Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Issues and Legislative Options

Publication Date: May 2006

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Education



There is growing concern that the United States is not preparing a sufficient number of students, teachers, and practitioners in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A large majority of secondary school students fail to reach proficiency in math and science, and many are taught by teachers lacking adequate subject matter knowledge.

When compared to other nations, the math and science achievement of U.S. pupils and the rate of STEM degree attainment appear inconsistent with a nation considered the world leader in scientific innovation. In a recent international assessment of 15-year-old students, the U.S. ranked 28th in math literacy and 24th in science literacy. Moreover, the U.S. ranks 20th among all nations in the proportion of 24-year-olds who earn degrees in natural science or engineering.

A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that 207 distinct federal STEM education programs were appropriated nearly $3 billion in FY2004. Nearly three-quarters of those funds and nearly half of the STEM programs were in two agencies -- the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Still, the study concluded that these programs are highly decentralized and require better coordination.

Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in the 109th Congress that address U.S. economic competitiveness in general and support STEM education in particular. These proposals are designed to improve output from the STEM educational pipeline at all levels, and are drawn from several recommendations offered by the scientific and business communities.

The objective of this report is to provide a useful context for these legislative proposals. To achieve this, the report first presents data on the state of STEM education and then examines the federal role in promoting STEM education. The report concludes with a discussion of selected legislative options currently being considered to improve STEM education. The report will be updated as significant legislative actions occur.