Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Seminar: STEM Students Learn Now, Earn Later

EWA recently held a one-day seminar focused on STEM education at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. We invited some of the journalists attending to contribute blog posts from the sessions. Today’s entry is from education reporter Nichole Journal of the (Del.) News Journal. You can find additional resources from the seminar, including materials from many of the presenters, here.
 

Session: Why STEM? Why Now?
From the president’s State of the Union address to the local want ads, STEM education and the careers these disciplines can lead to have become a centerpiece of discussions of education reform. This discussion will explore why STEM has become such a hot topic.
 

Participants:

  • Scott Jaschik, Co-Founder and Editor, Inside Higher Ed (moderator)
  • Linda Rosen, CEO, Change the Equation
  • David Saba, COO, National Math and Science Initiative

A close look at help-wanted ads gives an indication of why there is so much attention on STEM education.

Research by Change the Equation found that there are more job opportunities in STEM fields than there are unemployed people trained in STEM. There are nearly four people lined up for every one job opening in all job fields. There are more encouraging opportunities for those who are trained in STEM – there are two jobs for every STEM-trained person seeking a new job.
Right now, it seems like many schools are lining up with examples of how they are in tune with STEM education. But a closer look what is happening in the classroom of K12 and higher education is required to help reveal what the needs are and why it matters. After school programs building robots isn’t the answer, a panelist said.

Science education must not get slighted in education reforms from No Child Left Behind that have focused heavily on reading and math, some say. Research has shown that from 1994 to 2008 almost every state has decreased the amount of time spent on science education in grades 1 to 4, Rosen said.

The ticket to a good paying job is often through STEM fields, said David Saba, COO, National Math and Science Initiative. Often, however, poor children are not given access or exposure to these fields when they are in the K12 system. In Mississippi, 19 black students passed AP exams in STEM fields, he said. There are examples of making progress. After new programs at 10 schools in Dallas those numbers blossomed, and there were 1,100 that passed.

“If STEM is the ticket to the middle class how are any of these kids in Mississippi going to get to the middle class? It’s just as bad in a lot of other states,” Saba said.

The College Board, which administers AP tests, releases these scores by state, and this year they focused much of their annual report on examining STEM fields. Reporters can look to see how many children are taking and passing AP tests in STEM fields, and the data will also show if there’s an achievement gap between student groups. Saba said that just taking the AP test makes children more likely to succeed in college – even if they score low on the AP test in high school. The exposure to college-level material matters, he said.

The panel moderator, Scott Jaschik, co-founder and editor of Inside Higher Ed, encouraged reporters to make sure they are fully exploring AP pass rates. He said that reports in the Dallas Morning News showed that often when states boast an increase in the number of students taking these exams the students aren’t posting passing scores.

Those in the business community and higher education also need to do more to make sure that these jobs are engaging, Saba said. Too often, he said, students trained in STEM fields leave for another career because lose interest in the work.

Jaschik asked Rosen and Saba if a better solution to encouraging more U.S. students to study would be to retain foreign students who are already trained in STEM fields: “Wouldn’t it be easier to let them in?”Rosen said that the U.S. higher education system is still teaching the majority of these people, but they are often leaving to return home rather than staying. Further, Saba said, employers believe that American students are the most likely to provide creative approaches to the field. The jobs that are staying overseas are rote jobs rather than engineers who are working to solve complex problems.



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