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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.

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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.

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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.

Download Maura Banta’s Congressional testimony.

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In the March 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes that “when business, academic, and policy leaders collaborate to bridge the gaps [between their silos], they create a fertile environment for job growth and more-inclusive prosperity.” Professor Kanter enumerates four key goals that should be on the agenda of every leader, and cites several IBM citizenship programs – Smarter Cities Challenge, Supplier Connection, Transition to Teaching, and the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) – as outstanding examples of companies can “[think] outside the building [to find] opportunities to influence the system around them.”

  1. “Link knowledge creation and venture creation to speed the conversion of ideas into market-ready enterprises. [Smarter Cities Challenge/Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Aquaponics Innovation Center]
  2. Link small and large enterprises to promote the growth and success of small and midsize companies and revitalize large corporations through partnerships with innovative SMEs. [Supplier Connection]
  3. Improve the match between education and employment opportunities. Develop a job-ready workforce through apprenticeships and other education-industry links, including new structures for schooling. [New York P-TECH, a grades 9 through 14 institution that directly connects education to employment]
  4. Link leaders across sectors to develop regional strategies and produce scalable models that build on local assets and attract new investment.”

Professor Kanter concludes:

Besides creating regional coalitions, business leaders can be institutional innovators. Creative leaders think not only outside the box but also—in my preferred metaphor—outside the building, finding opportunities to influence the system around them. Consider the efforts of IBM, already described in this article. They are business-strategic, involve a wide range of functions, and directly address ecosystem challenges. IBM leads the semiconductor research consortium in Albany; assists the aquaponics innovation districts in Milwaukee; runs Supplier Connection for SMEs; participates in creating six-year high schools in New York and Chicago; and retools engineers as educators through Transition to Teaching. Institutional innovations create better ways to focus R&D, supply chain, or training investments. When the private sector uses its core business capabilities to invent new prototypes for structural change, the public sector gets models to take to scale.

 

Read “Enriching the Ecosystem” (free registration required)

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the chair and director of Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. Professor Kanter is the author of SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good (2009).

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