Social Innovation

How the NEED Act Would Ensure CHIPS Doesn’t Crumble

05.06.24 | 3 min read | Text by Daniel Correa

A year and a half after its passage, money is starting to flow from the CHIPS and Science Act to create high-paying, high-tech jobs. In Phoenix, for example, the chip manufacturer Intel will receive billions to help build two new computer chip manufacturing plants that will transform the area into one of the world’s most important players in modern electronics. 

That project was one of several – totaling nearly $20 billion – announced recently with Intel for computer chip plants in Arizona, Ohio, New Mexico and Oregon. The company said the investments will create a combined 30,000 manufacturing and construction jobs.

With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why all of the attention and headlines for the legislation thus far have focused on the “CHIPS” part of the law. But now, it is time for Congress to put its bipartisan support behind the “and Science” or risk the momentum the law has created. 

That’s because both the law and the semiconductor industry recognize that the U.S. needs a bigger, more inclusive science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce to fulfill the needs of a robust high-tech manufacturing industry. While CHIPS sets the conditions for a revitalized domestic semiconductor industry, it also calls for improved “access to education, opportunity, and services” to support and develop the workers needed to fill these new jobs.

The numbers show the U.S. lags behind its global competitors when it comes to math and science achievement. Middle school math scores are exceptionally low: only 26 percent of all eighth-grade students scored “proficient” on the math portion of the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2022. This presents big problems down the road for higher education.

To put it more bluntly: at a time when CHIPS is poised to ramp up demand for STEM graduates, the nation’s education system is unprepared to produce them

So what’s a fix? A good first step would be for Congress to pass the New Essential Education Discoveries (NEED) Act to improve the nation’s capabilities to conduct education research and development. NEED would create the National Center for Advanced Development in Education (NCADE), a new Center within the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education to develop innovative practices, tools, systems, and approaches to boost achievement among young people in the wake of the pandemic.

NCADE would enable an informed-risk, high-reward R&D strategy for education – the kind that’s already taking place in other sectors, like health, agriculture, and energy. It’s akin to the approach that fuels the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has led to innovations like GPS, the Internet, stealth technology, and even the computer mouse. Education needs something like this, and NEED will create it – a flexible, nimble research center pushing transformational education innovations.

The passing of the CHIPS and Science Act was a strong indication that Republicans and Democrats can work together to solve big, complex problems when motivated to do so. Passing the NEED Act will show that the same bipartisan spirit can ensure the long-term success of the law while simultaneously setting the course for vast and fundamental improvements to the nation’s schools and universities through improved R&D in education.