This week, a Presidential Memorandum promised millions of grant dollars to push Computer Science into more classrooms, with a special focus on women, minorities, and students in rural communities. The Department of Education will be joined in the effort by several big-name tech companies who see the lack of science preparation as a weakness in the American education system which leaves our economy and national security vulnerable.
Here are five, clear-eyed and impossible-to-ignore numbers that should drive us to look quickly for solutions to the persistent underperformance of American students in science, and the glaring lack of gender and racial diversity in STEM:
8,650,000: Estimate size of the STEM workforce in the US by 2018, and 92% of these jobs will require some level of higher education. This is the fastest growing US job sector, and is expected to increase by 10% by 2024. Yet fewer than 1,500 science degrees were awarded to minorities in the past five years.
84: Percent of the current STEM population that is White and Asian. There aren’t enough of these workers to fill future positions, and the school-to-work pipeline to these high-paying jobs is inadequate.
The number of computer science degrees held by women has dropped 12%, however the number of physics and engineering Bachelors held by women has increased – but only to about 20%. When you consider that we can’t make our job growth goals by leaving out 50% of the population, you can see why diversity in the sciences is crucial!
The Worrying State of STEM Education
This interesting TIMELINE of the history of American science education is revealing.
During the Cold War Era, the rush to improve American science education included an emphasis on physics and other advanced academics. But after the space race ended in the late 70’s these initiatives were not sustained and others took their place with mixed results. The advent of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 took the focus from Science and placed it squarely on Reading and Math, where it has remained ever since, driven by a series of accountability measures that saw schools and educators scrambling to increase test scores in those subjects.
A changing economy and workforce concerns are renewing efforts to increase the amount of science offered in the classroom, including its frequency and rigor. The National Assessment of Educational Progress for 2015 showed that percentages of students performing at or above Proficient increased at grades 4 and 8 compared to 2009, but there was no significant change at grade 12. The percentages of students across the participating states performing at or above Proficient ranged from 23 percent to 51 percent at grade 4 and from 20 percent to 50 percent at grade 8. The most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries every three years. The most recent results from 2015 place US students a discouraging 24th in science.
These numbers are concerning. Clearly, we need to do better in producing graduates more skilled in the sciences to sustain the innovation that is so important to economic growth.
Today, Science is not regularly taught in US elementary schools, but is still offered in middle school – which is the last time that all students are required to be enrolled in a science class as part of the regular school day.
At See the Change Physics Makes we believe that Physics in the middle grades is the way forward. In other developed countries, physics is introduced beginning in 6th grade, and offered each year through graduation, giving our foreign competitors up to 20 times more exposure to physics – a discipline regarded as the basis of all the natural sciences. By waiting until high school to offer physics, the US loses the momentum gained during the important middle school developmental period, which students are more likely to still be interested in science, and have the time to pursue those interests in a safe environment.
Our aim is to use physics instruction to help schools build a better middle-to-high school pipeline leading to greater participation and success in – and affinity for – the advanced sciences over a student’s academic career.
Here are Our Numbers:
2/3 of boys and girls participating in the See the Change physics programming say that science is ‘interesting,’ and ‘fun.’
70% of our students are African American, Latino, and Native American.
70% of our student persist to advanced science and math classes in high school.
69% of our students qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch programs.
One school experienced a 110% increase in the number of students progressing to Advanced Placement®
Science and mathematics courses, and increased by 102% the number of students achieving a score of 25-26 on the science portion of the ACT.