Addressing the STEM Challenge by Expanding Specialty Math and Science High Schools

American competitiveness in the innovation-driven global economy has become a subject of intense concern, with many pointing to the shortage of well-trained American scientists, technicians, engineers, and mathematicians (STEM). Amid the proliferation of policy proposals to address the problem, however, one critical component has been largely overlooked: the role of specialty math and science high schools. In a new report, ITIF argues that such schools graduate deeply knowledgeable and passionate students of science and math who are more likely to pursue these fields in college and beyond. As a result, funding the expansion of specialty science and math schools must be an important part of any solution to the STEM challenge. The report recommends taking steps to triple enrollment in math and science high schools to reach 140,000 by 2012.

If America is to succeed in the innovation-powered global economy, boosting math and science skills will be critical. This is why a wide array of task forces and organizations has recently raised the clarion call for more and better scientists and engineers. While the policy proposals offered are wide ranging, one key policy innovation has surprisingly been largely ignored: the role of specialty math and science high schools. Today, there are well over 100 of these high schools throughout the nation. And evidence shows that these schools are a powerful tool for producing high school graduates with a deep knowledge and strong passion for science and math that translates into much higher rates of college attendance and graduation in scientific
fields.

As a result, any solution to the scientist, technician, engineer, and mathematician (STEM) shortage must include a national commitment to expand the number of specialty math and science high schools. To do this, Congress should allocate $180 million a year for five years to the National Science Foundation to be matched by states and local school districts and industry with the goal of tripling enrollment in math and science high schools to around 140,000 by 2012.