Although STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related careers are considered to represent the most important employment and highest paying job/career opportunities of the future, the recent report by the Fordham Institute, “The State of State Science Standards,” reports that most states are not preparing students for these type of jobs or careers.
24 states received a grade of ‘D’ or ‘F’: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Only six states received a grade of ‘A’ or ‘A-‘: California, District of Columbia, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Unfortunately, this lack of preparation in school districts is reflected in student ACT performance. Following is student performance data on the 2011 ACT in the areas of math and science as it relates to the percentage of students from each demographic group considered to be “college ready”:
- 71 percent of Asian students were considered college ready in math and 46 percent were considered college ready in science
- 54 percent of White students were considered college ready in math and 37 percent were considered college ready in science
- 30 percent of Hispanic students were considered college ready in math and 15 percent were considered college ready in science
- 14 percent of Black students were considered college ready in math and 6 percent were considered college ready in science
The documentary, “2 Million Minutes” provides an important, if not ominous look into how STEM education in the U.S. is losing ground to such countries as China and India—countries where U.S. companies are actively recruiting to fill STEM-related jobs. The movie examines how students allocate their 2 million minutes of time over the course of four years of high school. While U.S. students allocate their time across a wide range of extracurricular activities, video game playing, and social interests, their Indian and Chinese counterparts are allocating their 2 million minutes to a much deeper range of scholarly and intellectual pursuits. In those countries, extracurricular activities and social time are not totally absent, they merely represent less of a priority.
Interestingly, the U.S. students profiled in the movie trailer are students in the top 5 percent of their class attending the nation’s best high schools. Panelists in the movie trailer provide some insightful comments into not only where our children place their priorities, but where parents place their priorities. High school basketball and football games have overflowing crowds, while chess competitions, science fairs, and academic celebrations are sparsely attended by parents, ineffectively promoted by schools, and little thought of by students.
The lesson for parents, students, and communities is clear, “Change your priorities and change student outcomes!”