Is Enough Being Done to Boost STEM Education in Schools?

Education advocates such as Eric Schwarz, cofounder and CEO of Citizen Schools, feel that radical changes still need to occur in classrooms.

STEM programs, science education programs, citizens schools

If we are going to compete with other countries, we need stronger science, technology, engineering, and math initiatives. (Photo: Photothek via Getty Images)

Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

The Obama administration has already put quite a bit of energy into STEM education initiatives. This includes a program to hire 100,000 new STEM teachers and launch the first-ever White House science fair.

The tech community applauded these efforts on Wednesday at POLITICO Pro’s Tech Deep Dive: STEM Policy’s Next Steps conference, but they also noted that one underlying problem exists with STEM programs and actual implementation: money.

Tom Kalil, the White House’s deputy director for technology and innovation, said that Congress is hearing from the administration and the private sector about funding more STEM education, according to POLITICO.

“We have open jobs. We could be hiring more people if we had workers” coming from the schools, he said.

Stephen Jones, associate dean of Student and Strategic Programs in Villanova University’s College of Engineering, said that the future of the United States depends on STEM education, but questions whether Washington sees it the same way.

“The success of STEM education will depend on how long the United States government is willing to make a commitment,” Jones told TakePart. “Improving math and science education will take more than four years. Too often students in urban and rural communities do not have access to the kind of curriculum that will prepare them for the rigors of college.”

The private sector certainly isn’t waiting on Congress to take action.

Eric Schwarz, cofounder and CEO of Citizen Schools, said that radical changes must occur in classrooms. That might mean a longer school day and more input to teachers from the tech world. It could mean more programs for low-income students similar to the one he is running.

Citizen Schools partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities across the country.

Started in 1995, the nonprofit now has 31 partner schools serving over 5,300 students in low-income communities in eight states. Their students—about 73 percent—were eligible for free or reduced lunches in 2011-12, according to the nonprofit’s website. More than 33 percent spoke a primary language other than English at home.

The students connect with professionals who volunteer their time to work directly with students in hands-on apprenticeships that range in subject but are largely focused on the STEM subjects.

The students are involved in a variety of projects, including building solar cars, designing video games and phone apps, and understanding electrical engineering.

“Within Citizen Schools, we have found that students often excel in these apprenticeships alongside successful professionals,” Holly Trippett of Citizen Schools said in an email to TakePart. “They get a view into their daily work and are able to see how their academics can be used in a real-world setting. We have found that Citizen Schools students have 43 percent less absenteeism and over twice as much interest in pursuing STEM careers.”

Schwarz has more irons in the STEM fire than just Citizen Schools.

He recently launched US2020 along with several corporate and nonprofit partners, including Cognizant, Cisco, and SanDisk, to open the world of STEM to many more students. He has a goal to mobilize one million STEM mentors annually by the year 2020.

Such partnerships are vital if students are going to excel in the 21st century, Jones said.

“It is clear that K-12 schools, colleges, and corporations must work as partners to educate students and fill the gaps in knowledge about STEM careers,” he said. “Our nation’s ability to compete globally will be determined by our financial support and political will for improving math and science education throughout K-12 schools.”

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