In an increasingly high-tech economy, we cannot continue to handicap students and neglect the workforce needs of our nation. And that is why it is high time the nation addresses the severe shortage of physical science teachers. Far too often, the teacher in a physics or chemistry classroom has neither the content knowledge nor the focused pedagogical education necessary to effectively teach the subject. Only 47 percent of physics and 46 percent of chemistry classrooms are taught by teachers with a degree in the subject. Physics and chemistry top the list of hardest teaching positions to fill year after year.
The volume is being turned up in the U.S. Senate as proposed immigration makes its way through congressional hearings. While a plethora of points and perspectives are being shared, one fact about the legislation is indisputable: promoting economic growth is a desirable goal of reform.
The ”Gang of Eight” had the right idea in supporting efforts to increase STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in the United States as part of the immigration reform package they unveiled Wednesday. But it’s hard to imagine that the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” which raises the cap on the H1B visas that allow companies to employ foreigners in U.S. STEM-based jobs, will lead to any meaningful improvement in STEM education for U.S. students or in American workers’ ability to compete for these jobs in the future.
The recently released 2012-2013 PayScale College Salary Report confirms that careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) offer the best opportunities and most rewarding salaries for young people seeking well-paying careers. STEM careers dominated PayScale’s list of 130 top-tier salaries for entry-level through mid-career professionals – filling every slot of the top 13 rankings, and 40 of the top 50 professions on the list. Starting annual salaries ranged from $50,000 to $100,000, with mid-career STEM profession salaries ranging from $100,000 to more than $160,000 per year.
In a high stakes competition, what team would deliberately put itself at a disadvantage? Americans must confront a similar question as we consider our path forward in the 21st century. Many of the best jobs and our ability to compete in a global marketplace are linked to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Workers in STEM earn on average 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. Moreover, job openings in STEM occupations outnumber unemployed workers by nearly 2 to 1.
Knowing this, why do we consciously put our nation at a disadvantage by failing to provide a strong STEM education for as many students as possible? By failing to improve access to STEM, especially for under-represented groups such as girls and minorities, we are compromising the ability of our youth to compete for the jobs of tomorrow. The latest available research shows that in 2005, only 5.1 percent of science and engineering jobs were held by African-Americans and 5.2 percent were held by Hispanics. In addition, a 2012 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showed that women’s participation in STEM fields has actually declined. Women earning associate degrees or certificates in STEM fields dropped from 33.8 percent in 1997 to 27.5 percent in 2007.
Evidence that shows the United States leaves alarming numbers of students behind came to light in the Trends in International Math and Science Study. U.S. students in fourth and eighth grades lagged their counterparts in more than half a dozen nations in Asia and Europe. While average scores of American students were not much lower than averages in higher ranked nations, the 2011 study revealed a huge difference in the proportion of U.S. students who scored at the highest levels. Only 7 percent of U.S. students achieved at advance levels in eighth grade math. That compares to 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea and 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore. We know how to close the STEM achievement gap. We need to act now.
Ever since the Virginia Company was founded in Jamestown in 1607, America has been the land of opportunity for generations of immigrants, who often risked everything to strive for their American Dream. America must continue to be a magnet for the best minds in the world to come here for the freedom to compete, innovate and grow our economy.
A recent survey of over 1,100 manufacturing executives by the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte shows that 67 percent of manufacturing companies face a “moderate to severe” shortage of qualified workers. Four major high-tech companies – IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle – say they have a combined 10,000 job openings in the United States alone. In Congressional testimony, Rick Stephens, senior vice president at Boeing, related that fewer than 5 percent of graduates from American colleges and universities attain engineering degrees, compared with about 20 percent in Asia.
“Work hard. Earn good grades. Make it to college.”
From the time students enter elementary school, they hear this simple formula for earning a steady income and meaningful work.
Yet, for millions of young Americans, this formula increasingly leads to limited opportunity and mountains of debt. With student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion and unemployment rates for recent graduates lingering near painful post-2008 heights, student debt has become a serious burden on our national economy and on young lives.
Can our country be competitive without skilled technology workers? Can we sustain our technical creativity without individuals who are trained in the technical areas? The reply to such questions is always a resounding "No!" And when we ask if all possible workers are included, the answer is also "No!"
The status of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is important for the economic, social, entrepreneurial and political advantage of the United States.
Creative, out-of-the-box thinking and collaborative problem-solving are concepts synonymous with Silicon Valley. They are attributes that power our industry, motivate our work ethic and define our can-do spirit. Ironically, these skills are often missing when it comes to educational policies and mandates imposed on our local public schools. The result: It is not perceived as a priority for the future workforce of America.
We hear time and again from our local business and community leaders that local jobs go unfilled by local talent because they can't find people with the required education and skills to perform these duties. These jobs run across the spectrum: from technicians with a trade school certificate to engineers with a master's degree.
That is why we've been pushing an agenda based on teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
We believe that students in our local schools, who have been exposed to a rich diet of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, will have the foundational knowledge and skills to flourish in the classroom and beyond.
This summer, millions of students might see the interest rate double on their student loans unless Congress takes action. Doubling of the interest rate will cost the average college student about $1,000 more per year of school.
Think you’re having déjà vu? Last summer, Congress narrowly stopped interest rates from doubling. One year later, here we are facing the same crisis. This time around, students and taxpayers need a strong long-term solution that makes the student loan system more effective and affordable for students and families.