STEM. This is an acronym everyone should remember. It stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But what it represents is vitally important to you, your children and our entire country.
I have recognized the important of STEM-related programs because of my interest in educational issues and because it holds the key not only for the academic sphere but for our nation’s competitiveness.
As a state legislator, I have sponsored the following:
Bill A940. Establishes the four-year "New Jersey Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program" in the Department of Energy to fund non-traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. All educational programs are important, but funding is key to making them survive. We need to provide the financial resources to ensure that we can fund STEM-related programs. This idea continues to be inspired by the great work already being done in our community. Educational leaders like, Dr. Toni Rath of the Mt. Laurel school district, have implemented STEM programs to give our kids a leg up at an early age in the global economy.
Bill A968. Establishes a loan redemption program for public school teachers who meet certain academic requirements and teach Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics subjects or special education. Some people are “natural” teachers. But even “natural” talent sometimes cannot overcome the realities of meeting basic financial obligations. By offering a loan redemption program, we can attract young, enthused college graduates who can ease the burden of college debt while infusing our students with the potential and excitement of STEM classes.
Bill A2597. Provides that beginning with the 2014-2015 grade nine class, Advanced Placement computer science course may satisfy a part of either the mathematics or science credits required for high school graduation. It’s odd that we constantly urge our younger generation to be flexible and then we often become inflexible when offering sound alternatives or choices in the educational process. Satisfying a component of the math or science requirement with advanced placement computer courses, is a sensible approach because information technology is the language of the future. Those who understand it better are poised to reap the benefits of their training.
These legislative initiatives matter because they address the future for ourselves, our families and our nation.
The importance of STEM and its impact on our educational institutions and economic well-being cannot be overstated. Consider these quick statistics:
- The Department of Commerce predicts that STEM occupations are expected to grow by 17 percent, compared to less than 10 percent for non-STEM fields.
- There are about 1.9 positions available in the STEM field for every employed STEM person. But in the non-STEM market, there is one job for about every four persons.
At the national level, we will continue to slide if our youth cannot compete with their peers in other countries. We pride ourselves on having one of the greatest countries on earth. Yet when we view the Programme for International Student Assessment scores, which measures a 15-year-old’s skill in science, reading and math, our scores have stagnated, and our ranking is dismal given the riches of this country. The United States ranks 28th in the world in science and 36th in math skills. This is both unacceptable and frightening. If we are always at the very top of the Olympic games scorecard, why can’t we compete at the Intellectual games?
There is hope, however. As I have outlined above, there are initiatives that can intelligently and proactively recruit the students, teachers, parents and private partnerships into a pattern of change and improvement for educational progress. In this way, STEM can grow roots in our nation's educational structure. That's my take. What's yours?