In-Depth: Sponsoring Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress, with some modifications, to create and expand upon STEM education initiatives at the National Science Foundation (NSF) for young children, including new research grants to increase girls’ participation in computer science:
“It is so important for young children, especially our girls, to be introduced to opportunities available to them in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. As a computer programmer, I faced adversity in what has long been considered a male-dominated field and I’m working to break down those barriers for our current and future generations. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that our children are prepared with the education necessary to succeed in a 21st-century economy while also taking steps to close the gender gap in STEM. I will continue to be an advocate for investing in STEM education initiatives so that we are better equipped to address our changing economic and national security needs.”
After this bill passed the Senate, Rep. Rosen said:
“I’m happy to report that my bipartisan Building Blocks of STEM Act has cleared a new milestone by passing the Senate. This bill is now one step closer to becoming law. The gender gap in STEM is depriving our country of talented minds that could be inventing the next breakthrough technology, developing the next big startup, or keeping our nation safe from cyberattacks. I’ll continue to support legislation that will give our students in Nevada and across the country tools that will prepare them for the careers of the future.”
After this bill’s Senate passage, lead Republican cosponsor Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said:
“The earlier we introduce STEM skills and knowledge to students, the more prepared they are for future careers. I’m proud to work with Senator Rosen and our colleagues to encourage all students—especially young women and girls—to pursue jobs in the STEM field, and I’m thrilled our legislation passed the Senate. The tech industry is growing in Appalachia, and we want our students to be able to contribute to the economy at home in West Virginia with competitive, high-paying STEM jobs.”
Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) is the sponsor of this bill’s House companion. After the House passed her House legislation, Rep. Stevens said:
“I am thrilled that the House of Representatives voted to pass the Building Blocks of STEM Act. This bill will help ensure that our children are prepared to thrive in the 21st century economy by directing public resources to study opportunities for early childhood STEM education and strategies to encourage girls to engage in STEM & computer science. Women and girls everywhere need to know that they can succeed in the STEM fields, and that our country and our economy won’t succeed without them. Let’s keep advocating, encouraging, and mentoring the diverse next generation of STEM leaders.”
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is among a number of women’s and girls’ advocacy organizations that supports this bill. Its CEO, Kimberly Churches, says:
“Despite significant strides women are making in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and computer science fields, barriers to gender equity still exist. This is particularly true for girls, especially girls of color. The bipartisan Building Blocks of STEM Act takes important steps toward identifying systematic barriers and biases affecting young girls in STEM and computer science. AAUW commends Senator Rosen for her leadership on this critical issue and looks forward to continue working together to ensure equity in STEM education for all women and girls.”
There have recently been a number of legal challenges to female-only scholarships, awards, professional development workshops, and STEM camps for girls in middle and high school. These suits point out that sex discrimination in educational programs is banned under Title IX (a federal law that applies to all schools that receive federal funding regardless of their public or private status), and contend that girls-only STEM programs violate Title IX. An anonymous female professor at UCLA who filed a Title IX complaint against UCLA challenging two workshops for women held by the campus’ Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics told the Los Angeles Times that, as a mentor to college students of all genders, she’s seen more men becoming discouraged about their chances of success in the field due to an erosion of meritocracy and growing favoritism of women in the sciences.
Everett Bartlett, president of Stop Abuse and Violent Environments (a group originally founded to lobby for due process rights for those accused of campus sexual misconduct, and which launched a project to challenge single-gender programs in January 2019), says, “The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. We’re not a society based on quotas, we’re a society based on fairness.”
The National Women’s Law Center’s Emily Martin contends that female-focused programs are allowed under Title IX as permissible affirmative action to overcome conditions that resulted in “limited participation” of one gender in a particular educational program (in this case, STEM education). Martin argued that suits alleging men are being treated unfairly under Title IX are political ploys to undermine women’s advancement:
“There’s a pretty well-organized and well-financed movement that is pushing out the false narrative that men are the victims of feminism. The Trump administration has emboldened those trying to use this moment and this Department of Education as a weapon against women’s advancement.”
While Title IX expert and Western New England University Erin Buzuvis also questions whether the recent surge in complaints about single-sex programs is motivated by a desire to undermine Title IX, she also says it’s appropriate to review sex-specific programs to see if they’ve become outdated as women have advanced in higher education. In Buzuvis’ view, “We need to be skeptical ... of any segregation projects because the risk of treating people unequally on the basis of sex is promoting stereotypes.”
Joseph Cimpian, an associate professor of economics and education policy at New York University, argues that the problem of gender equity in education largely results from “an education system that devalues young women’s contributions and underestimates young women’s intellectual abilities more broadly.” In light of this observation, he contends that cultural and societal interventions, rather than public policy, are the most effective means of remedying the gender equity gap:
“[E]ducation systems (and society) unjustifiably and systematically view women as less intellectually capable.My argument that policy probably isn’t the solution is not intended to undercut the importance of affirmative action and grievance policies that have helped many individuals take appropriate legal recourse. Rather, I am arguing that those policies are certainly not enough, and that the typical K-12 policy mechanisms will likely have no real effect in improving equity for girls. The obstacles that women face are largely societal and cultural. They act against women from the time they enter kindergarten—instilling in very young girls a belief they are less innately talented than their male peers—and persist into their work lives. Educational institutions—with undoubtedly many well-intentioned educators—are themselves complicit in reinforcing the hurdles. In order to dismantle these barriers, we likely need educators at all levels of education to examine their own biases and stereotypes.”
This legislation passed the Senate by voice vote with the support of eight bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including four Democrats and four Republicans. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI), passed the House by voice vote with the support of 11 bipartisan House cosponsors, including eight Democrats and three Republicans.
A number of women’s and girl’s organizations and technology industry associations support this legislation. They include Girls Scouts of the USA, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), BSA The Software Alliance, National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE), National Organization for Women, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS),Girls, Inc., BSA The Software Alliance, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and Code.org.
Sen. Rosen introduced similar legislation to focus NSF STEM education programming on young children and to award grants to encourage young girls to pursue computer science learning in the 115th Congress. It was initially introduced as the Code LIke a Girl Act (H.R.3316), then rolled into then-Rep. Rosen’s Building Blocks of STEM Act (H.R.3397) with the support of 30 other House cosponsors, including 29 Democrats and two Republicans. That bill passed the House by voice vote, burt didn’t see action in the Senate.
Of Note: Employment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) occupations has increased by 10% over the past decade. This is nearly double the growth rate of non-STEM occupations (5.2% growth over the same period).
While the number of women entering the workforce in STEM careers has risen significantly over the past 20 years and significant strides have been made toward closing the gender gap in several STEM field, significant gender disparities remain through computer and mathematical sciences and engineering at all levels of education.
According to the Commerce Dept., women currently comprise only 24% of the STEM workforce. This problem begins in the K-12 years, when boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to take computer science classes. Consequently, Rep. Rosen observed last year, “fewer than 1 in 5 computer science graduates are women.”
Studies have shown that children who engage in scientific activities from an early age develop positive attitudes toward science. They’re also more likely to pursue STEM expertise and careers later on. Additionally, research shows that introducing STEM subjects at a young age helps produce positive outcomes overall in school, career, and life.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / skynesher)