Department of Education

The Department of Education should shift high schools to skills-based learning.

Currently, high schools are focused on teaching content (e.g., history, geography, English literature) and not skills (e.g., reading for information, locating information, and applied mathematics). This is reinforced by accountability measures based on content-based tests. Skills-based assessments should replace the NAEP and NCLB subject-matter-based tests for high schoolers. The Department of Education should then develop a plan by which focus on these testable skills would phase in over five years to replace the current subject-area curricular emphasis.

The Department of Education and National Science Foundation should create an in-person national STEM talent recruiting system.

The United States should move from a weak, potentially expensive, and socially inequitable system of STEM talent self-identification, to a thorough, effective, and more equitable system of directed STEM talent recruiting. Identifying, recruiting, and promoting STEM talent from our nation’s high schools should become a systematic national endeavor, similar to NCAA basketball recruiting. A key way to develop this system is to ensure that the hundreds of outreach coordinators managing the hundreds of federal agency high school outreach program sites begin to take on this role. Federal agencies should incentivize such a system by instituting annual reporting requirements on their outreach grants that require grantees to list every high school they have contacted and the names of students they have identified as “promising.” This list then serves as the recruiting resource/mailing list for all scholarship programs, enrichment opportunities, college degrees, and other opportunities offered by any philanthropy, educational institution, nonprofit or company working in STEM.

The Department of Education should create “Early College High Schools” with a STEM track.

Early College High Schools are schools that enable students to also enroll in community college classes during high school. The U.S. Department of Education should partner with the philanthropic foundations currently supporting such programs to incorporate a STEM track within them, or to launch new Early College High School Programs with a STEM focus – particularly in locations where low-income neighborhoods are fortuitously located adjacent to strong STEM colleges and universities.

The Department of Education can promote radical innovation within school design.

Traditional universities, taught and administrated by traditional staff rarely deviate from conventional methods of teaching, yet as the needs of the modern workforce become focused on broad skill sets such as logic, writing and thinking and less on learning specific facts, such teaching methods have become anachronistic. Instead, governments, foundations or wealthy individuals ought to fund completely new schools based on the needs of the current workforce. For example, the Olin Foundation endowed a new kind of college (Olin College) to fundamentally change how engineering is taught. The college does not have separate academic departments and all faculty members hold five-year contracts with no opportunity for tenure. Olin College’s new method of teaching engineering has been widely praised amongst engineering firms—other colleges and universities should seek similar innovations.