The Future is STEM — But Without Enough Students, the U.S. Will Be Left Behind

In 2022, the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering report sounded an alarm. The report showed that the United States is falling behind in science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM fields. According to the foundation, America no longer produces the most science and engineering research publications — that’s China. We no longer produce the most patents — that’s China. Now that we no longer graduate the most natural-science Ph.D.s — that’s also China — these trends are unlikely to change anytime soon.

The problem isn’t that the U.S. lacks the universities to train future scientists or an economy capable of encouraging innovation. Rather, the problem originates much earlier in the supply chain. It starts in our elementary and secondary schools.

In 2019, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Nation’s Report Card, presented evidence that American students are struggling in the sciences. Over a quarter of fourth graders earned a score below basic; by 12th grade, that proportion grows to over 40%. A similar pattern is evident in NAEP math scores. Indeed, recent 2022 NAEP test scores for math show declining scores and increasing percentage of students below basic. While overall patterns are discouraging, the percentage of Black and Hispanic students falling below basic in science and math is even higher.

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