This week, building on President Obama's announcement on Monday to recruit 10,000 new STEM school teachers, I introduced H.R. 6248, the Elevating Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Act (e-STEM). As a former science teacher and educator for 30 years, this legislation means more to me than most. Why? Because STEM education in America remains woefully ill-equipped, and it shows.
While our STEM workforce begins to retire, too few students are motivated and prepared to replace them. American students consistently display lower scores on most STEM-related assessments. The US National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that from 2004 to 2008, 41 percent of 17 year olds failed to exhibit a basic understanding of medium-difficulty math procedures. Furthermore, Programme for International Student Assessment comparisons in 2006 show American students ranking 21st out of 30 in science literacy, and 25th out of 30 in math literacy, among students from developed countries.
This occurs because our current federal efforts in STEM education are neither coordinated, nor coherent, nor cooperative. Agencies involved in STEM education efforts are often unaware of what is being done or what has already been done. In 2006, for example, the federal government sponsored 105 STEM education programs through 15 different federal agencies at a cost of $3.12 billion. Due to lack of coordination, coherence and cooperation, these investments result in little return. In 2009, according to the NAEP, the average science score for 12th graders was lower than in 1996 and showed no significant change from 2000.
My bill, H.R. 6248, addresses these problems by providing the education and skills necessary for students to compete in today's global economy and to understand increasingly complex issues. Additionally, it improves STEM education coordination and coherence among federal and state governments in order to advance STEM education across the nation.
How? First, this legislation creates an Office of STEM at the U.S. Department of Education at the assistant-secretary level, responsible for coordinating STEM education initiatives among all federal agencies. Second, this bill institutes a voluntary Consortium on STEM education, comprised by no less than five states representing at least five of the nation's nine geographical regions. Its mission: to develop common content standards for K-12 STEM education, engineered at the state and local levels. Third, the bill creates the National STEM Education Research Repository, which would be a clearinghouse for educators to research the latest innovations in STEM. This will break the silos that keep creative programs from being replicated and will make these resources available through simple internet searches rather than having to sift through convoluted websites.
More of this is in the making. In the 112th Congress, I plan to introduce innovative and comprehensive STEM education legislation informed by the STEM education and research community, including the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which recently released the education report Prepare and Inspire K-12 Education to provide the nation with a blueprint for improving K-12 STEM education.
President Obama's announcement this week is only the beginning of what is required of us, especially if we want to ensure that America has ample scientists and engineers on hand for tomorrow's challenges. For our nation to remain a leader in scientific advancement and technological innovation, we must strengthen America's schools and provide them with the resources and curriculum they need to succeed. We can afford nothing less. Our future depends on it.
Rep. Honda serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education.