Last August, speaking at the signing ceremony for the historic CHIPS and Science Act—one in a string of Biden-Harris Administration legislative achievements that will help power a new generation of American innovation—President Biden laid out a mission statement for America’s bold, new science and technology investments. “In America, everything is possible,” the President said. “We can channel the full talents of all our people into a greater measure of hope and opportunity for our nation and for the world.”
Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is releasing a vision to drive this mission and help America to make good on this promise by tearing down institutional barriers which have long stood in the way of equitable participation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM), and prevented the American innovation ecosystem from achieving its full potential.
Shaped by more than a year of deep engagement with the American people—including students and teachers, workers in science and technology sectors, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs, education and university leaders, grassroots organizers and community scientists, business leaders, federal STEMM policymakers and others—this vision calls on people, institutions, and organizations across America’s science and technology fields to take bold, concerted action toward achieving equity in STEMM by addressing five action areas.
A Historic Opportunity
For generations, American science and technology leadership has driven extraordinary change and has become part of the fabric of life. Modern experiences are defined by breakthroughs forged by American innovation: the semiconductor that powers everything from our cars to our phones, the GPS that gets us from one place to the next, the medicines and vaccines that keep us safe and protect the lives of the people we love. Over time, these efforts have transformed society and bolstered the world’s most dynamic economy. Today, the U.S. science and technology ecosystem is unparalleled in size, scope, and impact. An unprecedented web of people, places, organizations, and networks make up this ecosystem and contribute to American leadership toward the world’s greatest discoveries and solutions, advancing economic growth and social progress.
Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States has maintained this tradition and championed new transformative investments in innovation: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act are making life better, safer, and more prosperous. Through the reignited Cancer Moonshot and the Executive Order Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation, the Biden-Harris Administration is also leading historic efforts to deliver better health outcomes and greater economic opportunity for all communities.
Persistent Inequality in the American STEMM Ecosystem
Despite this track record of national leadership, history has shown that new investments in science and technology rarely translate to equitable results for all peoples and communities without sustained, intentional effort. Indeed, such advances have often served to deepen inequality and reinforce systemic barriers, with the benefits of science and technology not reaching all communities equally. Further, our science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine ecosystem shuts out and diverts away too many talented individuals, limiting opportunities for discovery and innovation, and our national potential for the greatest impact.
In addition to its coordination and stewardship of the five-year STEM Education Strategic Plan, OSTP has been deeply engaged for over a year with the American people to understand how these inequities are shaping lives and communities. These efforts included a series of national roundtables with students and teachers at all levels, workers in science and technology sectors, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs, education and university leaders, policymakers, grassroots organizers and community scientists, business leaders, and others. These wide-ranging conversations—supplemented by robust research, data, and reporting on these issues—surfaced the forces, trends, and decisions that have prevented the United States from successfully engaging millions of Americans in the scientific enterprise and ensuring that the benefits of the ecosystem are shared by everyone. It has brought STEMM’s missing millions in to stark relief and highlighted the systemic barriers that maintain these another inequities in the science and technology ecosystem.
