As an unprecedented school year begins this fall, how do we make sure that high school students can develop relevant and applicable knowledge in STEM learning and effectively prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future?
That’s the challenge put forth in a new report released today from 100Kin10, a network of public, private, and nonprofit organizations that have made strategic commitments to address the nation’s shortage of science, technology, engineering and math teachers and improve STEM learning for all high school students.
The report, Shifting Courses: Achieving Equity in High School STEM, surveys the high school STEM learning landscape and spotlights a lack of high-quality, relevant, and career-connected STEM courses in high schools across the United States.
This gap particularly impacts young people of color (especially Black, Latinx and Indigenous students), students from low-income households, students based in rural areas across the country and girls of all racial identities and socioeconomic experiences, threatening the promise of racial justice and equitable outcomes for the next generation of leaders.
As recently as 2018, the report highlights, a quarter of U.S. high schools with the highest percentage of Black and Latinx students did not offer Algebra II, a prerequisite for many higher-level STEM courses. A third of these schools did not offer chemistry. Black and Latinx students are often denied access to limited seats in advanced courses, particularly in racially diverse schools where Black and Latinx students are not the majority.
“The future of the United States’ economy and our nation’s ability to thrive is rooted in solving STEM-based challenges, but this barrier to access threatens the promise of racial justice and equitable outcomes for the next generation of leaders,” says Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Executive Director of 100Kin10. “STEM careers and work experiences can transform individual lives, families, and communities. This report is a call to education leaders that they must ensure that all schools offer high-quality, relevant and career-connected STEM courses while stopping the inequitable practices that track Black, Latinx and Indigenous students away from meaningful high school STEM coursework.”
In light of the global pandemic, renewed waves of action for racial justice and an ongoing economic crisis, the report also outlines strategies for leaders to ensure a range of STEM learning experiences and opportunities in high school, especially for students of color.
Using interviews with experts, research on best practices in the core challenges impeding equitable, career-relevant STEM teaching and learning, and examples from successful organizations, the report suggests three critical levers for change.
1.Ensuring high school STEM coursework is relevant and applicable to a 21st-century context.
There must exist a shared understanding of what relevant, applicable, high-quality STEM learning looks like in order to connect more students with rigorous STEM courses. Often, many STEM learning opportunities don’t engage students and keep them wanting to pursue higher-level STEM courses. These STEM learning experiences also don’t connect classroom lessons to real-world work experiences. What’s more–when the contributions of minorities are not showcased in STEM courses, students of color and students belonging to minority groups fail to see themselves reflected in STEM professions.
2. Supporting more teachers to facilitate active and applied STEM learning.
Greater access to STEM courses means, logically, that more highly-effective STEM teachers must be recruited, trained, and available. Current teacher training and professional education don’t always support teachers as they strive to become effective career-connected teachers with project-based instructional strategies.
3. Creating systems that ensure equitable STEM teaching and learning.
The nation needs “systemic and cultural change to address practices considered ‘inherent’ to our education system if we want to erode the current barriers that students of color face in accessing relevant, excellent, career-connected STEM education and opportunities beyond school,” according to the report.
To make tangible change, the report recommends, leaders of school districts, organizations serving high schools and other stakeholders must activate these levers for change with a dedicated commitment to racial equity and success for students of color, especially Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students.
Without that commitment, the U.S. education system may continue to develop high-quality STEM courses and increase the number of such available courses, but students of color will keep facing barriers to the STEM careers of the future.
Material from a press release was used in this report.