STEM Education and the Condition of American Science

I have written elsewhere about my doubts concerning the validity of arguments that link US economic performance to achievement test results (see William H. Angoff Lecture Series Report; The Huffington Post; GSEHD Working Paper 2.3).  And in my last posting I had the pleasure of welcoming guest blogger Sharon Lynch, whose innovative work on STEM education is spurring considerable discussion and addressing some of the most important education policy issues we face.

Recently I had the honor and pleasure of serving as guest editor for the current issue of The Bridge, the flagship quarterly of the National Academy of Engineering.  In my introductory note I suggest that there are two compelling and compatible narratives about the importance of attention to STEM (and I’m grateful to my friend and former colleague, Naomi Chudowsky, for helping me understand and articulate these ideas).  The “national need” narrative is based on the hypothesis that the future of American economic competitiveness, especially in a changing global environment, hinges on an increased supply of well-educated scientists and engineers, qualified and ready to work in demanding jobs that require higher order science and math skills.  The second narrative, what might be called the “equity narrative” emphasizes the glaring and persistent inequities in the distribution of educational opportunities and the deficits experienced by underrepresented minorities and women in the STEM fields.

An important and frequently overlooked point is that even if at the macro level the aggregate supply of future STEM professionals is adequate, the importance of correcting unacceptable inequality in opportunities and outcomes cannot be overestimated.

The point I try to make in my Bridge piece is that these narratives are not only compatible but are mutually reinforcing: in the light of America’s changing demographics, improving opportunities for underrepresented minorities and women in STEM will not only address the equity problem but will also contribute to our overall economic condition.

The Bridge issue has several articles that together provide a sturdy foundation for continued discussion and research on these issues.  In particular, I want to highlight the contributions of two of our faculty, Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux and Liliana Garces.I encourage readers to think about the messages in these fine papers and to engage with us in continued conversation.

March 27, 2013


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