US STEM Education Is Still Mediocre

February 13, 2015

3:30 pm

A recent Pew Research Center survey suggests that the American public might be a bit deluded about the quality of our STEM education.

29% of Americans still rate our K-12 STEM education as above average or the best in the world, as do 16% of scientists. Meanwhile, in a ranking of 64 countries, we place 35th in math and 27th in science – staunchly mediocre.

STEM education

As you can see, we lag behind many Western countries including the UK, Canada, France, Australia, and New Zealand. Singapore and South Korea, famous for their notoriously hard STEM curriculum, are near the top. These rankings are based on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, which is repeated every three years – so we’ll have new results this year.

Pew does note that our student performance in math and science is improving, if slowly: about half of fourth and eighth graders were rated at the lowest level in math (“below basic”) in 1990, and now only 17% and 26% are in that category. Still, the fact that over a quarter of eighth graders have a less-than-basic grasp of math should be concerning.

What can we do to encourage better STEM performance for students who aren’t being well-served by schools? There’s been a surge of programs and technologies to help kids in these areas, including:

Of course, improving the quality of our in-school curriculum would be the most widely effective solution, but at some point, parents have to take matters into their own hands.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact

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