OSTP led efforts to identify promising strategies for how these cross-sector collaborations can create pathways to opportunity and success and surfaced five core action areas that require the focused, concerted effort of government, academia, civil society and industry. These efforts included an “ideation challenge” in which the American public shared innovative practices and scalable, evidence-based interventions to achieve greater equity and excellence in STEMM. Through the Time is Now initiative, OSTP identified core challenges standing in the way of equitable access and outcomes in the STEMM ecosystem:
- Many students, families, and educators do not receive the holistic support they need to sustain lives of discovery, especially at the K-12 level. As a result, U.S. student performance in science and math has not improved in over a decade, with recent reports suggesting it is on the decline, and long-standing disparities persist in student science and math scores across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups.[i],[ii] Further, increases in the number of students taking advanced course work are not reflected in national mathematics and science assessment scores and fewer than half of high school graduates may have the skills needed to succeed in college coursework.[iii],[iv] Exacerbating these trends, shifts to online learning and remote instruction, and the increased use of technology in the classroom and at home have left many families, educators, and communities unprepared and ill-equipped to provide quality STEMM instruction and experiences to all students.[v]
- A national STEMM teacher shortage is disproportionately harming underrepresented students. States throughout the country report teacher shortages in science and mathematics disciplines.[vi] Across the board, less experienced science and mathematics teachers more commonly work in schools with students from marginalized communities and students living in poverty.[vii] Quantitative data and personal accounts show that many factors—including limited professional learning, mentorship, and leadership opportunities and inadequate pay—can cast the teaching profession as unattractive to STEMM degree holders. Indeed, teachers reported wanting to leave the profession or retire early[viii] at higher rates during the pandemic,[ix] with efforts to make up for students’ lost instructional time serving as a major source of stress among instructors.[x] Without qualified educators, disadvantaged schools may be forced to limit their science and mathematics offerings.[xi],[xii],[xiii]
- Funds and resources are unevenly available, often exacerbating existing disparities, stunting science, and building distrust of the scientific system. Many documented trends have caused these gaps to grow deeper and wider: Persistent late-career funding trends undermine the potential of early innovation, with the average age for receiving a first significant federal or equivalent grant hovering close to 45, and principal investigators (PIs) over 65 receiving twice as many RO1s as those under 36.[xiv] Studies have consistently shown inequities in the allocation of research funding, including a landmark 2011 NIH study which exposed that Black PIs were funded at roughly half the rate of White PIs.[xv] These problems have early roots, with minority-serving institutions (MSIs), emerging institutions, and community colleges receiving on a small fraction of all of the science and technology research and development funds available each year.[xvi] While many initiatives and programs in federal agencies and academic institutions work to advance community priorities, they are chronically underfunded.
- Bias, discrimination, and harassment plague the science and technology ecosystem, from school to workforce and beyond. Systemic barriers—including bias, racism, sexism, ableism, exclusion, discrimination, cultural disincentives, and chronic underfunding—deter people of all ages from considering, pursuing, and persisting in science and technology careers and limit participation in science and technology.[xvii],[xviii],[xix],[xx] Female underrepresentation and gender biases in STEMM begins in early childhood,[xxi] when curiosity is at its peak, and persist later as demonstrated by disparities in mathematics, engineering, computer science, and earth and the physical sciences bachelor’s degrees, as well as in science and engineering occupations.[xxii] Women are more likely to have experienced discrimination, cite discrimination in hiring and promotion, and view gender as a barrier to success in the STEMM workplace as compared to men.[xxiii] Black professionals in STEMM are four times more likely than White professionals to believe their workplace does not pay enough attention to diversity and more likely to indicate that they have experienced discrimination at work.[xxiv] The processes of navigating the STEMM ecosystem are often particularly exclusionary of people with disabilities.[xxv]
- There is neither a culture of accountability nor systems in place to adequately address these persistent challenges. We know too little about how STEMM resources are allocated in the United States; the data is incomplete and the data we have indicates major inequities. Detailed and reliable disaggregated data—which captures the diversity of the people participating in the science and technology ecosystem—is needed to capture the breadth of experiences in the ecosystem, including those of researchers, scientists, innovators, research study participants, workers in science and technology sectors, community members, and end users. Inclusive demographic data collection practices should include gathering information such as sexual orientation and gender identity, disability status and veteran status.[xxvi],[xxvii] Analyses of current data too frequently use practices like obscuring underrepresented communities, and fail to incorporate inclusive demographic data collection practices and considerations in interoperable and longitudinal ways.
A Vision to Transform the U.S. STEMM Ecosystem
As critical new science and technology investments begin to take shape across the country, the United States is faced with a critical decision: We could allow for these important programs to build up the science ecosystem of the past, doubling down on business as usual and deepening inequities across our institutions; or we can meet President Biden’s Day 1 call to advance equity for people who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by poverty and inequality and leverage this once-in-a-generation opportunity to power a more just and inclusive science and technology ecosystem.
