A New Voice Calling for Strengthening STEM

From President Obama to business leaders to educators, there has been a steady drumbeat of support for the idea that our nation needs to re-commit to improving and expanding science education. Results from international tests indicate that American students rank well behind those of many other nations on their knowledge of science, while the pipeline from high school to higher education to eventual careers in science and engineering fields seems to have slowed to a trickle.

A new survey of students only adds to these concerns. On the positive side, the findings highlight that students still believe that STEM careers offer good job opportunities and job security. However, of those who harbor an interest in such a career, they are not inclined to actually pursue one because: 

  • The cost and time to get a degree in STEM is too high compared to other subjects — 26 percent.
  • Their grades in STEM subjects (math and science) aren’t good enough — 25 percent.
  • STEM degree careers involve too much work and studying compared to other careers — 25 percent.

We should be careful in drawing too tight a connection between what happens in school and how avidly any particular student seeks an advanced science education. There are many factors at work, but surely the more students can explore the mysteries and complexities of science in school, the more likely they are to be excited by the prospect devoting their lives to further study of these subjects.

As we detail in our study released last fall, Strengthening Science Education: The Power of More Time to Deepen Inquiry and Engagement, schools with more time are better able to build in to their “regular” day a robust program to engage students in science and, then, who knows?  The study quotes one sixth-grade girl, Amira, who vividly connects her school experience and what she desires to happen after, “I wasn’t that good at science before, but now… I like the fun, hands-on experiments that help to explain things.  It also helps me when teachers take the time to make connections to my real life, tell me about my career, and help me think about the future.”