518. Overall high and low performing students had improvement but this was only promising for Math, not Science. In Science, 4th-grade scores increased from 542 to 546 and while low performing students showed improvement high performing students actually had a decline. 8th graders averaged scores increased from 513 to 546 but the improvement was only shown in lowest-performing students. In the next three years between 2015 and 2018 U.S. students were able to improve on their international standing but actual scores did not show significant improvement for more than a decade.
Today 8 of the 10 fastest-growing jobs are in STEM. From 2010-2016 undergraduate degrees in STEM fields grew by an incredible 43%. While 75% of college grads majored in STEM-related fields and 86% of high school graduates have plans to choose a STEM career there are still not enough employees to meet the needs of job growth. In 2018 alone 2.4 million positions went unfilled. Though there has been a significant increase in STEM in schools still more than half of U.S. patents are going to foreign nationals and companies. And many employers are saying it’s getting harder to find the right talent to fit their growing needs of employees with technical skills. Will enough be done in STEM education to meet the rising demand? Find out more about the rise of STEM in schools in the following infographic.
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