The new NGA report, Building a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Agenda, is a novice’s guide to the issue. But it’s useful in that it provides a look at how policy-makers see things.
The report lists five “reasons the United States lags behind its competitors in producing STEM graduates,” including:
- Lack of rigorous K–12 math and science standards
- Lack of qualified instructors
- Lack of preparation for postsecondary STEM study
- Failure to motivate student interest in math and science
- Failure of the postsecondary system to meet STEM job demands
The report also lists six actions that states “and their educational institutions have taken….to address these challenges”:
- Adopted rigorous math and science standards and improved assessments
- Recruited and retained more qualified classroom teachers
- Provided more rigorous preparation for STEM students
- Used informal learning to expand math and science beyond the classroom
- Enhanced the quality and supply of STEM teachers
- Established goals for postsecondary institutions to meet STEM job needs
The report then devotes a chapter (chapter 5) to describing exemplary state and local initiatives that illustrate these actions.
If you search for the word “Florida” in the report, you come up empty. According to the NGA, there is nothing exemplary going on STEM education in our state, which is instead known for its success in reading education at the third grade level (which is also important, but…).
So what is Florida doing or not doing on the NGA recommended actions?
On rigorous math and science standards, Florida has bought into the Common Core math standards, but has refused to get involved with the development of the Common Core science standards. It turns out that on this latter point, Florida is in the minority – 26 states are on board as “lead state partners” in Achieve’s work to develop Common Core science standards from the National Research Council’s K-12 Science Framework. While the state’s homegrown standards, which were adopted in 2008, are considered above average by Change the Equation, they have not been fully implemented at the high school level, where the physical and Earth/space sciences suffer from neglect.
On recruiting and retaining more qualified classroom teachers, the state may be going backwards. My sample size is pretty small (high schools in my own county and one elsewhere), but it appears that a large percentage of physics teachers left the public high schools during the last year. Life is just too good for them elsewhere.
On providing more rigorous preparation for STEM students, Florida has not yet taken any steps to make sure that students entering its public universities (or entering private universities with the state-funded FRAG grants) are STEM-ready. Bright Futures reform is going off in a different direction which will disproportionately affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds but not improve STEM-readiness, and the universities are afraid to change admissions requirements to incentivize students to prepare for the STEM degree programs that the state’s leaders say are high priority.
Informal learning? It’s a wonderful thing, but it’s difficult to manage in economically difficult times.
If Florida wants to significantly enhance the quality and supply of STEM teachers, it will have to put some serious economic incentives in place, as Georgia has done. No progress on that front, yet.
Our policy-makers seem poised to put in place goals for postsecondary institutions to meet STEM job needs, but without attention to the entire STEM pipeline all the way down to kindergarten, if not before, such goals will never be met on a system-wide basis.
Have a great holiday.