Congress

Congress should make efforts to increase high school students’ access to a wide array of content.

To give students access to courses that are not offered by their own schools, Congress should mandate credit reciprocity across state lines, and between virtual and physical schools, via the Elementary and Secondary Authorization Act. Schools receiving federal funding would have to give their own students graduation credit for courses taken at virtual schools, either in-state or out-of-state, as long as the virtual courses/classes count towards graduation credits in at least one state.

Congress needs to work with State and Local Government to increase the freedom of high school students to pursue depth.

In order to provide students the opportunity to pursue depth in their K-12 studies, states should substantially pare the breadth requirements and mandatory course lists required for high school graduation. Testing a sampling of students on key skills needed, before and after taking specific courses, should indicate the extent to which a course advances a key skill and therefore should be mandated as a graduation requirement. Congress should incentivize the relaxation of science distribution requirements in high schools by tying ESEA funding to the elimination of graduation (or graduation test) criteria in which specific science courses are required by name. Moreover, states should decrease the science courses required for graduation to one, and let that one be of the student’s choosing, while reducing math requirements slightly.

Congress should make efforts to move high schools to competency-based credit systems.

One way to increase the ability of STEM students to pursue their interests more deeply and to better customize learning would be to allow students to more easily test out of classes. One way to do this would be for Congress to tie ESEA funding to states’ adoption of competency-based credit systems. In competency-based credit systems, students receive credit for subject matter learned by taking the end-of-course/end-of-school tests, rather than by spending unneeded seat time in these classes. This option incentivizes student progression through content, opens up time in the curriculum for “in-depth” studies, and helps to retain the brightest high school students, many of whom are bored with the slow pace of seat-time-based instruction. In concert with competency-based credit, school-district funding authorities should adopt competency-based funding models where funding to schools is granted, not on a seat time/attendance-based formula, but on successful course credit units completed by students.

Congress should require colleges to report “National Survey of Student Engagement” scores.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), is designed to obtain, on an annual basis, information from more than 1,300 colleges about student participation in programs and activities that those institutions offer for learning and personal development. Unfortunately, few colleges and universities report their institution’s scores. To change that, Congress should require that as a “check off” criterion in the certifications and representations section of any grant proposal that provides student support, universities should have to assert that they have publicly posted their NSSE results. The release of this information will allow parents, teachers, students, funding agencies, and other stakeholders to ascertain that institution’s level of student engagement in instructional practices designed to develop Deep Divers and Interdisciplinary Connectors.

NSF should contract with an organization to establish a national STEM “Test Kitchen” for evaluating teaching methods.

Some kinds of STEM teaching methods have been shown to generate much better learning outcomes than others. But more extensive evaluation of best methods is needed. Toward that end Congress should allocate $5 million in construction costs and $2.5 million in annual operating costs to NSF for them to contract with an organization to build a showcase “STEM Test Kitchen,” perhaps located adjacent to the NSF site in Arlington, VA. The “Test Kitchen” would assess different STEM teaching approaches, side-by-side, and determine which is best suited to delivering a specific concept, as measured by <g> score. The winning “Test Kitchen” teaching approach for each concept would be distributed via popular medium, e.g., as YouTube instructional videos.

Congressional efforts to provide prizes to colleges and universities that do best at retaining STEM students should increase.

STEM degrees could be increased significantly if more freshmen who intended to major in STEM graduated with a STEM degree. Congress should appropriate $66M a year to the National Science Foundation, for five years; this would be matched one to two by a major philanthropy, to be awarded as prizes funds to colleges and universities that have dramatically increased the rate at which their freshmen STEM students graduate with STEM degrees and that can demonstrably sustain that increase over five years. Awards would be offered in three tiers: $5M for small colleges, $10M for mid-size ones and $35M for large universities.

Congress should make efforts to enable STEM workers to remain working in downturns.

Keeping STEM workers employed during sectoral or national downturns is key to maintaining adequate STEM workers. Toward that end, Congress should establish a furlough program for STEM employees in cyclic industries, whereby such employees could spend up to 18 months at a university or federal laboratory at a one-half to two-thirds pay rate. The funding for this program could come either through direct appropriation, through a tax credit given to industry, or through explicit acquisition contract guidelines that allow flexibility by the contracting company to use acquisition dollars for employee education expenses after project termination or completion.

Congress can establish a national skills-based hiring system.

Moving to a more skills-based hiring system would make it easier for workers with STEM skills (but perhaps not with the “right” STEM degrees) to take STEM jobs. To do this Congress should appropriate funds for federal agencies to hold grant competitions in which professional societies or trade organizations would be asked to coordinate their industry sector’s move towards skills-based hiring. The grantee would spend one to two years crafting a skills-testing pyramid via engagement with the industry sector in question, ultimately arriving at a consensus skills pyramid. The grantee would have to achieve a certain percentage rate of skills-based hiring by its industry sector in order to receive follow-on funding in subsequent years.

Congress should create a H-1B Visa commission.

Absent significant expansion of H-1B visas for STEM workers, Congress should establish a commission to manage H-1B visas and instruct it to create an H-1B visa system whose fees (or caps) float with unemployment rate by subfield/occupation. Alternatively, Congress could give the task of deriving an H-1B visa fee (cap) formula to the Department of Labor.

Congress ought to foster the expansion of “Dual-Credit” systems.

Dual-credit systems are those in which a high school student may take college courses, typically at a local community college, and receive high school and college credit simultaneously. Expansion of these programs can help more high school students take advanced STEM courses. Via the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress should allocate up to $25 million per year for five years to the Department of Education to encourage the spread of dual-credit systems generally. DOE would release the funding in the form of numerous, but small startup grants to school districts wishing to establish or expand dual-credit courses.