Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education: Actions Needed to Better Assess the Federal Investment
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
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.
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
|Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education||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)||
The Committee agreed with and addressed this recommendation. 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). According to the Committee's December 2021 Annual Report, Committee agencies shared how they assessed the impact of their STEM education programs. The report specified the number of programs that had been evaluated, the number of evaluations underway, and links to recently issued performance reports for individual programs. By sharing recent performance reports, the Committee has taken steps to foster interagency learning, which could enhance the portfolio's effectiveness.
|Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education||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)||
The Committee agreed with and addressed this recommendation. Issued January 2023, OSTP's annual report on STEM Education reported program-specific information on evaluations in its federal STEM education inventory. For each program, the report indicated whether a program evaluation was completed in fiscal year 2021 and provided the link if publicly released. The report also included agency-level information on whether agencies initiated or have plans to conduct program evaluations and noted that many programs do not carry out evaluations annually. In addition, the report states that federal agencies are committed to documenting and sharing such information both for strategic planning and to inform the public. The sharing of performance information at a federal level supports coordinated policymaking and efficient use of resources.
|Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education||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)||
The Committee agreed with and addressed this recommendation. Issued January 2023, OSTP's annual report on STEM Education reported on the participation rates of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons from rural areas in federal STEM education programs that collected such information. The Committee also issued guidance to assist agencies in designating who constitutes "participants" and "persons in rural areas". In addition, the report notes that collection and reporting on the participation of various groups provides agencies with opportunities to gauge programs' effectiveness at fostering diversity and inclusion. Such tracking and reporting is essential to public accountability, legislative mandates, and to supporting their goal of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM.
|Office of Science and Technology Policy||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)||
OSTP agreed with and addressed this recommendation. Issued December 2021, OSTP's annual report on STEM Education listed the recently assessed STEM education programs and included web links to the associated performance reports. The annual report also indicated the number of STEM education programs that been evaluated as well as the number of evaluations underway.