STEM Beats - September 2013

Are All STEM Jobs Created Equal?

September 27, 2013

When it comes to choosing a career, it pays to discriminate. That’s a major message emerging from a new study of STEM majors in three states. It seems not all STEM jobs are created equal, at least if we take only their wages into account.

In a study of recent college graduates in three states, Mark Schneider finds that biology and chemistry majors are not paid well, even when compared with (gasp!) sociology majors. This finding prompts him to conclude that “the ‘S’ in STEM Is Overrated.” We think that weighty pronouncement rests on a pretty flimsy foundation, given that he only looked at early career wages in three states. There may still be more to that story than he is able to perceive.

Yet his study brings home an important point: STEM boosters and critics alike tend to treat STEM as something monolithic. Some STEM advocates leave the impression that, if you study anything in STEM, you’ll have their pick of high-paying jobs. Critics, by contrast, often latch on to a few struggling occupations as if they represented the entire STEM workforce. (Chemistry PhD’s have trouble finding jobs! There were lots of unemployed architects in the recession!)

The reality, of course, is that there is variation within STEM. In our own study of the demand for STEM workers during the recession, we found differences from one STEM occupation to the next. To quote our STEM Help Wanted report:

  • Within Computer and Mathematical occupations, for example, there were about 1.4 computer programming job postings for every unemployed computer programmer, but more than four network and computer systems administration jobs for every unemployed network or computer systems administrator.
  • Within Engineering, job postings outnumbered the unemployed by 1.3 to one in electronic and electrical engineering and by more than three to one in industrial, health and safety engineering. The situation in civil engineering appeared much worse, presumably because money for public works dried up during the recession: Unemployed civil engineers outnumbered civil engineering job postings by almost two to one.

Yet taken as a whole, STEM workers did quite well, even in tough times. There were almost two STEM job postings for every unemployed worker. Outside of STEM, there were about three and a half unemployed workers for every job posting.

If you’re in college, and you want to maximize you earnings potential, don’t assume that all STEM fields are alike. Do some research about specific occupations and make the choice that best suits your ambition.

But if you're still in K-12, and you want to have that full range of choices once you reach college, you would do well to get a very strong grounding in STEM.

Finally, don't forget that STEM careers offer rewards other than money.

Tags: jobs & workforce, Vital Signs

Don’t Blame Bad Teaching on Bad Tests

September 24, 2013

Critics of testing often argue that good teaching and standardized tests are like oil and water. Good teaching gets young people to think critically, explore new ideas, and love learning, the argument goes, while standardized tests compel them to learn by rote, avoid risk, and dread school. Take heart, critics! It doesn’t have to be that way. Good teaching will be rewarded, even on those dreaded tests.

A new study bears this out. Mathematica, a major policy research outfit, took a careful look at five Expeditionary Learning (EL) schools, where students learn through hands-on, real-world projects. The study’s conclusion? On average, students who remain in those schools for three years learn 10 months more math than similar students in other schools. How did Mathematica measure this result? By tracking student scores on those dreaded standardized tests. Yet EL schools are about the last places on earth that would use “drill and kill” teaching methods to goose their students’ scores.

Of course, a handful of EL schools is a pretty small sample. Still, their example drives home an important point: Even lousy state tests don’t force schools to devote all their time to mindless test prep. Schools that heed their better angels and do the right thing will probably reap rewards even on those infamous bubble exams.

That’s certainly no reason to stick with the terrible tests, but no one should ever use bad tests as scapegoats for bad teaching.

(Hat tip: Inside School Research)

Tags: math, standards

Dissecting the STEM Skills Crisis

September 19, 2013

Yesterday Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to D.C. to lobby for immigration reform.  At the heart of the matter is ensuring that there are enough skilled workers to fill job openings.  This is an issue that has been bubbling beneath the surface (or above it, frankly) for some time.  CTEq member companies, of which Zuckerberg's Facebook is one, know all too well that the STEM skills shortage is very much a real one. 

Often at issue in the debate is whether these skilled immigrants will be taking away jobs from those already living in the U.S.  As Zuckerberg put it, speaking at an event at Atlantic Live yesterday afternoon (video, here), "This isn't a matter of hiring people instead of Americans who are doing this...we'll hire all of them."

CTEq waded into the debate recently, focusing largely on the great STEM skills debate, with CEO Linda Rosen's Huffington Post blog piece, excerpted below and in its entirety here.

Here we go again. Social media sites are buzzing with claims that there is no shortage of U.S. workers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Last time this happened, they were responding to a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which has since been soundly refuted. This time, it's an article in IEEE's Spectrum Magazine by Robert Charette, who proclaims that "the STEM crisis is a myth." Like EPI, Charette is simply wrong.

Charette suggests that people who have a STEM background are down on their luck -- unable to find stable jobs, making do with flat wages, or bailing out of STEM entirely. The STEM shortage "myth," he writes, was manufactured by a cabal of special interests who "cherry pick" data to keep themselves in business and depress STEM wages.

Yet Charette does a fair bit of cherry picking himself while missing the big picture. He argues from anecdotes and a handful of studies that support his point but leaves aside the mountain of data that demonstrate a shortage. More important, he unwittingly points to one of the biggest causes of this shortage: Demand for STEM skills has intensified across the entire economy.  Read more.  

Mark Zuckerberg

Tags: jobs & workforce

Roadtripping with Alcoa and Time Warner Cable

September 18, 2013

Yesterday we went on a virtual road trip with our friends from Alcoa and Time Warner Cable, courtesy of Roadtrip Nation.  We watched inspiring videos from employees at the two companies and live-tweeted the action at #CTEqRoadtrip.  Check out the tweets below and see what transpired.

NY Times takes a deep dive into STEM learning

September 3, 2013

The New York Times had a fantastic and thorough special look at STEM education this week. All the articles are worth a read, though we recognize that's a tall order the day after Labor Day. A few key (and often familiar) takeaways are below: 


Again, if you've got some time, we highly encourage you to check out the articles. Together, while they highlight new areas of inquiry and potential for policy directions, they also show the progress that many programs and states have made in creating meaningful, contextual STEM education for a whole new generation of kids. 
Tags: STEM & the states, Common Core, Next Generation Science