STEM fields fall short; Math and science see lower employment
Scientific advancements and innovations are all about us: from the recent NASA Mars Rover landing to the vast amount of technology incorporated into your smart phone to the constantly emerging diagnostic and treatment techniques used in medicine. Yet, in a high school math and science proficiency study directed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the USA trails behind many nations. Out of 65 nations in the 2009 study, the USA ranked 23rd in science and 31st in math.
These poor rankings directly correlate to the high unemployment rate found nationwide as the job growth rate for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields is projected to be nearly twice as much as non-STEM related fields. Furthermore, STEM-related jobs also enjoy wages that are, on average, 26% higher than their non-STEM counterparts. However, STEM-related occupations require educated and skilled personnel. Occupations in these fields vary from computer scientists to wildlife conservationists to engineers. To strengthen this workforce, we must aim to improve education levels and increase interest in math and science at the K-12 level.
In Massachusetts and Minnesota, eighth graders performed exceptionally well on math and science proficiency exams and only ranked below Singapore and Taiwan. Both of these states have policies that set a framework for high science education standards. These policies provide for a structure of expected standards, yet allocate some degree freedom that allows teachers to flesh-out curricular details. These excellent education policies established in Massachusetts and Minnesota are reflected in their sub-national average unemployment rates: on average, the two states have an unemployment rate that is about 2.5% lower than the national unemployment rate.
In order to emulate and improve the results seen in Massachusetts and Minnesota, a team of 26 states and other organizations have banded together to create a solution to our math and education dilemma. With the slogan “For States, By States,” the first draft of K-12 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was released in May to the public for review and feedback. The American stakeholders and sponsors of the NGSS are the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Noyce Foundation, Cisco and DuPont. The NGSS established standards based on suggestions from the National Research Council and has the goal of improving math and science proficiency levels. According to the National Academies Press, the NGSS aims to accomplish this by “actively… [engaging students] in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields.” Furthermore, the team formulating the NGSS aims to make these standards accessible to groups predominantly underrepresented in STEM-fields. A second draft of the NGSS will be open for feedback in the fall.
The nationwide adoption and efficient implementation of this policy will not only improve our global competitiveness in regards to math and science proficiency, but also swell our STEM-work force thereby strengthening our competitiveness in the global market.