I think the biggest impediment to STEM is that we have Liberal Arts majors teaching math and science in all of our schools. Most teachers are just barely functional in these subjects. If we want better STEM interest, we need to facilitate the use of Scientists and Engineers in the education process.
Sounds like a good plan. But how can we do that? The fact that teachers are not paid enough is an issue. Yet at the same time, there is no money to pay anyone anything more, certainly not in the public sector.
Teaching math and science at the K-12 level may not need an engineer but it does need a teacher both motivated and interested in the STEM related courses. I had both great math/science teachers in school and some, well, not so great; the difference: their interest in the subject, not their pay nor their degree. All too often we are told: "We need to spend more on education" instead of "We need to engage both the students and the teachers". All too often we ignore the reality that not everyone wants to learn science/math, just like not everyone wants to learn history or geography. It takes a motivated student and an engaged teacher, not to mention parents being involved and interested. The hard facts are some students just don't want to work and some do. The reasons vary but the result is the same. Until the culture values STEM related endeavors rather than tossing a ball we will continue to have both the conversation and the battle to encourage students to pursue science/engineering degrees. One program that WORKS is FIRST (www.usfirst.org), I have had multiple kids and first hand experience coaching a team. We could use more FIRST teams in schools...
How come we can't even begin to agree on the basic facts? The hot "engineering" jobs are in developing software to lure eyeballs to websites based on novel services and premises on the front end, and to figure out ways to monetize on the back end, involving nontraditional technologies like big data analysis, and these are far from "traditional" engineering topics. The "classic" engineering jobs in the US are being taken over by Asian engineers brought over for such absurdly low wages that Asians are one of the fastest-growing poverty categories in the US. I communicate with a small group of avionics certification engineers across several countries and some of us haven't had regular work for many months. The reason we aren't recruiting new students for traditional STEM education is the jobs and wages are in the poorest condition I've seen in decades, but I suppose between the ever-lower-labor-cost industry forces and the well-heeled lobby of "educationists" (who make a nice living in the industry but can never be bothered to actually TEACH) it's always going to be necessary to "perpetuate the myth" of high-paying jobs going begging, and if we could only find someone smart enough to program that robotic entry in the high-school science fair...give me a break, folks, there's absolutely no reality in this picture!!!
Recruit retired engineers as volunteers and part-time teachers. Many would find it more rewarding than their original careers. Of course, if a retired engineer replaces an unqualified teacher in the math or science classroom, the teacher's union won't be happy.
I retired after 30 years in the EE field, and started teaching in a high school in my hometown 7 years ago. Having someone who really knows the math, really makes the difference. Like others said a crappy math teacher can really turn kids off. As a result, I have been able to start a pre engineering program at my school, and now I am starting to have kids who have graduated tell me how much they apperciate what I did to get them interested in Engineering. I tell kids I earned enough as an engineer to be able to afford to teach. I wish more of us old fart engineers would do the same.
I don't think that's the problem at all. You don't need to be a PhD to teach algebra. I think the real problem is that it's so hard for kids today to tinker. My dad's generation has tube radios. I had (in the 70's) heathkit and the Apple II. You could understand how it all worked, and you could modify/customize them to do what you wanted. There's just no way to an iPod, and hack on the hardware. (I don't mean any potential legal issues, just that it's all integrated to death.) Likewise, on the SW side, we used to be able to write a 50 line BASIC program that did something we thought was cool. Now, you need to be an HTML5 wiz to get anything that seems remotely interesting to a child. Get the kids a bunch of arduino's and a 3D printer in the schools, and you'll see STEMs kids coming out of the woodwork.
"Yet at the same time, there is no money to pay anyone anything more, certainly not in the public sector"
We have the third lowest overall taxes of the 34 OECD nations (all levels of government). The money is there. We simply prefer tax cuts.
Our fiscal problems are entirely a choice. If we had OECD average taxes, our budget would be approximately balanced or even in surplus.
Teaching is not a rewarding career for most engineers. The pay is low and most of the high school kids really don't care about learning. The large corporations are just giving this lip service since they prefer to hire green card workers at lower wages.