Monday, March 24, 2014

A few more thoughts on STEM

Although I have not thought of myself as particularly mathy since about 7th grade, I want to be clear that my position on STEM education does not reflect a general dislike of math or science itself. The Dad is a software programmer. My father, Grandpa Texas, is a nuclear engineer. I get that having people with these skills is important and that people who have these skills often do important work.
But I don't think they are important to the level of core subject matter. I don't think they are important to the detriment of other subjects or interests in the elementary grades. And, unfortunately, in CPS, focusing on STEM will be to the detriment of other subjects. The reality of an underfunded system such as CPS means that a focus on STEM necessarily means a subtraction of other art, music, world language, or social studies. Because with $4400/student, schools can't hire a classroom teacher and an engineering teacher and an art teacher. And the reality of a heavily prescribed system such as CPS means that a focus on STEM means the detriment of other subjects because there isn't time in the day/week to include a block of literacy, a block of math, 30 minutes of P.E. and 40 minutes for lunch/recess.
And I want to be clear that I know that the perceived lack of qualified workers that is driving public policy on increased STEM education is fake. I went looking for the job growth statistic that CPS referenced in its press release. I could not find it within the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, but I did reference to a lower number--778,300. Said the report, “Computer and mathematical occupations are projected to add 778,300 new jobs between 2010-2020.” Incidentally, this job growth makes this area the 6th fastest growing major occupational group, but it’s ranked 12th out of 22 occupational groups because of it’s relatively small size.
The BLS also reported that heatlhcare support is projected to grow by 35.9% in 2020. The Boomer lobby is slacking on that one. Or perhaps even they are disgusted by the thought of their grandchildren sliding back into their own parents' job prospects. According to the same report, community and social service occupations are expected to grow at a rate of 24.2% by 2020. Where is the lobby of social workers? Oh wait….

My original guest-blogger post hit the Internet on Tuesday. I didn't realize it would be a primer to The Atlantic's "The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage," published the very next day. (In the fantasy world where print journalism still exists, I would make an ideal Atlantic writer.) As writer Michael Teitelbaum reported about the STEM shortage, "U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more."

In light of this more factual reporting of the STEM landscape, it makes statements like Christopher Emdin's even more maddening. A recent PBS article quoted Emdin as saying, "Our STEM jobs continue to go unfilled, and our young people refuse to be scientists and engineers."
Emdin was speaking in response to last week's DoE release of civil rights data, a report that showed unequal education. From PBS: "Yet the department found that there was a “significant lack of access” to core classes like algebra, geometry, biology, and chemistry for many students. That lack of access was particularly striking when it came to minorities.." I think of these classes as foundational. They should be in the core curriculum at all schools. I think Emdin's assertion that there are unfilled STEM jobs is false, but the inequality in education offered to minorities is well-documented.

In fact, for those interested in the issue of segregation on science education and other subjects, there is an upcoming lecture at DePaul's College of Education. From the email: Lecture and Discussion with Richard Rothstein and Patricia Fron, Why Are Schools Still Segregated and What We Can Do About It, Monday, April 7 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Room (TBA)

Richard Rothstein is a Research Associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, a widely published author and lecturer on education policy and the national education columnist for the New York Times from 1999 through 2002. 60 years after Brown v Board, our schools continue to be segregated. Rothstein looks at the intersection of school segregation and residential segregation. He argues that " Too quickly forgetting twentieth century history, we’ve persuaded ourselves that the hobbling residential isolation of low-income black children is only “de facto,” the accident of economic circumstance, personal preference, and private discrimination. But unless we re-learn how residential segregation is “de jure,” resulting from explicit, racially conscious and motivated public policies, implemented by federal, state, and local governments, we have little hope of remedying school segregation that flows from neighborhood racial isolation."

Patricia Fron, the co-chair of the policy committee of the Chicago Fair Housing Alliance will be a respondent to Rothstein, discussing some of the findings in their recent report, Chicago From Home to School: Why Segregation Persists and Current Reforms May Only Make Things Worse.
For more information, and to RSVP please contact Diane Horwitz at dhorwit1 at

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