Even though students today, in reality, sound capable to tackle STEM jobs, what about the students of tomorrow? With the heavy push for high-stakes testing, the questionable negative rhetoric by the Obama Administration and others about STEM, and the dramatic changes to the curriculum with Common Core State Standards, is this country going to wake up to find a whole generation has missed out on obtaining critical science skills?
We are still bombarded in the media with the message that our country is facing a labor shortage when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The implication is the U.S. is woefully unprepared and will dissolve into doom and gloom if we don’t get our act together and prepare our young people for these careers. There are many reasons why this message has been promoted. But, according to a 2013 Economic Policy Institute report:
“The United States has a large number of STEM ready students and produces large shares of high-performing students who rank at the top internationally. This fact is often overlooked, perhaps because the overall size of the STEM work force is small and because focusing on average performance in international student rankings is misleading. When we examine the data carefully, we find that test scores of U.S. high school students have been improving, that a remarkably small fraction of all high school graduates will find STEM employment available upon graduating college, and that the United States actually produces a significant share of the world’s high performing students.”
So every indication is that our students are well-prepared for STEM careers—today. But what about tomorrow?
More specifically, how much science do students get in their elementary schools? With Common Core currently focused on English language arts and math, where do you even find science? Is science so buried in the integrated curriculum that students miss out on learning science skills altogether?
We have known for quite some time that science has been given short shrift in public schools. Yet elementary school is where young students are introduced to science. Where they begin to determine whether they like it–or not.
With the heavy emphasis on testing since No Child Left Behind, science was really left behind. As Diane Ravitch notes in Reign of Error, “The unnatural focus on testing produced perverse but predictable results: it narrowed the curriculum; many districts scaled back time for the arts, history civics, physical education, science, foreign language, and whatever was not tested (p.13).”
Race to the Top provides grants for STEM in various areas, but such handling of science is sketchy. A whole lot of students are left out.
Common Core has described an array of “pick and choose” science standards and projects (seen here http://www.achievethecore.org/page/733/science-and-the-technical-subjects-lessons and here http://www.readworks.org/spotlight-on-science#k), but they lack substance and consistency.
The truth seems to be that there is no real science curriculum at the elementary level. Teachers are too busy covering English language arts and mathematics to be bothered with teaching students much science.
While the continual chanting about the lack of STEM skills—proven false—continues to echo across the land, are we actually creating a whole new generation skill-less in science?
I welcome your thoughts on this and let me know your experience teaching science, or tell me how your school addresses this important subject. How much science is your student getting in elementary school?
Hal Salzman, Daniel Kuehn, and B. Linsay Lowell. “Guestworkers in the High-Skill U.S. Labor Market: An Analysis of Supply, Employment, and Wage Trends.” Economic Policy Institute. April 24, 2013. Briefing Paper #359. http://s3.epi.org/files/2013/bp359-guestworkers-high-skill-labor-market-analysis.pdf.
Ravitch, Diane. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013) 13.