December 6, 2022
We are writing today to provide updates to a letter released on January 18, 2017, regarding how Federal funds can support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)1 education. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an immense set of challenges for educating our students. Despite the tireless efforts of educators and education leaders across the country, early indications suggest many students, especially those who already faced existing structural inequalities, fell behind in their academic achievement, including in STEM subjects.
A National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) study on educational equity [PDF, 284KB] Disclaimer found that learning opportunities and enrollment patterns in STEM affect long-term learning trajectories and post-secondary education major choices, especially for students from low-income background. Moreover, STEM education can also provide relevant, problem-, place-, and project-based learning experiences that support students in learning new content and concepts and re-engage them in their learning. Research on student motivation has consistently found content relevance to be an effective way to drive student engagement. Moreover, by integrating multiple disciplines when learning a new topic, students may learn more content in less time through deeper engagement.
The purpose of this letter is to help State educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and their partners better understand how to use Federal funds to support innovative, equity-focused pre-kindergarten through grade 12 (Pre-K–12) STEM education strategies. This letter provides examples of how funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021; Titles I, II, III, and IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA [PDF, 1.2MB]); the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, as amended by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), can support efforts to improve Pre-K–12 instruction and student outcomes in STEM fields.2
Funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund under the ARP Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, 2021, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and funds from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund under the CRRSA and CARES Acts, may be used by States and districts responding to and recovering from COVID-19 for any activity authorized under the ESEA, IDEA, and Perkins V, in addition to the activities enumerated in those authorities. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) has released several resources about these programs, including guidance [PDF, 877KB] on the uses of funds under ESSER and GEER.
Now more than ever, it is critical we invest in STEM education to help our students get back on track and prepare for an ever-changing world. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of scientific discovery and advancement. It has also accelerated the digital and data-driven transformation of our economy and shined a spotlight on the digital divide and the importance of closing that divide. Strengthening STEM skills is critical for both short-term innovation as we overcome the impacts of COVID-19, and for preparing students to address future challenges in a complex, interconnected world.
Research further suggests that when community and family role models emphasize the importance of STEM and STEM careers, students are more likely to enroll in STEM courses, improve academic performance, and pursue STEM-related careers. Well-designed STEM programs can help prepare students for a variety of exciting in-demand careers, including space exploration, renewable energy and climate adaptation, and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), data science, quantum computing, and blockchain.
A critical component of learning recovery is ensuring access to high-quality equitable STEM education. Federal agencies, SEAs, LEAs, and private sector partners must coordinate their efforts and use evidence-based methods to best meet students' needs. These methods should include strategies for effectively engaging girls and young women in math and science [PDF, 1.3MB], assisting students in elementary mathematics and middle to high school mathematics, providing relevant and career-linked learning [PDF, 1.6MB] to help prevent students from dropping out, and STEM-linked pedagogies including experiential learning and computational thinking.
The following examples and resources fall into five categories:
- Implement STEM learning acceleration programs that support students who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.3
- Redesign STEM courses and learning experiences to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM.
- Increase students' equitable access to STEM courses and experiences, including out-of- school time (OST) programs,4 dual enrollment, STEM-themed schools, and career pathways.
- Recruit, prepare, and support a diverse STEM educator workforce, increase educators' knowledge and expertise in STEM, and equip educators to meet the diverse needs of all students.
- Improve student access to materials and equipment needed to support inquiry-based pedagogy and active learning.5
Enhancing the impact of STEM education programs and maximizing the impact of available Federal resources necessitates leveraging various sources of support. For example, while being sure that Federal funds are used consistent with all applicable requirements, including the requirement that they supplement, and not supplant, other funds, an SEA or LEA may consider using funds under the following ESEA programs:
- Title I, Part A or Title IV, Part A funds may be used in innovative, supplementary ways to purchase or reconfigure STEM materials, devices, or STEM-focused digital learning resources6 or spaces.
- Title II, Part A funds may be used to provide professional development to educators on how to teach new STEM concepts and approaches, including those in computer science, data science, AI, or other emerging STEM disciplines.
- Title III, Part A funds may be used to provide access to supplemental STEM resources and STEM teacher professional development specifically designed or adapted for English learners. Title IV, Part A funds may be used to provide students with access to well-rounded educational opportunities, including by increasing student access to and improving student engagement and achievement in high-quality STEM courses.
- Title IV, Part B funds may provide students at 21st Century Community Learning Centers with the opportunity to engage in authentic STEM content that aligns to their school day and focuses on hands-on, experiential, STEM-rich experiences.
Similarly, Perkins V funds may be used to develop comprehensive STEM career pathways and programs of study, including career guidance and counseling, instructor compensation, professional development, career and technical student organization advisor costs, equipment, and technical skill assessments. IDEA Part B section 611 funds set aside for other State-level activities may be used to provide professional development for STEM educators to support the needs of children with disabilities, to improve the use of technology in the classroom by children with disabilities to enhance their STEM learning, or to support the use of technology in STEM programs to maximize accessibility to the general education curriculum for children with disabilities. ARP ESSER funds include specific set-asides for evidence-based summer, comprehensive afterschool, and other programs that address the academic impact of lost instructional time – each of these can include a focus on STEM programming.
All uses of Federal resources must comply with applicable laws and requirements for each funding source, including the nondiscrimination requirements in Federal civil rights laws. Please visit the Department's STEM webpage (www.ed.gov/stem) for additional information and resources.
We hope the examples and other information provided in this letter will be helpful in your efforts to provide access to high-quality STEM programs and resources as well as improve learning and achievement for all students.
1 STEM education is an expanding field that can include computer science, data science, artificial intelligence, and other pedagogies that impart computational literacy, problem-solving, and transdisciplinary skills and knowledge.
2 Although the examples provided in this letter are limited to the ARP, ESEA, Perkins V, and IDEA, funds from other formula and competitive grant programs administered by the Department may also be used to support STEM learning.
3 The Biden-Harris Administration acknowledges the unique impact of COVID-19 on, and trauma experienced by, underserved students, including students from low-income backgrounds; students of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) students; English learners; children with disabilities; migratory students; rural students; American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Asian American Pacific Islander students; students in foster care; students in correctional facilities; and students experiencing homelessness. The Administration recognizes that communities of color have borne a disproportionate burden of illness and serious outcomes from COVID-19 and require additional considerations.
4 A wide range of programs can be considered OST programs, including comprehensive afterschool, summer-learning and enrichment programs, vacation academies, work-based learning programs, youth development programs, experiential or service-learning programs and other informal learning programs.
5 Active learning is a process whereby students engage in activities such as reading, writing, discussion, prototyping, or problem-solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of course content.
6 Schools operating a Title I schoolwide program under the ESEA may use Title I, Part A funds to acquire devices, including tablets and laptops, as part of a comprehensive plan to upgrade a school's educational program, consistent with the school's comprehensive needs assessment.