In my testimony before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education this morning, I’ll be focusing on one of the biggest challenges to the future of America’s global economic competiveness – the severe shortage of high school graduates who are prepared for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers of the 21st Century, and the inadequate pipeline of qualified teachers in STEM subjects.
We’re all familiar with the growing body of research that shows the disconnect between twenty-first century labor market needs & employment opportunities and the shortage of high school graduates prepared for STEM careers. We know that the U.S. is falling well behind other countries in the number and proportion of high school graduates who intend to pursue STEM careers. And we know that only a relatively small number of students eventually complete their post-secondary education in STEM fields – a factor that further increases our competitive disadvantage in the global economy.
America’s continued economic growth will require a base of scientists, engineers, and the next generation of innovators. To have the pipeline of science and engineering talent that we will need, we must focus on STEM education beginning at the elementary school level. Then, we must ensure that students in middle and high school are exposed to educational experiences that will stoke their enthusiasm for math, science, and problem solving. We also must maintain high academic standards, and provide students with the rigorous training they will need for the successful pursuit of scientific and technical degrees in college.
IBM’s Transition to Teaching program – which addresses K-12 STEM pipeline issues by facilitating retiring IBMers’ moving into science and math education as a way of helping to encourage young people to enter STEM careers – has been at the forefront of addressing our national challenge since 2006. Transition to Teaching is just part of our portfolio of education initiatives including those aimed at bolstering early childhood education, strengthening middle school math skills, and designing an innovative grades 9-14 school model that confers both the high school diploma and a no-cost Associate’s degree in Technology. As always, our approach to citizenship focuses on contributing the skills and expertise of our employees to bring about positive, sustainable change.
Many long-term IBM employees are already thinking about teaching as a second career. Others have the exact background and skills needed to strengthen STEM education in our schools, and we want to introduce them to the idea of teaching. We want to encourage all IBMers who are ready for their next challenge to help address the national teacher shortage in math and science.
We also believe that if an additional 25 large companies established programs similar to Transition Teaching, their combined efforts could provide a substantial number of new math and science teachers. In parallel with addressing the STEM teacher shortage, broader corporate participation in teacher transition programs could help raise the reputation of teaching as a desirable career. However, the private sector alone cannot solve this problem. It will take improvements in teacher training and professional development programs in every school district. In addition, school districts will have to change the way they recruit, place and supervise teachers to retain the best professionals.
To attract new talent to the teaching profession, we must take steps to open it to qualified persons at all stages of their working lives. This will require public-private partnerships that enable the recruitment of new members to the profession throughout their careers. We should give professionals in many industries the opportunity to develop transferrable skills as part of their preparation to become teachers. Only in this way will we facilitate faster movement into the profession for those with the training, dedication and expertise that America desperately needs in its classrooms.
Maura Banta is Director of Citizenship Initiatives in Education at IBM.