Although the number of STEM jobs is on the rise, more than half of high-school students don't plan on pursuing careers in STEM, according to a new Harris Interactive and University of the Sciences poll.
51 percent of the high schoolers surveyed answered that they "definitely" or "probably" won't pursue a career in healthcare or science, an increase of 4.1 percent over last year. Alarmingly, 61 percent of African American students don't see STEM in their futures.
However, the students' reasons give us clues on how to reverse these numbers and engage more students. Twenty-one percent of students are disinterested because they feel they are not good at science and math; 18 percent don't know enough about the career fields; 16 percent feel they are not ready for the rigors of science and math in college; and 16 percent feel the degree would cost too much.
Nowhere does it say that kids just aren't interested in math and science. It's up to us now to engage students; to provide them with rigorous coursework and help them succeed so they feel prepared; to give them the exposure to STEM careers so they understand what they could with a STEM career. Our Vital Signs showed that, nationwide, only 15 percent of eighth graders discuss the types of problems engineers solve on a weekly basis. Giving students the exposure to STEM is the first step in reversing these trends.
In our 2012 Vital Signs, we take a close look at the chances that women and young girls have in STEM. It's an ongoing issue of concern -- 40 years after Title IX passed, there are still sometimes vast gender discrepancies in STEM fields.
We looked most closely at the participation of women in K-12 and higher-ed STEM. In higher ed, what we found is that, generally, most states give about 30 percent of awards to female students. South Carolina came up on top, with almost 40 percent of STEM awards going to women. What was troubling on the higher-ed plane, though, is that while the number of STEM degrees in general has made steady growth in the last 10 years, the increase in the percentage of women attaining STEM awards is generally in the single digits. In only one state, Arizona, did the percentage more than double (it should be noted that Nevada made strong gains too).
The discrepancies crystallize trends that begin to emerge in K-12. On NAEP exams girls generally score slightly under male peers, and in some states, the differences are quite large. In most states, girls out-enroll and out-perform boys on AP math and science exams.
What does this mean? Most obviously, that half the population is not being as engaged in STEM as they theoretically could be, weakening the hiring and talent pools. We need to tap into that pool to make the gains that we as a country want to make.
The conversation on women and STEM seems to be growing more prominent -- particularly for young girls. Several companies have launched toys and games targeting young women to stimulate girls' interest and to tell them it's not just for boys. But these Vital Signs show that we still have a long way to go.
Here's a dose of good STEM news to start off your weekend: The National Math and Science Initiatve, which trains teachers and then supports students in AP classes, helped drive partner schools to more than double the number of AP tests students passed last year.
Especially notable were the gains for groups typically underrepresented in STEM -- female, Hispanic, and black students. The Initiative focuses on providing intensive student and teacher support for classes. Their investment paid off: In the schools just implementing the program, the number of students passing an AP exam went from 1,797 to 3,437 exams across the 70 schools.
Taking and passing AP tests is an important indicator of college readiness. But many students, especially in less-affluent schools, often lack access to the courework. NMSI hosts study sessions for students and professional development and training for their teachers. What this shows is that a strong emphasis on supporting students and teachers in the rigorous coursework will pay off in student learning outcomes.
One of the biggest concerns in U.S. education today is whether our students are graduating from high school "ready" for college and career. To be ready, obviously, students need to take and understand advanced math and science coursework. But a significant portion of students, our Vital Signs report found, don't even get the chance to take those courses.
Take math like Algebra II, for instance. The course is considered necessary for college. But while many schools offer it, 20 percent of schools don't -- meaning 20 percent of students are already at a huge disadvantage if they want to continue their educations. Thirty-seven percent of school don't offer physics. Calculus is only offered at half the schools in the United States; in some states, only one in four schools offers the course.
The inequality is not created equal, either: While 25 percent of white students attend schools that don't offer calculus -- which is still a significant portion -- students of color are much more likely to attend schools that don't offer the course. Thirty-five percent of black students, 30 percent of Hispanic students, and 44 percent of Native American students dont' get the chance to take calculus.
What's this mean? Obviously, some students are more likely to be ready to college, and that advantage is determined by matters out of a student's control -- race, background, school. For the country, though, this also means that the demands on the workforce are likely to persist into the future.
Interested in learning more, especially about how your state is doing? Check out our Vital Signs.
One of the indicators we're most excited about in our new Vital Signs is how much states spend on per proficient student -- or, as we call it, the return on investment.
What exactly does that mean? We -- working with the American Institutes for Research -- looked at how well students performed on the 2009 NAEP exam in math and science (some states didn't participate in science, so we just looked at math) and also at how much the state spent on education, controlled for factors like poverty and cost-of-living in the area. Using these numbers we calculated how much the state spent on a proficient student. The numbers ranged from Utah's low of $14,202 to D.C.'s high of $69,442.
Given the diversity of circumstances around the country, why is this number important? After all, the challenges facing students in Utah are nothing like the difficulties in the District. But the number is indicative of how well the state is investing in its students, and helps us think strategically about how well policies and practices in each state are working. The clear takeaway is that, generally, we should be thinking critically about which spending is truly making an impact on student achievement.
Want to know how your state is doing? Check it out on our Vital Signs page, under "Resources."