If there is one lesson STEM education champions should learn from this rowdy election season, it is this: the “knowledge economy” has a dark side for those who cannot take part in it. As the rewards of education grow, those who lack educational opportunities are falling farther and farther behind. Suffering and angry, many seek to upend a political order they believe has failed them. If any good is to come from all this tumult, the nation must wrestle with the vast opportunity gaps that fuel it. Never before has it been so vital to strengthen the nation’s opportunity agenda, both in and out of schools.
The STEM gap is one of the clearest measures of the nation’s opportunity gap. We have long known that black, Latino, and Native Americans are not well represented in STEM careers, which boast the highest salaries, lowest jobless rates, and best growth prospects in the new economy. People of color have long suffered from the legacy of sanctioned inequality, and their scarcity in STEM fields is one clear result of that legacy.
Yet the STEM opportunity crisis reaches even farther than we knew. Low-income white people in poor rural and industrial communities have been largely untouched by the tech revolution that enriched so many people in Seattle or San Jose. It can be hard to track them in state or federal datasets, but they have made their voices heard by helping sustain insurgent presidential campaigns through the primaries. We know enough about the grim joblessness and hopelessness in their communities to assume that few are pursuing rewarding careers in STEM.
The distress struggling Americans of all races feel is understandable, and it could get even worse. For too many Americans, lack of opportunity has become an inherited condition. Our Kids, a recent book by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, features chilling “scissors graphs” that show youth in America following two divergent paths. One line in the graph goes up, tracking the rising access to opportunities for education and enrichment enjoyed by children of educated parents. The other line goes down, charting the declining opportunities for children of the less educated. Differences in educational opportunity create a stark divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Over time, these gaps are growing into chasms. Parents’ education levels determine whether their children will have access to good schools, role models, stimulating activities outside of school, internships, or any of the other opportunities that can put young people on a pathway to STEM careers. Without a more vigorous effort to expose all youth to these kinds of opportunities, more and more Americans will fall victim to the ruthless logic of the scissors graphs, in which disadvantage begets more disadvantage. The result? A growing number of dispossessed and angry citizens.
We are right to be appalled by politicians who exploit this anger. Yet we should also hear an important message beneath all the political din. The nation needs an all-hands-on-deck effort to make good on America’s promise as a land of opportunity. All young people need access to excellent STEM classes, out-of-school STEM activities, real-world work experiences, mentors, and other springboards to STEM careers. The only way to reach this goal is for leaders in the public and private spheres to join hands and bring these kinds of experiences to vastly more children.
We at CTEq are proud to be involved in such efforts. Our members have helped expand proven STEM programs to almost a million more young people in the last two years. We’ve been working with leaders in states like Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, and Indiana, to spread some of the best STEM programs and strategies to hundreds of thousands more. This is a great start, but many millions of young people still have scant opportunities, either in or out of school. Corporate and private funders have been doing heroic work, but their efforts cannot reach everyone, not by a long shot. If we have any hope of tackling this challenge, many more state governors and legislatures need to join the movement. The anger and despair cutting a wide swath through their communities are a poignant reminder that the stakes could hardly be higher.
Change the Equation stands ready to help.
This post also appeared in the Change the Equation Now April newsletter.
If you know a great STEM education program, now is the time to tell them about STEMworks. Now through December 12, programs can apply to be in STEMworks, the nation's leading resource for identifying excellent STEM education programs. And, if your program is active in Iowa, it may have a singular opportunity to reach thousands more young people in the state.
This year, CTEq is collaborating with The Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council on the state's STEM Scale-Up Program, an initiative to bring top STEM education programs to hundreds of thousands of Iowa students. Millions of state and private dollars have been set aside to expand excellent programs throughout the state. Iowa programs that make it through STEMworks's rigorous review process will be in very select company, featured alongside many of the best STEM programs from across the country. To be eligible for the state and private funds, they will have to answer a set of additional questions about their readiness to go to scale in Iowa. (Learn more in our press release about this important Iowa collaboration, which will give a large portion of the state's students world class opportunities in STEM.)
Even for programs that operate outside of Iowa, gaining a spot in STEMworks can make a big difference. STEMworks programs have received millions in corporate contributions over the past year, allowing them to reach hundreds of thousands more students across the country. Don't miss out on this unique opportunity for your STEM program!
