Maintaining Student Interest in STEM-based Career Paths

According to a recent article in EdWeek, among 2013 high school Seniors, there has been a 21% increase in interest in STEM-related careers, as compared to 2004.   The most significant differences were by gender. Among 2013 seniors who were interested in STEM careers, 38% were males compared with only 15% who were female.  Unfortunately, surveys of students in future graduating classes indicated an even wider gap between genders.

The most disturbing element of the recent report is the outcome of the surveys of high school Freshmen. Of those students who reported interest in STEM-based careers as freshmen, approximately 57% lose their interest in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  The federal government estimates that there will be around 8.7 million positions within STEM-related fields, as compared to the 7.4 million positions that currently exist.  In order to meet the demands of the future, it is vital that our educational system maintains and enhances student interest in the sciences, technology, and mathematics throughout their high school career. If students are expressing an interest in these areas early in their high school career, it is certainly an indication that such interest should be sustained and encouraged by their teachers and administrators.

As a mathematics educator, I am pleased to see the budding enthusiasm of high school students for STEM related areas. The challenge now is how best to encourage, support, maintain, and enhance their studies in the sciences to preserve that zeal and excitement and to ready those same students to develop their potential for success in college and STEM based careers.

Continuing the Race to the Top

According to this New York Times article, Arne Duncan announced that nearly $200 million dollars in education grants has been awarded to several states that narrowly missed out on the Race to Top funds distributed last year.  Congratulations are due to Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana and Kentucky.  As the Times reports, “The states were awarded the grants to improve student achievement with plans that include developing teacher and principal evaluation systems and expanding studies in science, technology, engineering and math.”

It’s great to see these seven states join the other fourteen that have already received Race to the Top funds. In a time when state officials are faced with the challenge of improving student achievement while reducing state education spending, it’s encouraging to see the availability of these federal funds being utilized, particularly with an emphasis toward STEM education.

Changing the Equation

We’ve written before on Change the Equation, a non-profit, CEO-driven organization dedicated to addressing our innovation problem and committed to driving  “the U.S. to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade”.  Good thing too.  Only 43 percent of U.S. graduates in 2010 were prepared for college work in math.  And Scholastic’s Math Hub reports on a new study from the Gates Foundation and Harris Interactive noting that many students report feeling unprepared for college courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas.  That’s too bad, because as Math Hub documents, the US will have over 1.2 million jobs in STEM related fields by 2018.

We applaud the recent work of the Obama administration, and organizations like Change the Equation, for their efforts to prepare students for careers in math, science, and technology.  But parents will have to do their part as well.  It’s critical that parents foster an appreciation of math and science in their children.  The effort to keep students engaged in year round learning starts at home.  As Malbert Smith recently wrote:

What we really need is for parents to create an environment at home that supports academic achievement.  To accomplish this shift in parental expectations and involvement, we will need to conduct a comprehensive and concerted campaign of education and support of parents.  Through PTAs, PSAs, teacher conferences, pediatrician visits, community meetings, library sessions, and many other outlets, we need a crisp message for parents on what they can do to promote their child’s achievement.  The critical importance of school attendance, of devoting space and time at the home for homework,  of turning off the TV and reading, and the use of public libraries, to name just a few, all need to be part of the message.

Those are just basic steps, of course.  It’s our hope that schools and districts will do more to increase instructional time and work to keep students engaged in math activity even over the summer months.  Parents will have to do their part as well by attending to their children’s work and ensuring that their children have the opportunity to complete their assignments. 

STEM related occupations are one of the fastest growing career clusters.  For the U.S. to remain competitive, it’s vital that schools and districts bolster their focus in mathematics and science and that students embrace STEM disciplines as the gateway to college and career readiness.

Raising Standards: Fighting The Coming American Worker Shortage

A familiar topic these days is the state of our economy, particularly the volatile job market.   But as many employers have made clear, there is a disturbing shortage of skilled workers when it comes to positions that demand strong skills in math and science.  According to this recent article from CNNMoney, executives from major corporations are voicing their concerns on the standards set for today’s students in science, technology and mathematics.

 The group of executives, called Change the Equation, notes that only one fifth of today’s 8th graders are proficient or advanced in math, citing figures from national educational assessments.

 That’s cause for concern.  It appears that our country’s lead in math and science (which are prerequisites for careers in technology, engineering, and the sciences) has weakened considerably.  And without some change in our current trajectory, we will soon face a severe deficiency in homegrown talent

 The CEO-driven initiative launched last fall as part of the Obama administration’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign in response to forecasts that the U.S. will be short as many as 3 million high-skills workers by 2018, according to a Georgetown University report issued last year. Two thirds of those jobs will require at least some post-secondary education, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

 The good news is that the Common Core State Standards offer more rigorous standards across content areas, including math and science.  If adopted, the US can expect a higher set of standards to ensure that students graduate ready for the demands of college and career.  Not surprisingly, many employers support raising academic standards as a way to prevent excessive outsourcing and having to choose from within an unskilled workforce.

To tackle the predicted lack of qualified workers, Raytheon Co., a major defense contractor, has developed software to help state educators, lawmakers and others develop tailored plans to improve math and science education and workforce policies. Like other defense contractors and many government agencies, Raytheon needs homegrown talent because national security guidelines do not allow for easy outsourcing of work or importing workers.

We too recognize the importance of disciplines like mathematics in preparing students for the demands of the contemporary workforce.  Math at Home represents an attempt to keep students focused on math year round.  Math at Home allows educators, parents, and even students to match themselves to targeted math resources (games, worksheets, video tutorials, practice activities, etc…) based on current textbook lessons. In addition to linking to targeted math resources, Math at Home allows students to create multiple resource lists, which they can then share (through e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter) or save for a later date.  It’s our hope that Math at Home can play a small role in keeping students engaged in math activities all year and in helping prepare them for the rigors of life beyond high school.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.