STEM education made it into the Republican platform for this year’s national election (thanks to Ron Matus at redefinED for posting the education portion of the platform). STEM education was mentioned in Governor Bush’s convention speech, and a genuine science teacher was put on display. The teacher, Sean Duffy from Texas, even spoke (“I launched a STEM lab at my high school.” What’s a “STEM lab”? I’ve heard of physics, chemistry and biology labs. Even math labs. But “STEM lab”?).
Of course, the platform mentioned “merit pay for good teachers.” But there was not one peep about allowing the market to guide the process of setting salaries for teachers in critical needs fields, such as math and certain science subjects. It doesn’t appear that this was a mistake: Florida’s legislation on teacher employment and salaries, 2011’s SB 736, authorizes “salary supplements” for teachers in critical needs subjects. Nevertheless, not one of the state’s schools districts has done anything to implement them. And the subject of differential pay never arises in public discussions among state officials. So the supply and quality of teachers in the toughest fields to hire – math and physics – continue to suffer.
Given the severe shortages of highly qualified teachers in math, chemistry and physics, any statement of commitment to educating more professionals in the physical sciences and engineering is hollow unless it includes a serious approach to addressing these shortages. You would think that the Republican Party – the party of the market (and my party, actually) – would understand that.