From October 21 to 23, 2008, The Heritage Foundation, supported by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, convened leading education and national security experts as well as private-sector representatives to discuss methods for strengthening America's competitiveness by improving its performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This report attempts to describe the current state of STEM education, summarize the main points discussed at the conference, and present the conference attendees' conclusions on how to improve STEM education and advance America's defense capabilities and economy.
This report is aimed at education and private-sector leaders as well as at national defense strategists, but can also be useful to other interested parties. The private sector and defense industry will need to work closely with education reformers to create a feasible plan for improving the current state of STEM education: Success in both industry and defense is vitally linked and inextricably tied to the capabilities of the STEM workforce.
In order for the United States to be globally competitive, innovative, and prepared for new economic and security challenges, the U.S. must have a competitive and innovative educational environment that encourages entrepreneurship and excellence in STEM subjects. Doing so will require federal and state policymakers, as well as the private sector, to take the following steps:
- Strengthen the quality of the elementary and secondary teacher workforce, particularly in STEM subjects. Encourage industry and the national security community to get involved in the classroom through innovative partnerships with educators and schools. Schools need the financial flexibility to provide differential pay and performance bonuses for excellent teaching.
- Reform the traditional public school system to encourage greater innovation and superior instruction. Legislation and old habits need to change so that funding can be allocated to where it has the biggest impact. School choice, charter schools, online classes, and online learning communities hold promise for encouraging innovation and better learning opportunities for American students and should be funded.
- Implement aggressive reforms to change the governance of the traditional public school system. Given that states have the greatest authority for funding and regulating public education, state leaders are in the best position to implement aggressive reforms to change the governance structure of the traditional public school system. Experience has shown that aggressive state-level reforms can spark improvement in students' learning.
- Resolve the H-1B visa shortage. To ameliorate the effects of the current STEM crisis, the cap on H-1B visas should be raised from the current level of 65,000 to its pre-9/11 level of 195,000 visas a year. Eventually, the number of H-1B visas granted should be flexible and correlate to the needs of the marketplace of the time. To enhance cultural relations and to regain the U.S.'s position as a leader in STEM, visa-eligible foreign students with American degrees should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and work for the duration of their visa.