The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy
The United States must mobilize for excellence in mathematics and science education so that all students — not just a select few, or those fortunate enough to attend certain schools — achieve much higher levels of math and science learning. Over the coming decades, today’s young people will depend on the skills and knowledge developed from learning math and science to analyze problems, imagine solutions, and bring productive new ideas into being. The nation’s capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the global economy depend on a broad foundation of math and science learning, as do our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility for young people that lie at the heart of the American dream.
What kind of schools and systems of education does America need to transform mathematics and science education and deliver it equitably and with excellence to all students?
Our nation needs an educated young citizenry with the capacity to contribute to and gain from the country’s future productivity, understand policy choices, and participate in building a sustainable future. Knowledge and skills from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the so-called STEM fields—are crucial to virtually every endeavor of individual and community life. All young Americans should be educated to be “STEM-capable,” no matter where they live, what educational path they pursue, or in which field they choose to work.
For the United States, the “opportunity equation” means transforming American education so that our schools provide a high-quality mathematics and science education to every student. The Commission believes that change is necessary in classrooms, schools and school districts, and higher education. The world has shifted dramatically — and an equally dramatic shift is needed in educational expectations and the design of schooling.
Excellent mathematics and science learning for all American students will be possible only if we “do school differently” in ways that place math and science more squarely at the center of the educational enterprise. We need new school models that push the limits of practice at both ends of the instructional spectrum: re-engaging our most disconnected students in academically rigorous math and science education and placing them on pathways to graduation and postsecondary education, and providing opportunities for the most successful students in math and science to accelerate beyond what is traditionally available in high school.
The Commission and Its Work
Coming from different sectors and representing a diversity of perspectives, the members of the Commission came to agreement that the United States cannot make the necessary improvements to mathematics and science education by focusing exclusively on mathematics and science learning. Rather, the United States will need to give at least equal weight to driving fundamental change to the nation’s schools and to strengthening the innovation capacity of the educational system. The Commission has combed the field for ideas and practices that are already operating effectively on the ground and has given careful consideration to other recent recommendations and calls for action. The Commission’s work indicates that strong and promising examples exist, as does a growing national consensus that change is needed.
As a guiding principle, we should take every opportunity to build math and science learning into all school reform initiatives, at every grade level, for every student.
A Comprehensive Mobilization Plan
The Commission has crafted a comprehensive program of action—one that will require commitments from many quarters, including the federal government, states, schools and school districts, colleges and universities, unions, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropy. A detailed set of recommendations lays out a practical, coordinated plan, and describes what each constituency can do to raise mathematics and science achievement for all American students. Recommendations are presented in four priority areas:
- Higher levels of mathematics and science learning for all American students. Mobilize the nation for excellence and equity in mathematics and science education. Place mathematics and science at the center of education innovation, improvement, and accountability.
- Common standards in math and science that are fewer, clearer, and higher, coupled with aligned assessments. Establish common standards that are fewer, clearer, and higher and that guide instructional improvement in mathematics and science. Develop sophisticated assessments and accountability mechanisms that, along with common standards, stimulate instructional improvement and innovation in mathematics and science.
- Improved teaching and professional learning, supported by better school and system management. Increase the supply of well-prepared teachers of mathematics and science at all grade levels by improving teacher preparation and recruitment. Improve professional learning for all teachers, with an eye toward revolutionizing math and science teaching. Upgrade human capital management throughout U.S. schools and school systems toward ensuring an effective teacher for every student, regardless of socio-economic background.
- New designs for schools and systems to deliver math and science learning more effectively. Build high expectations for student achievement in mathematics and science into school culture and operations as a pathway to college and careers. Enhance systemic capacity to support strong schools and act strategically to turn around or replace ineffective schools. Tap a wider array of resources to increase educational assets and expand research and development capacity.
Significant improvement in mathematics and science learning will be much more likely if the American people, especially young people, understand what is possible and demand it. The Commission therefore urges a national mobilization to raise awareness and galvanize the nation for change. Through strategic partnerships, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Institute for Advanced Study, and other organizations (including many whose leaders have served on the Commission) are taking action and encouraging broad participation.
Read what’s happening in STEM education policy, practice, and research:
STEM IN FOCUS