If the United States is to hold a competitive edge in a rapidly changing global workforce, bolstering the nation’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is essential. And building that workforce begins in America’s classrooms, which is why President Obama in July announced a plan to create a STEM master teacher corps of eventually 10,000 around the nation. Efforts to improve STEM education, Obama said, are “going to make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else that we do here.”
This week, the National Education Association stepped up to the challenge with a $500,000 challenge grant that calls on leading business and technology companies and philanthropists to join in an effort to expand a successful New Jersey Education Association program that helps increase the number of certified science and math teachers.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the STEM workforce accounts for more than 50 percent of U.S. economic growth, yet very few U.S. workers are actually employed in STEM-related fields, which are expected to add 2.7 million new jobs by 2018. Furthermore, many of these workers are nearing retirement, potentially leaving behind a large void in fields critical to the economy.
The U.S. education system is not adequately preparing its students for careers that have become the engines behind U.S. global competitiveness. For example, according to a recent report by Microsoft, only 2,100 high schools (public and private) offered the Advanced Placement test in computer science in 2011 – down 25 percent over the past five years – and in most states, computer science does not satisfy core graduation requirements.
The nation needs to connect students to jobs of the future by reengaging them in these important fields, says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, and we must have the teachers to help get them there.
“Our nation’s prosperity is tied to innovation and that innovation will be spurred on by our ability to engage our students in STEM subjects and programs,” NEA President Van Roekel explained. “That’s why we’re working together to get additional qualified, caring, and committed math and science teachers into classrooms. Right now, there’s a severe shortage, especially in low-income communities, and that needs to change. But we cannot do it alone.”
In addition to seeding a grant of up to $500,000, NEA hopes to raise a total of $1.5 million by challenging technology firms and philanthropists to match the grant. NEA’s half a million dollars will be an investment in programs that lead directly to student success, such as New Jersey’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). CTL has been extremely successful in cultivating existing, highly qualified teachers to fill science and math teacher shortages, adding more than 130 new physics and chemistry teachers to the ranks since 2009.
CTL’s Progressive Science Initiative (PSI) and Progressive Mathematics Initiative (PMI) are just the type of programs that should be duplicated and modeled across the nation. Developed by CTL Executive Director and 2006 New Jersey Teacher of the Year Robert Goodman, PSI and PMI empower teachers to revolutionize their science and math instruction by utilizing free digital tools, collaborative pedagogies, and robust assessment strategies. The programs have helped more than 500 STEM-subject teachers improve student learning across the state. Since 2009, 85 schools in New Jersey have adopted the PSI program, and Colorado and Rhode Island are now adopting PSI and PMI in several high schools.
“NEA recognizes that this program can be a model to improve science and math education across the country,” Goodman said. “This grant will help expand this successful program that develops teachers’ skills and creates student enthusiasm for jobs of the future.”