America Succeeds recently released our latest report, Advancing Equity in Education, where we expand on the five pillars of our Equity in Education platform, detailing where systems change is both needed and can be impactful. Our report curates some of the best ideas in the field, amplifies leading voices of color in the conversation, builds consensus, and presents actionable solutions to address these challenges. This blog is all about the second pillar of our Equity in Education platform: advancing equity in STEM.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has been getting a lot of buzz for several years because of the rapid advances in technology that require a capable workforce with STEM competencies. STEM education provides a broad foundation of experiences and skills, teaching students to be innovators by navigating and solving complex problems, analyzing information, fostering creativity, and thinking critically. And the earlier kids are exposed to STEM, the more likely they are to be interested in fields relying on science, math, and technology throughout their school journey and careers.
However, the gaps between levels of attainment of the skills needed for workforce success and the level of preparation demonstrated by students are a huge cause for concern. Recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores show that only 41 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and only 36 percent of fourth-graders and 35 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient in science. Even more troubling, NAEP scores also reveal a 28-point gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers and a 38-point gap between white and non-white students.
These numbers demonstrate the vast inequities that exist in STEM subjects and underscore the lack of diversity in the STEM workforce. When students, particularly those who are underserved, aren’t given the resources or opportunities to succeed, the workforce ultimately pays the price. STEM careers make up some of the fastest-growing segments of available jobs, and yet there are not enough qualified people to fill the current demand. Even more alarming is the gap between the proportion of white and non-white employees in the STEM field; only nine percent of the STEM workforce is Black and only eight percent is Hispanic, while 67 percent of STEM workers in the United States are white.
STEM careers will continue to play a key role in the sustained economic growth and stability of our economy, but the magnitude of the contribution to our economy depends on ensuring that the pipeline of workers is not only well-prepared but also diverse. Experts believe that the technology industry could generate $470-570 billion in new value if racial and gender diversity were fully represented.
To realize that potential, we have to start with our education system; schools must prioritize equity in STEM subjects and opportunities for students. Likewise, businesses must prioritize diversifying their STEM recruitment pipelines if our country is going to remain competitive in a global economy.
To find out more about solutions and join the coalition to increase equity in education, visit us at AmericaSucceeds.org