White House Launches New Tally of STEM Education Programs

An inventory by the Bush Administration of federal efforts to bolster science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education was too simplistic to be useful, according to a White House official. So the Obama Administration plans to repeat the exercise—but with more analysis—as a first step toward improving STEM programs.

In 2007, the Bush-era Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC) found that 12 agencies were spending a combined $3.1 billion a year on 105 programs covering education and training at all levels, from elementary school through postgraduate studies and including outreach efforts. The council's tally was supposed to lead to a streamlining of government operations. But Carl Wieman, associate director for science within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, says that ACC wasn't helpful and that a new White House panel will take another shot.

"The ACC is a list of programs, basically," Wieman tells ScienceInsider. "You need something more nuanced than simply labeling it STEM education. Because that leads people to ask, 'You're spending all this money, why don't we have great STEM education?' The reality is that [these programs] do a large variety of different things, from graduate fellowships at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to an introduction to science for kindergarteners. Different parts of different agencies do things that are important to their mission."

Wieman says the new panel, under the White House's National Science and Technology Council, will look at "what these programs do, how they fit together, and how well they match what we feel are best practices." He says that the review will rely heavily "on evidence and on what we know about learning."