STEM, Roots, And Strategy

Are we shutting the barn door after the scientists are gone in terms of how we’re trying to address the STEM issue as a country?  In this week’s School of Thought at TIME I revisit an issue I mentioned a few weeks ago in terms of the demographic changes facing schools with Hispanic Americans:  Where will we find all these new STEM majors?

The word “stem” is tossed around so much at education meetings these days, you’d think you were at a gardening seminar. STEM is shorthand for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” — all fields that are growing, providing lucrative jobs, and key to future American competitiveness. That’s why everyone from President Obama to the United States Chamber of Commerce is worried about whether we’re producing enough STEM graduates from our colleges and universities. That this is a problem is one of the few things that everyone in education seems to agree upon…

…This is where the STEM rhetoric meets our educational reality: A lot of students are not going into STEM careers today not because they’re unaware of the choice, but rather because they cannot make that choice because of the quality of education they are receiving…

You don’t need a background in STEM to read the entire column via this link.

10 Responses to “STEM, Roots, And Strategy”

  1. Robert Says:

    Great column, Andy! It’s about opportunities. In truth, NCLB has actually hindered our progress as even students who are testing at proficient levels in math and science lack the problem solving, critical thinking, and laboratory skills necessary to compete at our universities. I completely agree with you that the way we get away from the H1B visa abuse is to invest in our African American and Latino students who do even have the option to major in STEM in college because of their lack of preparedness.

  2. Mike Says:

    Andy- Great column. I thought the UTeach model could have been mentioned though. It is a great program.

  3. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    My son Michael is an electrical engineer with a Ph.D. from Stanford. I think his experience is very instructive:

    Almost as soon as Michael started school, his teachers claimed that he was “out of it.” He didn’t seem interested and was late in learning to read and write. But Michael loved to “play” when he got home. At first he played with Legos and other construction toys. By the time he was ten years old he was making complex structures and playing with things like the Rubik’s Cube, which he solved in minutes. Although he still didn’t like regular school, he loved the summer science workshops at the museum and enjoyed such classes as rocketry and geology.

    In high school Michael became fascinated by computers, ham radio and astronomy. His teacher was his father who spent hours with him each day. He continued to dislike school and his teachers still thought he was “out of it.” His grades were very mediocre. Not a single teacher from kindergarten to twelfth grade recognized my son’s unique abilities.

    As soon as Michael got to college and took courses like “Differential Equations” he excelled. Suddenly all his teachers saw and appreciated his talent. He became an A student and won a full fellowship to Stanford. Now he invents electronic devices for government jets and protective gear for our servicemen.

    Last year I asked Michael why he disliked school so much and this was his response, “It was all memorization and that’s not my strength.”

    Anyone familiar with our schools, especially the ones for our least advantaged students, would not be surprised that few students elect to study science and math. Instruction for little children is totally age inappropriate. Six and seven year olds are heavily into rote learning and test prep. It’s absolutely the worst thing we can do. And of course, people who are good in science and math do not want to teach for $40,000 when they can start at $140,000 as engineers.

    My son had his father as his most significant teacher but many children do not. For them, it is critically important to have early childhood teachers who understand how little children learn. It’s also important to have science and math teachers who know their subject and can get children involved and excited.

    Right now people without any background or experience in education or developmental psychology are having a very negative impact on the learning of children. As a result, a visitor to a first grade class in an urban school might see lots of drill, recitation, memorization and “sounding out.” The teacher might be drilling them on the next test they will take. This kind of schooling is the worst possible preparation for a future in math or science. In fact, if you wanted to destroy a child’s natural love of learning, this is how you would do it.

    If we want to better prepare our least privileged children for careers in science and technology, we need to give them some of the hands-on experiences that advantaged children get at home or at progressive public and private schools. We can start by insisting on fully prepared teachers for every grade level and then allowing them to exercise professional judgment. And, yes, we might have to pay these teachers more and treat them better than we’re doing at the present time.

  4. Nancy Says:

    When we understand that teaching is about inquiry, and exploration not test taking, and that there is more than one way to measure achievement, then we will see the potential of students in all areas rise.
    Right now it is a top down system that has no strong foundation, and will emplode unless we change. Politicians do not understand how to tackle this, and it will take political and social forces to change our directions. In time we will see it is critical to do so I hope.

  5. Linda Says:

    Linda:

    “We can start by insisting on fully prepared teachers for every grade level and then allowing them to exercise professional judgment.”

