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CED Report Asks Businesses To Bolster Science, Math Education

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) released a report last week that addresses three challenges for improving math and science education: increasing students' interest in these fields, demonstrating the wonder of discovery while improving students' mastery of math and science skills, and acknowledging the professionalism of teachers. Learning for the Future: Changing the Culture of Math and Science Education to Ensure a Competitive Workforce contends that to accomplish these goals, both student "demand" for and achievement in science and math must be increased, and all stakeholders in science and math education must work toward that effort.

The CED based its report on recent indicators (such as national and international assessment tests) that show science and math achievement among K–12 students is disappointing. While the report cited some positive trends in K–12 education in the United States, it also noted that a majority of indicators point to the need for reform and refinement of current educational practice.

Summarizing the challenges in science and math education, the report states that America's fourth graders achieve good scores in science and math compared to their foreign peers, but 12th graders' scores tend to fall at the bottom of such rankings. Students' interest in math and science topics have declined; many students are faced with a lack of challenging courses, while others, especially minorities, are discouraged from taking such courses. In addition, out-of-field teaching is rampant among math and science teachers, and school systems face serious teacher retention obstacles.

The CED report recommends that businesses collaborate with school districts to ensure students' exposure to state-of-the-art programs that explain how math and science are used on the job; provide financial and logistical support, as well as the expertise of their employees, to develop extracurricular math and science programs; and collaborate with higher education institutions to promote professional opportunities available to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates. The report says higher education institutions should track the number of graduates in STEM programs and audit the effectiveness of their science and engineering programs. School districts should review their curricula and ensure that their programs promote active learning and meet established educational standards. Successful programs should be replicated, and businesses should help make these programs more accessible.

Businesses also should collaborate with school districts and institutions of higher learning to provide staff development, establish programs that bring scientists and engineers into schools to work with students, develop summer professional development programs for teachers and internships for aspiring teachers, and work with governments to refine state education standards, recommends the report. Colleges and universities should emphasize content knowledge, an understanding of how society can use that knowledge, and pedagogical training in preservice programs.

To acknowledge the professionalism of teachers, the report suggests, state governments should work with districts to increase teachers' salaries; with boards of education to develop high-quality programs to certify professional scientists, mathematicians, and engineers as teachers; and with one another to develop reciprocal teacher licensing systems. In addition, state pension programs should provide incentives for veteran teachers who continue to work, even if those teachers move to a new school, district, or state, the report recommends.

"The involvement of business partners is the first step in a larger strategy to improve math and science education and maintain the pipeline into science and engineering fields," the report concludes. "This is a commitment that all businesspeople, both inside and out of the scientific establishment, should consider. The perils facing math and science education in America have been foretold for decades. It is now time to act, as businesspeople and academics, leaders and citizens, to solve these problems."

To read the report, go to www.ced.org.