Learning about science, technology, engineering, and math is increasingly important—but right now, too many Americans don’t have equitable access to great STEM education.
That means that in the next decade, researchers, policymakers, and educators should focus on broadening access to STEM education so that there are lifelong opportunities, connections between professionals and schools, models for different genders and racial groups, interdisciplinary approaches, and educational activities that involve play and taking risks.
That’s the argument set out in a new report released yesterday by the American Institutes for Research and the U.S. Department of Education.
The report, “STEM 2026: A Vision for Innovation in STEM Education,” is based on conversations with 30 researchers, school district leaders, and other experts in STEM education. The report was based on the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, approach, in which experts meet in workshops to develop a “bold vision and goals for the future” that will guide researchers and policymakers.
In the report’s 2026 vision, STEM education around the country would have six main traits:
- “Communities of practice,” in which educators and professionals share tools and resources;
- Learning activities that encourage students to play and take risks;
- Interdisciplinary projects that call on students to use several disciplines to solve problems;
- Flexible learning spaces, so students are engaging in the natural world or technical labs as well as in traditional classrooms;
- Performance assessments that are innovative and accessible; and
- Messaging around STEM that shows diverse people participating in STEM fields and activities.
The 2026 vision also includes technology companies creating programs that could increase diversity and inclusiveness.
In a blog post about the research, Courtney Tanenbaum, the principal researcher behind the report, discusses some of the disparities in access to STEM that observers are so concerned about. Many fewer girls, Hispanic, and black students take computer science classes; and more than 10 percent of high schools don’t offer a full slate of science and math courses.
But in the report and blog post, Tanenbaum also highlights interactive science programs, such as National Geographic’s Bioblitz, a software program that might increase access to or engagement in the sciences, intelligent tutoring programs, and schools like the Linked Learning programs in California that focus on career and technical education, as evidence that the solutions may not be too far off.
President Obama has been focused on STEM education for much of his tenure: He introduced the White House Science Fair, has pushed for recruiting more great STEM teachers, and has mentioned STEM in several State of the Union addresses.
It’s less clear whether the federal focus on STEM will continue until 2026. Presidential contender Hillary Clinton has said that computer science and STEM would be educational priorities in her administration; Donald Trump has been less specific about STEM.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.