Ohio has also been experimenting with a number of innovative educational reforms and programs. Of these, one of the state’s biggest pushes is an initiative called STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
A partnership between the state and private corporations, the goal of the Ohio STEM Learning Network is to connect 100,000 students over the next 10 years to high-tech careers that will help fuel the economy. The STEM schools (including Metro, which we feature in “WHERE WE STAND”) serve middle and high school students from low-income and minority communities. The Ohio STEM initiative also includes $100 million for college scholarships.
Ohio is not alone in the STEM initiative. Many other states are engaged in similar efforts, some of them supported by the federal government under The America Competes Act, signed into law last August by President Bush. According to Congressional estimates, the law authorized more than $800 million in new STEM-related spending for K-12 schools and college undergraduate programs in fiscal 2008 – much of that funding, however, has not yet been approved.
For most of the 20th century the United States had the most educated workforce in the world. However, over the past 30 years other countries have surpassed us. In 1975 the U.S. had 30 percent of the world’s population of college students. Today the country can claim only 14 percent. Across the globe other countries’ younger generations are attaining a higher level of education than prior generations. And U.S. students’ scores on international assessments of math and reading continue to decline and are unprepared for the changing global economy and competition. Because of a more leveled global workforce, American workers are in direct competition with workers from other countries, and many times those workers are better skilled and at lower cost.
In a study done by the National Center on Education and the Economy, employers reported a lack of mathematics, computer and problem-solving skills as the job applicants’ most common deficiencies.
Batelle, the world’s largest independent research and development firm focusing on science and technology, is one of the leading businesses of the Ohio STEM Learning Network and partner of Metro High School. Carl Kohrt, CEO, thinks education has an important impact on economic development. “I think of education as a tool in economic development. It’s what has made this country great in terms of innovation, in terms of creativity and ability to execute very complex problems that other parts of the world now benefit from,” said Kohrt. “We don’t do that with an uneducated populous.”
Kohrt thinks integrating STEM types of education are imperative to increase student learning, achievement and success. “STEM agendas are not just for those who think they are going to be engineers and scientists like me, but for those that are technically literate and can apply that process of how to think across many different disciplines that are needed in everyday life and work.”
At a recent Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, Intel Board Chair Craig Barret reiterated the need for the U.S. to achieve global education reform with STEM agendas. “The future is dependent on the education of the workforce,” said Barrett, “but we don’t spend enough time investing in education. Our government refuses to acknowledge that investing in R&D for the future is important.”
Teaching STEM involves not just the students, but also teachers and administrators. With high teacher attrition rates, pressure from NCLB assessments, and low percentages of expertise in the fields teachers are instructing, introducing an intensive focus on such subjects can be daunting. To help reduce high attrition rates among science teachers and promote quality teaching, the National Science Teachers Association created a year-long professional development program called the New Science Teacher Academy. The Academy was designed to enhance teacher confidence and classroom excellence, and improve teacher content knowledge for science educators.