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Highlights

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.

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Recommendations

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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education 1. 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)
Open
The Committee agreed with this recommendation and took some steps toward implementing it. The Committee's 5-year STEM education strategic plan, issued in December 2018, 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 identify promising, evidence-based STEM education programs, practices, and policies in order to learn from and implement them more broadly. As of January 2020, the Office of Science and Technology Policy reported that multiple interagency workgroups charged with implementing the strategic plan have set goals that include the review of agencies' program assessments and sharing promising practices, but have not completed their work. We 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.
Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education 2. 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)
Open
The Committee agreed with this recommendation and took some steps toward implementing it. One objective of the Committee's 5-year STEM education strategic plan, issued in December 2018, focuses on making program performance and outcomes publicly 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. However, the STEM inventory included in the Committee's annual report issued in October 2019 did not include such information. As of January 2020, Office of Science and Technology Policy indicated that the Committee will begin to collect program assessment information in 2020 for future reporting purposes. We will review the results of the Committee's future efforts, including its inventory of programs, to determine if they adequately address the recommendation. The strategic plan acknowledges our finding on the importance of collecting, organizing, and reporting federal performance data to increase public awareness of the impact of federal STEM education programs.
Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education 3. 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)
Open
The Committee agreed with this recommendation and began taking steps to implement it. According to the Committee's 5-year STEM education strategic plan, issued in December 2018, 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. The Committee is working to coordinate standard definitions for terms like "participant" and "rural" in an effort to develop common metrics, according to its annual report issued in October 2019. The Office of Science and Technology Policy reported that such efforts to inform future data collection should be complete in the summer of 2020. However, as of January 2020, there was no progress to report on the standardization of terminology and progress towards reporting participation rates. We will follow the Committee's progress developing and implementing the reporting framework to determine if it addresses this 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.
Office of Science and Technology Policy 4. 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)
Open
The Office of Science and Technology Policy agreed with this recommendation and began taking steps to implement it. The Committee on STEM Education's 5-year strategic plan, issued in December 2018, 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 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs in the previous year. In January 2020, the Office of Science and Technology Policy reported that this information will be included in annual reports starting in 2020. We 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.

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