There's no denying it: women are underrepresented in STEM fields, most notably in computing, where just over one in four workers is female. There are several factors that contribute to this talent shortage (see our Half Empty brief for the full breakdown), but they all amount to turning women and girls off to pursuing exciting, lucrative careers in a sector that's grown tremendously in recent years, even with the recession.
We've seen many headlines lately about big tech firms in places like Silicon Valley dedicating themselves to diversifying their workforces and bucking the stereotype of who a computing professional is and isn't. Unfortunately, the tide has yet to turn for women: there's almost an inverse relationship between the concentration of computing jobs in a metro area and the number of women filling them, which is why you won't find any of your typical tech boom cities on our list of the top cities for women in technology. In fact, the San Jose metro area stands out for two very different reasons: Of the 100 largest metro areas, it has by far the highest concentration of computing jobs, and the lowest share of women in those jobs—just 23 percent.
Based on CTEq's analysis of metro areas across the U.S., here are the top five cities for women in computing:
While South Carolina makes two appearances on our list, Charleston kicks us off with women accounting for 34 percent of the computing workforce.
The McAllen - Edinburg - Mission area in Texas also employs women as over one-third (34 percent) of its computer science workforce.
Jackson is quietly booming as a tech enterprise incubator and 35% of its computing workforce is female.
Columbia is home to a diverse technology industry, with many sectors represented and women comprising 35 percent of the workforce.
Sacramento tops our list, with a computing workforce that is 36 percent female. Of the top five metros on our list, Sacramento has the biggest computing sector, with companies like Intel and Hewlett Packard among its largest tech employers.
While there's a lot of work to be done everywhere, these cities are doing better than most in cultivating diverse tech sectors and attracting women to join their computing ranks, and we hope that many more will follow suit!
Data source: Change the Equation analysis of data from EMSI, an economic and employment data firm.
Regardless of where you stand on the Common Core State Standards, the antics of some state lawmakers who are trying to overturn them should scare you. Do you really want politicians dictating what gets taught in American classrooms?
No one should feel safe when lawmakers make momentous decisions on the basis of unfounded rumors. A new effort in the Ohio legislature offers a case in point. Not only would House Bill 597 scrap Common Core standards in math and English, it would also scrap the state’s science and social studies standards, adopt Massachusetts standards for two years, and then mandate the creation of new Ohio standards by 2017. That’s right, Ohio’s teachers and children would have to cope with three different sets of standards in just four years. That’s an awful lot of chaos to endure in the name of trumped-up charges against Common Core.
Much of HB 597 is simply unmoored to reality. Why, for example, does the bill undo the science and social studies standards the state adopted only three years ago? It seems one of the bill’s sponsors was told that those standards are simply the Common Core in sheep’s clothing: “Someone said they are Common Core but they just aren’t calling them that.”
Golly, someone said that? Well then, let’s drop those standards, too, upend years’ worth of work, and squander many millions of dollars. Apparently, hearsay is justification enough for policies that affect millions of children.
Of course, anyone with an internet connection and ten minutes to spare would learn that there is no such thing as Common Core science or social studies standards, but that hardly matters.
Yet this isn’t merely a case of some feckless leaders basing big decisions on little or no evidence. The Common Core fight is giving some ideologues an opportunity to reignite battles that have little or nothing to do with Common Core. The new Ohio science standards proposed in HB 597 could, for example, open the door to creationism in science class. Efforts to overturn Common Core can become a Trojan horse for a much broader set of agendas.
I recognize that reasonable people can have principled objections to Common Core—even if I disagree with some of those objections. Yet if reasonable Common Core opponents simply stand back and let the standards succumb to baseless rumors or political witch hunts, their own cherished ideals might become the next target of zealots with an ax to grind.
The passage of HB 597 would surely embolden more activists from across the political spectrum to take on science and social studies standards, curriculum, teaching tools, and who knows what else. We already have too many examples of what happens when schools become battlegrounds in the culture wars.
So even if you don’t like Common Core, don’t root for HB 597 or similarly misguided efforts in other states. You might regret it.
We all know that the state of math in the U.S. is not strong. In fact, thirty-nine states' math standards were deemed "clearly inferior" to those laid out in Common Core. What's more, zero states' math standards were found to be "clearly superior" to Common Core math standards. With achievement standards being so varied across states, only some American students are getting the foundational math knowledge that they deserve.
For more facts and figures on Common Core standards (and a whole lot more), browse our growing catalog of STEMtistics and use them in your next presentation to help make the case for STEM education.