    Fully prepared in what way?

    I ask because you offer a few reasons for why schools are failing to prepare students for STEM careers, whether it be teachers who are focusing on rote memorization, or teachers who are inept at math and science.

    Fully prepared in terms of, say, education experience or credentials, wouldn’t necessary correlate with teachers who teach well. You would need to instead evaluate whether each teacher, young or old, is good at teaching. Are you willing to accept that?

    Fully prepared in terms of, say, science expertise and higher degrees, suggests there ought to be more support for alternative routes into education, so that we can pull more of these recent grads and career jumpers into teaching. Are you willing to accept that?

  6. Chris Smyr Says:

    and by “Linda” above I of course mean myself

  7. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Linda:

    In my opinion most states already have high standards for fully credentialed K-12 teachers (five years of college with courses in child development and pedagogy for elementary teachers, subject specialization and some pedagogy for secondary; and an internship for all teachers). However, as you know, almost every state grants “emergency” credentials and allows high school teachers to teach “out of subject” or whatever they call it. This needs to stop.

    In addition to the above, administrators give “permanent status” to almost everyone and principals grade 95% of all teachers “effective” or better. This is ridiculous but it’s likely due to the fact that so many teachers quit during the first five years. K-12 teaching is extremely challenging so there is probably a “survival of the fittest” factor.

    I do agree with alternative routes but the person should still have to prove competence in teaching young people. For example, my husband has a Ph.D. in math but was totally unable to control young children when he volunteered in my first grade classroom; nor could he explain much to them. (He was good at grading papers and helping with other chores though.) Unfortunately expertise in science or math does not translate to good teaching. So we need both (expertise in subject as well as knowledge of learning theory and pedagogy). Some common sense here is needed. A successful college or private school teacher should probably be awarded a credential for secondary teaching, but a candidate for elementary teaching needs some coursework in child development and pedagogy. If he has been successful as a private school teacher, that should count towards certification. A physicist who wants to teach high school should be given the opportunity to prove his competence without taking an additional year of coursework and student teaching. However, the long time tradition of placing young college graduates in tough urban classrooms is a national disgrace and needs to stop. Civil rights groups should insist on this.

    To get better qualified people to apply to become teachers, we need to offer more money, prestige and professional autonomy. If we can’t do that, we won’t see much improvement in quality. I don’t know a single top college grad in the past few years who has chosen K-12 as a career. Every top student of math and science that I know has chosen engineering, medicine, pharmacology and other occupations that pay well. My engineer son did do a little high school teaching while at Stanford, but when I suggested it as a career, he said, “Mom, that’s volunteer work. I have to support a family.”

    As for evaluation of teachers, I’d like to see a thorough review, especially for beginning teachers. Teachers should have to demonstrate many skills (classroom management, ability to engage students, ability to teach a lesson, etc.) and be able to demonstrate student growth through benchmark testing, compositions over the course of the year, and student work . If standardized testing is desired it would have to be valid (no peeking) and professionally administered in the fall and again in the spring. To ensure fairness and accuracy in evaluation I’d like to see a committee of senior teachers and administrators make the assessment.

    At this time there is no ten-dollar test that can test a whole classroom of students and the teacher at the same time.

    Evaluation of veteran teachers should be ongoing as it is now, but administrators need to take this job seriously instead of giving everyone “effective” ratings. Again, I favor a plan that gets teachers and administrators into classrooms to observe the teacher and a committee of people to make decisions regarding promotion and termination.

    Lowering standards for teachers, as we’re going now, is the worst possible action we can take, but I believe it’s just a matter of time before we recognize our mistake. I think I’ve rambled a bit so I’ll conclude by stating the following:

    Standards for all teachers must be rigorous and they must be upheld; no more “emergency” credentials;

    Permanent status should be earned and not given automatically as it is now;

    Evaluation of teachers should be rigorously carried out by a team of professionals who would consider many factors;

    Prospective teachers will have to be offered better compensation to encourage them to consider a career in teaching;

    The current trend to demean and deprofessionalize teachers (by lowering standards) is the absolute worst thing that we can do, but I believe it will be reversed as soon as the damaged is recognized and assessed.

  8. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda:

    I asked you 3 questions. Here is my attempt to find your answers:

    ***”most states already have high standards [read: additional years of coursework] for fully credentialed K-12 teachers”

    Which is likely one reason why those with STEM backgrounds tend to avoid K-12 teaching as a career option.

    ***”In addition to the above, administrators give “permanent status” to almost everyone and principals grade 95% of all teachers “effective” or better. This is ridiculous…”

    Absolutely agree.

    ***”…but it’s likely due to the fact that so many teachers quit during the first five years.”

    Huh? So they’re graded as “effective” because there’s no one else to take their jobs? If that’s the case, isn’t it still ridiculous? Or do you mean they are “effective” because 95% of them are truly effective, and if so …really?

    ***”I do agree with alternative routes but the person should still have to prove competence in teaching young people.”

    As should be the case for any person who wants to teach, traditionally trained or not.

    ***”"Unfortunately expertise in science or math does not translate to good teaching.”

    I agree, however it seemed you implied that it’d be useful to have STEM teachers who had STEM backgrounds, to perhaps give more authentic hands-on experiences.

    ***”So we need both (expertise in subject as well as knowledge of learning theory and pedagogy)”

    Ah ha! Found the answer to one of my questions! Both of my other 2 questions are now valid.

    ***”A successful college or private school teacher should probably be awarded a credential for secondary teaching”

    I’d agree maybe with the latter, but not the former. The two teaching environments are worlds apart, and a professor ought to still be evaluated on ability to teach at the K-12 level.

    ***”However, the long time tradition of placing young college graduates in tough urban classrooms is a national disgrace and needs to stop.”

    You just wrote a couple sentences prior that professors and physicists would either not need to show competency or simply require a year of coursework to be allowed to teach. How is it you don’t see that these two have about the same (or less!) K-12 teaching experience and qualifications as any other recent college graduate going through an alternative credentialing program?

    Not only that, you continue to assume your conclusions by suggesting that recent college graduates are bad teachers. You’ve never been able to support this assertion with evidence, yet time and time again it makes it way into your writing. I’m all for demanding better teachers for all students, particularly for those most often slighted by the way the system is structured. I’m not, however, willing to sit by while you idly accuse an entire group of teachers of failing to meet this standard.

    *****

    In conclusion, nearly 1000 words later and you directly answered 1 of my 3 questions. Here are the other 2 again:

    1) Are you willing to accept that [we need to evaluate each teacher to determine their effectiveness rather than simply relying on credentials?] Your answer here seems like a qualified ‘yes’, so long as you ignore the part about credentials, but I urge you to answer the question in its entirety.

    2) Are you willing to accept that [alternative routes can help pull in more teachers with STEM backgrounds?]

  9. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris,

    I read over my admittedly wordy response and found all the answers to your questions. However, I’ll do it again, although more succinctly:

    Yes, of course we need to evaluate the effectiveness of each teacher, even after they earn their credentials. Why wouldn’t we? The evaluation should be more meaningful and rigorous than it is at the present time.

    Yes, I am willing to accept that alternative routes can help pull in more teachers with STEM backgounds. These people also need to prove their effectiveness as teachers before they are given a classroom.

    I could kick myself for falling for “Linda’s” post. I’m going back to my resolve not to post on this blog, although I do enjoy reading it.

    Good-bye!

  10. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda:

    ***”Yes, of course we need to evaluate the effectiveness of each teacher, even after they earn their credentials.”

    No, my question mentioned focusing on effectiveness rather than relying on credentials. This is a critical distinction. You continue to assert that teachers need to be “fully prepared” and that it’s a “disgrace” for certain teachers to teach needy kids, yet you are silent on the fact that it’s their actual effectiveness that makes them effective (surprise!), not the credentials they’ve earned. The answer to my question, then, is that you’re still not ready to accept this.

    ***”Yes, I am willing to accept that alternative routes can help pull in more teachers with STEM backgounds.”

    Thanks, now how about toning down the “disgrace” rhetoric when you refer to alternative routes into education, since you admit they are useful?

    ***”I could kick myself for falling for “Linda’s” post.”

    The comment a minute after tried to clarify, sorry if you missed that. This might be a teachable moment: notice you had so much to say when you thought it was another “Linda” who posted, rather than me, which I guess would make the post “immature” by default, as now it seems just pointless for you to respond again (even though I humored you and replied to several of your tangential points). You as well as others continue to make these discussions more about the people having them rather than on the specific issues, and it’s very counterproductive, as you’ve again shown here by “resolv[ing] not to post on this blog”.

Leave a Reply


× 2 = eight