This post first appeared on March 18, 2014 at CPSObsessed.com
What’s up with CPS’s decision to introduce and ramp up STEM curriculum within district schools, as it announced yesterday in a press release?
On its face, the district’s decision to add computer science as a core subject to city high schools seems like a good one. It’s not all that different than earlier administrators’ addition of typing classes to the curriculum.
What is the district really trying to achieve by introducing a curriculum that is heavy on science, technology, engineering, and math? Is it trying to get ahead of a projected shortage of qualified candidates in those fields? Does it reflect a need at U.S. colleges and universities to matriculate students who are able to work at advanced levels of math and science, at a rigor that would make them able to “compete” with their global counterparts?
What is driving this policy? Despite the persistent idea that our schools are not preparing students for the kinds of jobs the market offers, a look to historical STEM trends suggests that the renewed emphasis on STEM within CPS may be another manufactured crisis.
Back in 1997, a Stanford-educated researcher named Gerald Bracey suggested that the National Science Foundation may have started what could now be traced to the current “inadequacy” in STEM education. When Sandia Labs undertook a study of the issue in the late 1980s, they concluded that the biggest risk to education of U.S. students was the H.S. dropout rate—not the quality of STEM education or number of STEM degrees awarded.
The biggest driver of growth in STEM competitiveness may have come in 1957, with the launch of Sputnik. Yet even Congress agrees that the percentage of postsecondary science and engineering degrees awarded in the U.S. has remained steady at 17 percent. Is there job growth to justify this kind of subject-matter emphasis? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the fastest growing occupations are largely medical and vocational—-not high-tech. Will increased STEM fluency increase students’ ability to compete for jobs? Will it improve their chances at success.
Perhaps the important question is not why CPS is pursuing this policy, but what it can hope to achieve? How will a renewed emphasis on STEM education affect our children? Will they be better off for having this kind of education? Or will this policy further cream or tier an already stratified system? Who does a STEM curriculum help?