Last Tuesday, President Obama hosted a science fair at the White House to underline the importance of S
ngineering, and M
athematics learning, or STEM education
. At the fair, the president proposed an $80 million increase in federal funding directed toward math and science education
. A large chunk of that money would be used to train specialized math and science teachers. Some would function to incentivize math education at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. While this proposal, along with the rest of the president’s 2013 budget plan, requires approval by Congress, it acknowledges STEM’s critical importance and potential for growth. In addition, President Obama stressed the positive impact of many educational grants from private sector businesses and organizations.
By taking part in science fairs and other STEM activities aimed at exploring practical problems, students become engaged with the subjects and are more likely to pursue them at a higher level. And since many students find math to be a particularly difficult subject to grasp, focusing funding on teacher training could boost student success markedly. As the Common Core makes its debut in classrooms, U.S. math education is already in a state of evolution. Greater emphasis on STEM and better teaching practices will hopefully increase math’s popularity with students.
The President’s overarching goal of promoting and strengthening STEM education is to encourage students to pursue these subjects at the collegiate level and in their careers. Currently, only 40 percent of math and science majors complete their degree, and projections show that the country will need one million college graduates in the next decade to fill anticipated job openings requiring math and science skills. We need to attract students into these fields, and the government’s commitment to STEM is encouraging. With our country’s rapid technological growth, it’s important to keep math education up-to-date both in its content and how it is taught.
Most students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors make the decision to pursue those degrees in high school or earlier, according to a recent report
released by Microsoft Corporation and Harris Interactive.
Our country will have more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. To understand why there is a shortage of students entering math and science fields to fill this need, two surveys were administered: one for parents of K-12 students and one for college students in STEM programs.
Some interesting insights:
→ Students don't feel prepared for college courses in STEM: Only one in five STEM college students felt that their K-12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM.
→ The reasons young women and men pursue math or science differ. Forty-nine percent of young women said they decided to major in STEM to make a difference, and 61% of young men said that toys and games in their childhoods sparked their interest. For 68% of the female respondents, a teacher or class was reported as the top factor that got them interested in STEM; for male respondents, this figure was 51%.
There are many public campaigns to inspire a future generation of math and science students, including Change the Equation. Research has found again and again that interest is more predictive of young people pursuing STEM careers than grades or test scores.
How do you think we could promote K-12 curiosity about the wonders of math and science?
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recently released a 130-page online report suggesting changes to the education system to better prepare and inspire K-12 students to pursue STEM fields. One thing that I appreciated about this report is that the group (which included Google CEO Eric Schmidt!) suggested actionable items rather than doing a review of the literature and organizing general priorities, which seemed to be a common theme in the last half dozen or so reports of this nature that I have read.
A recommendation that particularly caught my eye is spending $325 million a year to boost the salaries of some 22,000 top-notch math and science teachers around the country. That comes out to an average of $14,772 for each, plus discretionary funds for the classroom, which is a big deal. However, what seems like an even bigger deal is that this means teachers would be assessed to be selected as part of this winning batch. I was scrolling down the report, looking forward to reading the recommendations of how to select these teachers, but unfortunately, this was it: "We recommend that the Federal Government undertake a rapid six-month study to address the issues in implementing a STEM Master Teachers Corps - including the selection process and criteria for the teachers and the organization and administrative structure."
The council would like the teachers to be "selected based on their demonstrated ability to prepare and inspire students." Now here's what I wonder: How can a teacher's ability to inspire students be measured? Thoughts?
photo credit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports