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A discussion on the problems in the current school reform movement

For over half a century, innovations based on science and engineering have powered the U. Moreover, the nation is not able to produce enough STEM workers domestically in key fields.

Although increasing the quantity and quality of U. Although a few policy experts have disputed this framing—as Harold Salzman and B. Lindsay Lowell did in their 2007 book Into the Eye of the Storm: Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education—most have embraced it. In fact, the past quarter-century has seen a widespread consensus that the United States needs to do a better job at promoting and supporting STEM education. Numerous task forces, commissions, and study groups have produced an array of reports sounding the same alarm, identifying the same problems, and calling for largely the same solutions.

Yet the problems remain. Also, almost half of doctoral STEM degrees are now awarded to foreign nationals. Many observers attribute the failure to reverse these trends to a lack of political will. If only elected leaders would take the problem seriously and devote significant resources, the thinking goes, the nation could solve the problem. But the nation has, in fact, taken action. Congress has passed numerous bills, and several presidential administrations, including the Obama administration, have established a variety of STEM initiatives.

To help in reaping the advantages of the new approach, one key step will be to devote relatively more effort to the high-school and college levels, but in new ways. It is therefore time to consider whether the problem is not a lack of political will but rather a lack of the right conceptual framework.

In this view, STEM is so important for individual opportunity that the nation must make sure that along every step of the way, but particularly in elementary and middle school, all students get as much high-quality STEM education as possible.

This solution would involve raising the quality of STEM teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade, imposing rigorous STEM standards, improving curriculum, and boosting awareness among students of the attractiveness of STEM careers. Unfortunately, even if all of these steps could be funded—which is not the case, given fiscal realities—they would not solve the problem.

The framework will require working actively to recruit those students who are most interested in, and capable of doing well in, STEM and providing them with the kind of educational experience they need to make it all the way through the educational pipeline and come out ready, willing, and able to contribute to growing the U.

Small School Reform

In short, if the nation is to more effectively address the STEM challenge, fresh thinking and fresh approaches are needed. This effort will involve facing down six myths that have emerged about the prevailing Some STEM for All framework, and then adopting two particular policy solutions to set the nation on a better path. In this view—so widely held that it is virtually never questioned—the economy will be so innovation-based that everyone, even those who will never become Ph.

The reality is quite different. Very few workers actually need advanced STEM education, and surveys of employers reinforce that. Saying that the nation should pour resources into K-12 because everyone needs to know STEM is akin to saying that because music is important to society, every K-12 student should have access to a Steinway piano and a Juilliard-trained music teacher. In fact, because very few students become professional musicians, doing this would be a waste of societal resources.

It would be far better to find students interested in music and give them the focused educational opportunities they need.

Why the Current Education Reform Strategy Won’t Work

STEM is no different. The second myth is that focusing on K-12 will ensure that enough students graduate from college with STEM degrees.

In this view, it is too late to focus on college, or even high school, for promoting STEM. To begin with, about one-third of U. And of those who do, about 40 percent do not go on to college. Of those who do receive such a degree, two-thirds will not be in science or engineering.

And of those who are U. And over half the doctoral candidates drop out before being awarded a Ph.

Alternate STEM reality

There are two problems with this logic, however. First, not everyone has an equal probability of getting a graduate STEM degree. At the risk of violating political correctness, the fact is that being a scientist or engineer requires above-average intelligence.

But the nation is not a huge Lake Wobegon, the fictional community where all the children are above average. There is a long tradition of research exploring the link between personality characteristics and choice of occupation, including STEM occupations. Assuming that exposing every student to a lot of high-quality STEM education will make them want and be able to become a scientist or engineer is simply wishful thinking, just as it would be to assume that every student exposed to high-quality music education and a requirement to take four years of music in high school will want and be able to become a professional musician.

The second problem, as noted above, is that the nation does not need everyone to gain a STEM degree. In fact, the current pipeline produces enough high-school students able to get the needed number of STEM college degrees. But society currently does a poor job in high school and college of helping those students get all the way to a STEM degree. To use the pipeline analogy, replacing a malfunctioning valve is likely to be a more effective, and much cheaper, strategy than increasing the size of a five-mile-long pipe.

In other words, solving the pipeline problem is a marketing challenge. Most people hold scientists in very high regard, ranking them second behind military leaders in terms of public confidence. The survey also found that students did not recognize the importance of math as a foundation for later achievement.

To reverse these trends, NACME launched the public service campaign Math is Power, which included targeted television advertisements emphasizing the importance of math to jobs with higher wages. They are also less likely to view math as important for their careers than they were six years ago.

A study by the Raytheon Company found that because school administrators lack the metrics to differentiate between more-and less-effective teacher candidates, the resulting blindness in hiring largely negates the benefit of having a pay-induced larger candidate pool. The model showed that an increase in teacher pay increases the candidate pool. This would improve teacher quality if school administrators hired the more capable new teachers from the larger pool of candidates, but there is an absence of data to support a conclusion that this will happen.

Educational researchers have reported similar findings. For example, Eric A. Hanushek and Steven G. Rivkin studied the movement of teachers within the Texas Public School System. In a report in the spring 2007 issue of Future of Children, they concluded: Corcoran, and Lawrence R.

Mishel published in the Digest of Education Statistics: The Gathering Storm report underscored technical expertise in the classroom, arguing: The critical lack of technically trained people in the United States can be traced directly to poor K-12 mathematics and science instruction.

One analysis of the Florida public school system, conducted by Douglas N. Harris and Tim R. Sass, found no significant correlation between advanced degrees and teacher effectiveness in the subjects of math and reading.

Only in the case of middle school math do we find that obtaining an advanced degree enhances the ability of a teacher to promote student achievement. The researchers, Dan D.

Goldhaber and Dominic J. Brewer, published the results of the study in the June 20, 2000, issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Solutions that call for higher education levels of STEM teachers underestimate the cost-to-benefit ratio of such programs. Data from the 2002 National Educational Longitudinal Study shows that 43.

The sixth myth is that requiring more STEM courses and more standardized courses is the key. If the goal is to expand the number of K-12 students in the STEM talent pipeline, then it seems logical to require students to learn the same STEM material and more of it.

Because states have no consensus on what key concepts students should master and should be included in the curriculum a discussion on the problems in the current school reform movement a certain grade level or within a specific content area, textbooks often cover too many topics at too superficial a level, rather than focus on a few key topics in-depth.

  1. But for the school system, student interests are largely irrelevant. They also draw students from a larger geographic area than a traditional local public school.
  2. There are four major types of grants to help states and local communities build a system which meets their personal needs.
  3. Another is by grading tougher.

The most dramatic step toward a standardized curriculum is the Common Core State Standards Curriculum, which seeks to create common K-12 content standards in mathematics and English language arts. As part of this push, there are also calls for more STEM course requirements.

The Texas legislature, for example, recently added a fourth year of science and math to its already long list of subjects required for graduation. There are at least two problems with the core movement. The first is that if a course is not part of the core requirements, it is essentially relegated to irrelevance e. Only 10 states allow computer science courses, if they even exist, to count as a core mathematics or science requirement.

And for the record, computer science is vastly more valuable to society than art history or music theory. But the deeper and more troubling aspect of the core movement is that it assumes that high-school students are all the same, that they have no unique interests, and that for their own good they all must be forced to learn the same thing.

But students are not all the same. Some have a passion for English and writing. Some for mechanics and engineering. Still others may be budding lawyers and want to immerse themselves in U. But for the school system, student interests are largely irrelevant.

As a result students who want to pursue their interests and passions must do so on their own time and energies, if after completing all the required homework, they have any left. The challenge is in designing an educational system, particularly in grades 9 through 12, that respects the desires of students to be active learners. Fewer but better The Some STEM For All paradigm certainly sounds logical to many people, and that goes a long way toward explaining its widespread following.

But given the resources required to implement the recommendations that flow from the framework, it is extremely unlikely that the United States will implement many of them. And even if it did, a discussion on the problems in the current school reform movement would not solve the problem. The All STEM for Some framework provides a better analysis of the problems and recommendations that are more likely to be implemented and effective.

Its goal is to ensure that an adequate, even if small, share of U. What the economy really needs is a modest increase in the number of STEM college graduates who have a real increase in their STEM skills—that is, graduates with stronger fundamental skills, deeper knowledge of at least one discipline, and roots in at least two disciplines.

School reform: The problems — and some solutions

It needs people who not only can generate new ideas but also have the skill set to move their ideas into products, acting as entrepreneurs either inside or outside corporate walls. Perhaps the single most important step at the high-school level is to establish more STEM high schools so that the subset of students especially interested in STEM and most capable of becoming STEM workers can get the educational experience they need.

STEM high schools are publicly funded schools that offer more extensive, in-depth math and science coursework.