In the 20th Century, the technological and scientific advancements played a vital role in ensuring the prosperity and power of the United States. From the first flight of the Wright brothers in 1903 to the creation of Google in 1990s, the technological and scientific innovations have reshaped the global economy and provided national security and economic mobility for the generations of Americans. Whether the United States will maintain its preeminence in STEM fields over the course of the 21st century is a question of concern. Some observers declare that the leadership of the United States is at risk. They claim that the United States underperforms and underinvests in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education.
Since the World War II, United States has benefitted from the economic, health, social and military advances made possible by the highly skilled STEM workforce. The education system is one of the major sources of acquiring STEM knowledge and skills. Federal legislators have paid close attention to the outputs of STEM related education system — such as the number of college graduates with degrees in STEM field and have sought to increase the capacity and functioning of the STEM education system through investments and federal policy over the past. For example, more than 300 legislative bills on science education were introduced in the 20 years between 105th (1997) to 115th (2017) congresses.
Federal Efforts in STEM Education:
The federal effort in STEM education can be thought of as consisting of two parts. The first part consists of a variety of general purpose education programs which may include STEM as well but not as a main part of concern. These programs include ‘Title I-A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965’, which provides funds for school districts serving large concentrations of underprivileged children. These programs also include student loans, postsecondary federal student aid and campus based programs for students attending higher education institutions. Students who receive grants or student loans may choose to pursue degrees in STEM, however routing the students into STEM fields is not the primary purpose of these programs. The second part of Federal effort in STEM education consists of the programs whose main purpose is to improve STEM education system in the United States. These programs include improving STEM teachers’ preparation, supporting students in STEM fields directly, improving the quality of programs at K-12 and postsecondary educational levels, providing better access to STEM majors to underrepresented minorities and improving STEM education through some other means. Even though the amount of money spent on the second type of programs is significantly lower than the first ones, the second type of programs directly influence the quality of STEM education in the United States.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The office serves as a source of scientific and technological analysis and judgment for the President with respect to major policies, plans, and programs of the Federal Government. OSTP leads an interagency effort to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets. The office works with the private sector to ensure Federal investments in science and technology contribute to economic prosperity, environmental quality, and national security. Congress established the Office of Science and Technology in 1976. They had a number of goals and objectives. These included:
- Ensure that the federal government was making adequate investment in the fields of science and technology
- Monitor and manage how science and technology programs were resourced and evaluated
- Promote collaboration between science and technology professionals and government officials
- Generate national policies by establishing a bureaucratic assembly that will manage science and technology
More like a government think tank, the Office of Science and Technology produces research and development policies for the government to follow. Acting as an interagency, it helps to develop budgets, policies, and initiatives that play across other agencies, including the National Science and Technology Council.
The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) was established by executive order on November 23, 1993 to coordinate science and technology policy across the federal government. The responsibility for coordinating STEM initiatives and education programs falls to the NTSC’s committee on STEM education called as CoSTEM. CoSTEM was established in 2011, in response to America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (2010). Since its establishment CoSTEM has carried out an inventory of the federal effort in STEM education. The inventory found that as of Fiscal Year 2011, 254 distinct investments (total budgetary commitment of $ 3.4 billion) were being made by the federal agencies. The federal agencies reported the largest shares of STEM investments for the following:
· For increasing the number of Post-Secondary STEM degrees.
· For preparing the people to enter into STEM careers.
· For conducting STEM education development & Research.
The inventory also included NTSC’s suggestions for improving federal STEM education portfolio. These suggestions included developing data sharing, performance evaluation tools and consolidating programs.