The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitments to learners, educators, and workers have the potential to dramatically expand the bounds of who gets to benefit from American innovation and jobs. National momentum in science and technology investments can open the door to a future of innovation, progress, and economic security. To achieve these urgent priorities, people across all sectors must meet the President’s call to confront and overcome the challenges that prevent us from having a science and technology ecosystem defined by both equity and excellence.
Action Towards an Equitable and Excellent STEMM Ecosystem
There has never been a coordinated national effort toward achieving equity in the U.S. science and technology ecosystem. People, institutions, organizations, and communities across the science and technology ecosystem can leverage their unique strengths, perspectives, and resources to address these challenges and advance opportunities for transformative change.
The national vision for STEMM equity and excellence calls for bold concerted leadership, focusing our national efforts and synchronizing cross-sector initiatives across five core action areas. Each action area proposes promising practices, sources over the course of OSTP’s national engagement, to focus interventions:
Action Area 1 – Ensure that students, teachers, workers, communities, and others have adequate support to participate in and contribute to science and technology throughout their lifetimes
- Address structural barriers at every phase of life, from early childhood and adolescence when curiosity is at its peak, into adulthood when on-ramps, off-ramps, and bridges to and through science and technology pathways are critical to access and inclusion.
- Increase access to labs, classrooms, and workplaces through the use of universal, human-centered design practices.
- Offer opportunities at every stage of life, education, and career to help people enter STEMM, such as clearer pathways between early- and first-exposure science and technology experiences, those that focus on middle school girls and gender non-conforming youth, and existing scholarships and research experiences at community, vocational, and four-year colleges and universities.
- Provide culturally relevant and culturally responsive programming and connect individuals with role models and include families in scientific learning.
- Provide support for acute and emerging critical life events that can occur through the course of a career, such as caregiving, chronic illness, disability and accessibility services, mental health, and pandemic recovery. Offer comprehensive wraparound services.
- Fund and incentivize public participation and engagement in science and make participation in science accessible to the public in spaces that are already used.
Action Area 2 – Address the STEMM teacher shortage—which disproportionately harms underrepresented students—by investing in a strong and diverse teacher pipeline
- Leverage and increase access to affordable, comprehensive, evidence-based pre-service teacher preparation programs.
- Support teachers in earning initial, additional, or advanced certification in high-demand areas such as computer science.
- Provide resources for experiential STEMM learning and research experiences for students and teachers in classrooms and in extra-curricular settings.
- Support mechanisms that provide science and mathematics teachers with living wages and help to pay off forms of educational debt.
- Provide students and teachers with the services needed to promote and protect their wholistic health, including mental health, and to support safe, inclusive and equitable learning and teaching environments.
- Create opportunities for professional learning, and leadership along with the opportunity to work collaboratively within and across schools and learning communities.
Action Area 3 – Close the funding gap and support researchers and communities who have been historically excluded from access to key resources
- Close funding gaps in graduate education, including by providing resources to emerging institutions, minority-serving institutions,[i] and community-based organizations that offer models and pathways for success, often outperforming other traditional organizations in their production of science and technology learners, community scientists and community- based solutions. If given the proper financial support, these institutions could significantly increase the participation in the science and technology ecosystem.[ii]
- Ensure the long-term durability of funding and program maintenance, avoiding “one and done” interventions, but instead investing in culture change over time, with a focus on retention, and the opportunity to adapt to emerging challenges and build on successes.
- Expand opportunities for early-career funding and holistic support for junior faculty. Such opportunities have been shown to be fundamental to establishing their research agendas and advancing their careers in academic science, so increasing access to science and technology resources and assets is key.
- Increase funding for programs and initiatives that facilitate connections between researchers and communities through citizen science, crowdsourcing, prize competitions, challenges and university-community research partnerships. Create opportunities for community scientists to learn about and apply for funding solicitations and grants.
