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Is the STEM Crisis a Myth The Truth About STEM Education

The STEM crisis is considered by many to be one of the foremost issues facing America’s education system and our economy. However, there are some who call the shortage of STEM graduates and professionals a myth. NMSI STEM Student Engagement Director, Lynn Rogers, explains the nature of the STEM crisis and what we need to do to fix it.
 
According to Lynn, there are some professionals who believe that the STEM crisis is a myth, based on the idea that recent STEM graduates are having trouble finding positionsin their field. Furthermore, a report issued by Change the Equation claims that STEM skills – such as thinking logically, rationally, scientifically – have stayed in demand, despite the economic downturn. According to this logic, if STEM majors can’t find jobs, and if a good STEM skillset is in demand, then there must not be a true STEM crisis.
 
While both of these facts may be true, the problem is that we are not producing new – and truly skilled – STEM professionals at a fast enough rate. According to The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), less than 40% of students who start out as STEM majors in college receive a STEM degree. If you take this with the fact that nearly half of the Army Corps of Engineers are eligible for retirement, along with the fact that more than half of the fastest growing jobs in the nation are in STEM fields, it becomes clear that a STEM crisis does exist and that we are facing a major shortage of STEM professionals.
 
In order to fix this crisis, it’s important to understand how we got here in the first place. Lynn believes there are three key components as to why the shortage has occurred:

1.There is a shortage of qualified math and science teachers. A significant number of middle school teachers have little or no training in these subjects. More than two thirds of 5th-8th grade students are being taught by teachers who do not have math degrees or certification, and 93% of students in those same grades are being taught by physical science teachers with no degree or certification in physical sciences.  The numbers are just as bad for our high schools – 61% of high school students are being taught chemistry by teachers who don’t have chemistry degrees of certification, and 45% of high school students take Biology classes from teachers without Biology degrees.

2.Science and math are not being taught the right way. According to Lynn, these rigorous and demanding courses require a more direct and hands-on approach – such as flipping the classroom – when it comes to engaging students in the learning process. Unfortunately, teachers either don’t have the qualifications or training to use more rigorous or hands-on approaches, or schools lack the funding to accommodate the professional development needs of their teachers.

3.Parents and students don’t understand the benefits of an effective STEM education. Too often parents and their children do not realize the importance of math and science because they don’t understand what a STEM career actually looks like. They don’t know what engineers really do or the creativity involved in that field of expertise, and they don’t know how much more potential earning power there is in a STEM field. This lack of information can also occur because their teachers may not be aware of the amazing opportunities STEM can provide.
 
The STEM crisis is a very real issue, and it is of paramount importance that we solve it. Companies have already been called to action to support STEM education in their communities by sending professionals into the classroom and hosting activities outside of the school. This form of engagement helps students understand how important STEM actually is, and it might even inspire them to pursue STEM degrees and careers. Another crucial aspect to solving the STEM crisis is making sure our students are getting the best education possible. “We need more qualified math and science teachers at the elementary and middle school levels,” says Lynn, “so that children are exposed to hands-on learning in these subjects earlier.”
 
NMSI has long sought to meet the demand for more STEM professionals by training new and veteran teachers across the country in our Comprehensive AP Program and by equipping up-and-coming STEM majors with the classroom skills they need through the UTeach program – but we can’t solve this crisis on our own. We need more teachers to join the movement to transform the way STEM subjects are taught in our schools and to prepare our students for the challenges of a college classroom and modern workforce.
 
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