Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

An Investigation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Focused High Schools in the U.S

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

An Investigation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Focused High Schools in the U.S

Article excerpt


This study examined the characteristics of 10 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) focused high schools that were selected from various regions across the United States. In an effort to better prepare students for careers in STEM fields, many schools have been designed and are currently operational, while even more are in the planning phase. Data collected, analyzed and documented in this report included websites, national statistics databases, standardized test scores, interviews, and published articles. A comparative case design was used to identify key components of STEM high school designs.

Results from this study indicate that students who attend STEM-focused high schools outperformed their peers at similar institutions. Although programs varied, a common theme that emerged from these schools was focus on more rigorous course requirements with electives centered on STEM content and application. Students who attended STEM schools were engaged in real-world problem solving and completed internships and/or a capstone projects to fulfill graduation requirements. Most students attending STEM schools in this study were admitted based on a lottery system while two out of the ten schools admitted all applicants. The student population was comprised of a higher number of minority students compared to other schools in the United States. The findings in this study are significant because they indicate that many students, when given the opportunity and support, are able to successfully complete rigorous STEM academic programs that go beyond the basic graduation requirements.


The decline in the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate degrees awarded in the United States has stimulated interest in creating and implementing STEM programs. In the revised CRS Report for Congress , the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that there were 207 federal education programs in 2004 designed to increase the number of students studying in STEM fields and/or improve the quality of STEM education (Library of Congress, 2006 & 2008). About $2.8 billion was appropriated for these programs providing financial support for students or scholars, institutional support to improve educational quality, support for teacher and faculty development, and institutional physical infrastructure. Of the 207 programs, 53 of them were targeted toward high schools. In the Executive Report to the President (2010), the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) continued to highlight the importance of STEM education for the United States to remain a leader among nations and to solve the immense challenges in such areas as energy, health, environmental protection and national security. One of the specific recommendations from the PCAST was the "creation of at least 200 new highly-STEM-focused high schools and 800 STEM-focused elementary and middle schools over the next decade, including many serving minority and high-poverty communities" (Executive Report to the President, 2010, pp. 8).

Over the past 30 years many states have created opportunities to increase students' exposure and engagement in STEM content learning. Some of the many options available to students include: Dual enrollment, AP and IB programs, Early College entrance programs, summer programs, residential STEM schools, non brick-and-mortar type educational programs, STEM academies or schools, internships and mentorships, contests and competitions, and service learning programs. One of the advantages that STEM academies or high schools have is an extended time with students to go further into the stages of expertise. They design programs that move students from interest in subject area to competencies, to expertise. Specialized STEM high schools come in different forms: state residential schools, schools within schools, self-contained schools and part-time sites. …

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