Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education:

Actions Needed to Better Assess the Federal Investment

GAO-18-290: Published: Mar 23, 2018. Publicly Released: Mar 23, 2018.

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What GAO Found

The federal investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs remained relatively stable from fiscal years 2010 to 2016, although the number of programs declined from 209 to 163 (see figure). While agencies reported that many of the same STEM education programs existed during this time period, the portfolio underwent various changes, including program consolidations, creations, and terminations. Nearly all STEM education programs in fiscal year 2016 overlapped to some degree with at least one other program in that they offered similar services to similar groups in similar STEM fields to achieve similar objectives. The Committee on STEM Education, an interagency body responsible for implementing the federal STEM education strategic plan, reported it managed this overlap through coordination with agencies administering these programs.

Number of Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Programs Reported in Fiscal Years 2010 and 2016

Number of Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Programs Reported in Fiscal Years 2010 and 2016

The Committee on STEM Education has not fully met its responsibilities to assess the federal STEM education portfolio. Specifically, the Committee has not reviewed programs' performance assessments, as required by its authorizing charter, nor has it documented those assessments in its inventory, as required by law. Such efforts could encourage the use of evidenced-based practices across the portfolio—a key national goal of the STEM education strategic plan. These efforts could also enhance public awareness of the administering agencies' efforts to assess programs' performance. In addition, the Committee has not reported the participation rates of underrepresented groups in federal STEM education programs, as required by law. By reporting this information, the Committee could better assess whether programs are broadening access to groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields—another key goal of the strategic plan.

Why GAO Did This Study

Education programs in STEM fields are intended to enhance the nation's global competitiveness. GAO reported in 2012 that there were more than 200 federal STEM education programs in fiscal year 2010. Since then, this portfolio of programs has changed. GAO was asked to review the landscape of federal STEM education programs.

This report examines (1) how the federal investment in STEM education programs changed from 2010 to 2016, and (2) the extent to which the STEM education portfolio has been assessed.To answer these questions, GAO administered a web-based questionnaire to all federal STEM education programs funded in fiscal year 2016 and analyzed the results. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws and agency documents, examined the implementation of relevant assessment requirements, and interviewed officials from relevant federal agencies.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations, including three to the Committee on STEM Education to review performance assessments of STEM education programs, document those assessments, and report programs' participation rates of underrepresented groups. The Committee on STEM Education agreed with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or EmreyArrasM@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Committee and the Office of Science and Technology Policy agreed with this recommendation and noted initial strategies for how they would implement it. Subsequently, Committee leadership directed the establishment of a cross-agency STEM Education Evaluation Working Group. This group is charged with developing programmatic and cross-agency performance goals and assessment metrics that may inform designing or revising programs. We will consider closing this recommendation when the Committee reviews performance assessments of Federal STEM education programs and takes appropriate steps to enhance the portfolio's effectiveness.

    Recommendation: The leadership of the Committee on STEM Education should review performance assessments of federal STEM education programs and then take appropriate steps to enhance effectiveness of the portfolio, such as by sharing promising practices that agencies could use in designing or revising their programs. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The Committee and the Office of Science and Technology Policy agreed with this recommendation and noted initial strategies for how they would implement it. According to officials, during the spring of 2018, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (on behalf of the Committee) initiated a data call and a series of follow-on interviews to all Committee member departments and agencies. Officials noted these data will inform the Committee on how best to document program-level performance information. We will consider closing this recommendation when the leadership of the Committee documents such program-level performance information in its annual inventory.

    Recommendation: The leadership of the Committee on STEM Education should improve public awareness of information on programs' performance assessments by documenting program-level information on performance assessments in its federal STEM education inventory. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Committee and the Office of Science and Technology Policy agreed with this recommendation and noted initial strategies for how they would implement it. They noted plans to examine confounding factors inhibiting the reporting of this information, which is required under the COMPETES Act. According to officials, their spring of 2018 data gathering initiative includes requests to departments and agencies to provide program-level participation rates of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons from rural areas in STEM education programs, where possible. The Committee plans to determine how to proceed with this reporting in its 2018-2023 Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan. We will consider closing this recommendation after our review of the forthcoming Strategic Plan and reported participation data for these subgroups.

    Recommendation: The leadership of the Committee on STEM Education should report required information on the participation rates of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons from rural areas in federal STEM education programs that collect this information. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: The Committee and the Office of Science and Technology Policy agreed with this recommendation. According to officials, the 2018 Federal STEM Education Annual Progress Report is currently under development. Officials note this report will incorporate information from data sets generated by the Office of Management and Budget and 2018 cross-agency data call and follow-on interviews. The report will include outcomes from program performance assessments for 2017, when available. We will consider closing this recommendation after reviewing the forthcoming annual report for outcomes of programs' performance assessments completed in the previous year.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy should report the outcomes of programs' performance assessments completed in the previous year in its annual report. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Science and Technology Policy

 

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