What the Heck is STEM and How Does it Affect Your Education?


“Leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today—especially in science, technology, engineering, and math,” said President Obama in a 2010 speech on the forward-looking “Educate to Innovate” campaign. Hence the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) obsession.

Today, STEM is both a media buzzword and a public-policy mantra. But, at core, the STEM initiative is a governmental-meets-grassroots response to the lack of American students pursuing schooling (and eventually careers) in the fields of science, technology, education, and math, as compared to more STEM-centric countries like China and India.

However, the focus isn’t just on students. A central goal of the STEM initiative is to build a more robust pipeline of teachers, at all levels of academia, with expertise in STEM fields of study.

STEM index

A new U.S. News index, sponsored by Raytheon, paints the picture. The index, which is designed to determine the trajectory of the role of STEM in the US education system, takes into account both the educational- and economic-related implications of STEM activity in the US.

The historical graph visualizes a mountain of data divided into eight categories: AP test scores in STEM subjects; ACT math and science scores; NAEP math scores; PISA math and science scores; SAT math scores; college and graduate degrees in STEM subjects; US employment in STEM fields; and interest in STEM subjects at the high school level.

Overall, the graph shows a long period of flat to downward trends, but there’s been some progress in recent years, specifically in the number of STEM-related degrees granted to graduate and undergraduate students.

The plan

Here’s a shocking statistic from the US Department of Education: “Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.” So what’s the plan?

President Obama, among countless government officials and political pundits, has challenged the nation to produce 100,000 STEM teachers over the next 10 years. On top of that he’s asked colleges and universities to graduate an additional 1 million STEM students.

  • By the numbers, here’s the plan of attack for 2015:

  • STEM Innovation Proposal: $170 million for training the next generation of STEM innovators

  • STEM Innovation Networks: $110 million in grants to school districts that accelerate P-12 STEM education by partnering with colleges and other STEM-centric organizations

  • STEM Teacher Pathways: $40 million for preparing 100,000 new and effective STEM teachers

  • National STEM Master Teacher Corps: $20 million for identifying America’s best and brightest STEM teachers and transforming them into community advocates for STEM education