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Improving STEM Education in the United States

The need for better science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teacher training and investment was emphasized today at a Brookings Institution forum on the topic. Dr. Rebecca Blank, the Acting Secretary of Commerce, presented several Commerce reports showing the importance of STEM education for job creation and economic development, and significant underrepresentation in the field for women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. Its report on “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation” found that STEM workers were 76 percent male and only 24 percent female. A new report released today on “Education Supports Racial and Ethnic Equality in STEM” noted that 74 percent of STEM workers are male, compared to 6 percent who are Hispanic, 6 percent African-American, and 14 percent Asian-American. She noted the importance of the United States doing a better job attracting students into STEM fields and the need to reach out to under-represented communities. Since STEM workers earn a premium of 25 percent over other workers and have only a 5.5 percent unemployment rate, there are strong economic incentives to get more people into STEM fields.

Jim Simons, the founder of Math for America and board chairman of Renaissance Technologies, discussed his non-profit’s interest in improving teacher training in high school STEM courses. He said we need “knowledgeable and inspiring teachers” and that today we have a “shortage of such teachers”. The way to make STEM teaching more attractive so instructors do a better job introducing students to science and math is “higher pay and better working conditions”. Math for America proposes bonuses and stipends for high school STEM teachers and has provided funding for this across the country. The organization helps 350 math teachers in New York City and hopes to raise that figure to between 700 and 800 in the near future.

Charles Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering and MIT president emeritus. He pointed out that South Korea graduates more engineers than the United States and the China graduates 10 times as many as America. In many Asian countries, 21 percent of college graduates are engineers, compared to 12 percent in Europe and 4.5 percent in the United States.

Charles Giancarlo is managing director and head of value creation for Silver Lake Partners. He noted that Cisco (where he used to serve as executive vice president) employs 24,000 engineers and Silver Lake Partner’s companies employ 87,000. Yet the United States graduates only 86,000 engineers, indicating a mismatch between supply and demand. He also explained that 35 percent of graduates are foreign born, yet we only provide 85,000 H-1b visas for scientists and engineers so many foreign students who would like to stay in the United States are forced to return to their home country. This robs the United States of valuable talent and sources of future innovation and job creation.

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