Students need a strong foundation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math, including computer science) education to be prepared for the careers and challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Algebra I is considered the “gatekeeper” course to advanced math and science, with early access and enrollment crucial for students’ future success in STEM. However, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s newly released “data story” , while 80% of public school students are able to take Algebra I early — in 8th grade — only 24% of students actually do so. This “leak” in the STEM pipeline can have long-term effects on students’ education and career opportunities.
The data story, which leverages data from the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection, finds that students’ access to Algebra I in 8th grade is inconsistent across the country. Access can be impacted by a number of factors, including the location of the school or the type of school a student attends. Further, the data show that not all students with access to Algebra I were enrolled in the course at the same rate. The Department recognizes that STEM education is a pathway to successful careers and is committed to ensuring equal access to a strong STEM education for all students.
On National STEM Day, the Department announced its response to this “leak” by surpassing President Trump’s directive to invest $200 million in high-quality STEM education. In total, the Department obligated $279 million in STEM discretionary grant funds in Fiscal Year 2018. “It’s important that all students have access to a high-quality STEM education,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said. “These discretionary grant programs and this Administration’s increased focus on STEM will help ensure our nation’s students are exposed to STEM early in their lifelong education journeys and will have the tools needed for success in the 21st century economy.”