A New STEM Class for Ohio

When it comes to preparing Ohioans for the demands of the modern workplace, “Good enough is no longer good enough,” write the co-chairs of the Science and Math Education Policy Advisory Council (SAMEPAC). Especially when those demands arise in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Formed by the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Department of Education and the Governor’s office in 2005, the Council was tasked with identifying the most critical issues facing science and mathematics education, and making recommendations to improve them with an eye on Ohio’s current budget realities and future economic prosperity. The result is “Science and Mathematics: A Formula for 21st Century Success ,” which lays out a comprehensive plan for increasing Ohio’s capacity to educate and employ its citizens in STEM fields. In particular, SAMEPAC offers five strategies for improving science and math education and developing Ohio’s youngsters into the world-class talent new economy businesses need:

1.   <!--[endif]-->Expand public awareness and understanding of the importance mathematics and science. Just 55 percent of Ohioans polled in 2006 (see here) said that high schools should prepare all students for college. In the same year, just 28 percent of state high schoolers enrolled in upper level science courses. The public awareness campaign would address the link between advanced math and science skills and future economic opportunities--and target parents and students early.

2.   <!--[endif]-->Increase the number of students who take courses and master high-level mathematics and science subjects, and pursue STEM careers. New STEM schools, online courses for rural and urban schools, and redesigned entry-level STEM courses in colleges and universities would expand students’ access to STEM disciplines. Monitoring and providing extra resources to effective postsecondary STEM programs would help ensure they succeed in them.

 3.   Improve the quality of mathematics and science education. To attract more high quality STEM teachers, the Council proposes using incentives such as differentiated pay linked to hard-to-staff positions and overall teacher effectiveness. SAMEPAC also advocates additional funding for successful teacher education programs.

 4.  Strengthen the interaction between postsecondary instructional and research programs and the business sector. SAMEPAC recommends establishing university-business advisory councils and creating a Web-based clearinghouse for student internship and teacher externship opportunities in STEM fields. For teachers especially, externships at businesses and universities would provide hands-on learning experiences and improve overall content knowledge.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->5.   Build the state’s capacity to drive improvement in mathematics and science learning, and to fuel economic growth. To do this, the Council recommends creating the Institute for Math and Science Education (IMSE), whose tasks would include collecting and analyzing data on Ohio’s science and math education efforts. SAMEPAC also envisions partnerships among IMSE, regional service centers and other support agencies that would make delivery of critical assistance and information both timely and efficient.

Not all of the report’s recommendations merit approbation. For instance, funneling more money to teacher education programs may do little to attract candidates who already have degrees and experience in STEM fields. Money might be better spent on alternative licensure initiatives that target candidates possessing critical content knowledge and mid-career professionals interested in teaching. And if past efforts are a guide (see here) creating a new STEM school system could be both costly and redundant, given that Ohio’s charter school program already offers a suitable mechanism for such schools--evidenced by innovative district efforts like the Dayton Early College Academy and the Columbus Metro High School. (Indeed, Texas has used charters to grow its STEM program, and top-flight STEM schools like California’s High Tech High also utilize the charter model).

These caveats aside, many of the report’s recommendations are in line with those proposed by the more expansive Achieve policy study. Both call for revising state standards, raising academic and professional expectations, offering meaningful professional learning opportunities to teachers, and expanding access for all students to high quality programs. Add an upgraded, internationally benchmarked assessment system (as outlined in the Achieve study), and the Council’s recommendations could very well swell the ranks of young Ohioans entering and succeeding in STEM courses and careers. (Yet it should be noted that first-rate STEM schools like the Illinois Math and Science Academy and Denver School of Science and Technology provide students an excellent education in the liberal arts as well.)

 

Along with the Achieve study, SAMEPAC’s report is growing proof that, after many years of piecemeal efforts and quick-fix schemes, Ohio may finally be ready for the comprehensive, integrated reforms its education system (and economy) so desperately needs.

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