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.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Melissa Emrey-Arras
(617) 788-0534
EmreyArrasM@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

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 agreed with this action, as recommended by GAO in its March 2018 report, and took some steps toward implementing it. In December 2018, the Committee issued a new 5-year STEM education strategic plan. The Committee's plan states that to enhance the effectiveness of the STEM education portfolio, federal agencies that comprise the Committee are to perform a systematic review of evidence from current programs (e.g., performance assessments). Committee agencies are to also identify promising, evidence-based STEM education programs, practices, and policies in order to learn from and implement them more broadly. The strategic plan commits federal agencies to develop an implementation plan. According to agency officials, the implementation plan will be finalized in the Fall of 2019. GAO will review future efforts of the Committee to determine if they address the recommendation and could lead to improved management of the federal STEM education portfolio.

    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 agreed with this action, as recommended by GAO in its March 2018 report, and took some steps toward implementing it. In December 2018, the Committee issued a new 5-year STEM education strategic plan. One of the plan's objectives focuses on making program performance and outcomes publically available. To achieve this objective, federal agencies that comprise the Committee are to document and share programs' performance assessment information for both internal strategic planning purposes and to inform public audiences. According to the strategic plan, Committee agencies are to provide content for the inventory of STEM education programs by the end of 2019. GAO will review the results of the Committee's future efforts, including its inventory of programs, to determine if they adequately address the recommendation. The plan acknowledges GAO's finding on the importance of collecting, organizing, and reporting federal performance data to increase public awareness of the impact of federal STEM education programs.

    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 agreed with this action, as recommended by GAO in its March 2018 report, and took some steps toward implementing it. In December 2018, the Committee issued a new 5-year STEM education strategic plan. According to the strategic plan, the Committee will develop a common reporting framework that federal agencies with STEM education programs can use to provide the rates of program participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and persons in rural areas. Agencies will begin reporting this information by the end of 2019. According to an official from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the agency anticipates reporting programs' participation rates in its 2020 annual report to Congress. The plan also states that agencies that conduct valid and reliable tracking of such data are to share their promising practices across agencies so that those strategies can be replicated where and when appropriate. GAO will follow the Committee's progress developing and implementing the reporting framework to determine if it addresses GAO's recommendation. As noted in the strategic plan, tracking and reporting on the participation of underrepresented groups in federal STEM education programs provides agencies with information to gauge their effectiveness at fostering diversity and inclusion.

    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 Office of Science and Technology Policy agreed with this action, as recommended by GAO in its March 2018 report, and took some steps toward implementing it. In December 2018, the Committee issued a new 5-year STEM education strategic plan. The strategic plan states that the Office of Science and Technology Policy will include in its annual reports descriptions of the outcomes of any program assessments conducted on federal STEM education programs in the previous year. According to an Office of Science and Technology Policy official, this information will be included in annual reports starting in 2020. GAO will review these annual reports to determine if they address the recommendation. As noted in the strategic plan, collecting and reporting federal performance data supports efficient and effective use of public funding, increases public awareness of federal program outcomes, and promotes the use of high-quality performance assessment and evaluation methods.

    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

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 16, 2019

Jul 17, 2019

Jun 12, 2019

May 23, 2019

Apr 4, 2019

Mar 27, 2019

Looking for more? Browse all our products here