The Case for Being Bold: A New Agenda for Business in Improving STEM Education

April 13, 2011

On January 24, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled the results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for science. The report shows that only 34% of fourth-graders, 30% of eighth-graders, and 21% of twelfth-graders were shown to be proficient in science. This comes shortly after the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed American students continuing to lag behind their international peers. For a nation that relies heavily upon technology and innovation for its economic strength, these reports underscore America's vulnerable standing as a world economic leader.

While there has been a steady supply of sensible proposals for improving STEM education, most leave largely undisturbed the organizing assumptions of schools designed to process the masses and educate the few. The familiar “nice guy” repertoire that the business community has long embraced—partnering with existing institutions to promote “best practices,” provide resources, and involve corporate supporters—offers some aid but is unlikely to deliver breakthrough improvement.

What will it take for business leaders to tackle the STEM challenge more ambitiously? Business leaders would do well to focus on specific key areas: taking full advantage of strengthened and streamlined academic standards; rethinking how teachers are hired, deployed, and prepared; and promoting new models of schooling that can facilitate STEM learning. In each case, business must push beyond the familiar talking points and challenge typical routines.