Action Area 4 – Scale solutions that root out bias, discrimination, and harassment in the classroom, laboratory, and workplace
- Include salary ranges and remove gendered, ableist and ageist language from job descriptions and advertisements to recruit a broader range of applicants.
- Mitigate bias in performance evaluations, promotion decisions, and award and recognition selection to promote equitable career advancement and access to leadership positions.
- Establish proactive and inclusive anti-harassment organizational cultures and environments that include transparency, accountability, ongoing measurement and assessment, and support for targeted individuals.
- Establish safe and reliable reporting structures, and institute appropriate consequences, for incidents of bias, discrimination and harassment.
- Combat head-on the rationale often provided for turning down women founders and founders of color—that their venture is “too early”—by driving capital to entrepreneurs from historically marginalized communities and companies that drive equitable impact at scale.
Action Area 5 – Promote accountability across the science and technology ecosystem
- Collect clear, transparent, and disaggregated information as a key tool for understanding which interventions work, which do not, and how to deliver more equitable outcomes for more people and assess consistently across the STEMM ecosystem. Expand the scope of what is considered valuable data and knowledge in evaluating STEMM equity success, including community knowledge and Indigenous knowledge.
- Improve and coordinate data collection across the STEMM ecosystem; the available data is incomplete and the data we have reveals major inequities.
- Develop shared indicators of progress toward STEMM equity, and collect, analyze and make public data on progress toward shared outcome goals. In pursuing new equity efforts, identify who is most impacted by both the challenge and the intervention, including explicit analyses of impact on people with disabilities.
- Use key benchmarks to measure success of STEMM efforts: specific and measurable; contextually and culturally relevant; and scalable and replicable.
- Deploy analyses without reinforcing harmful practices like obscuring underrepresented communities, while incorporating inclusive demographic data collection practices and considerations.
A National Call to Action
President Biden has been clear: The Nation’s priorities rely on many forms of science and technology skills and expertise. Achieving them requires ensuring that science and technology both includes and benefits all of America. We must act now so that everyone can benefit from America’s science and technology ecosystem. This is not the work of one segment or sector of society; rather it is a task that requires concerted action. This work is urgent and we must lead it together. By taking coordinated steps aligned with these five action areas, the Nation will seize opportunities for change, and cultivate a STEMM ecosystem that is both more equitable and more excellent for everyone.
[i] Department of Education. (2021). Education in a pandemic. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/20210608-impacts-of-covid19.pdf?tpcc=nlcapsule
[ii] NAEP long-term trend assessment results: Reading and Mathematics. The Nation’s Report Card. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/ltt/2022/
[iii] Results from the 2019 NAEP high school transcript study. The Nation’s Report Card. (2019). Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/hstsreport/#home_highlights
[iv] Average ACT Score For the High School Class of 2022 Declines to Lowest Level in More Than 30 Years. ACT. (2022, October 12). Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://leadershipblog.act.org/2022/10/GradClassRelease2022.html
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[vi] US Department of Education (ED). (2020, April 3). Teacher Shortage Areas. Home. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/pol/tsa.html
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[xiii] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2016, June 7). 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection: A first look – ed. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://ocrdata.ed.gov/assets/downloads/2013-14-first-look.pdf
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[xvi] Toldson, I. A. (2019). Cultivating stem talent at minority serving institutions: Challenges and opportunities to broaden participation in STEM at historically Black Colleges and universities. Growing Diverse STEM Communities: Methodology, Impact, and Evidence, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1021/bk-2019-1328.ch001; Thomas, S. G. (2010). Funding historically Black Colleges and Universities: Progress toward equality?. Journal of Education Finance. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://eric.ed.gov/?q=source%3A%22journal%2Bof%2Beducation%2Bfinance&pg=44&id=EJ874082
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[i] Minority-serving institutions include Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (ANNAPISIs), Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions (ANNHs), Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving institutions (HSIs), Native American-Serving Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTIs), Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), MSI Community Colleges (MSICC)
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