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STEM Solutions Conference April 23-25, 2014

Chemistry lab
Chemistry lab
Photo by Christopher Furlong

April 23-25, 2014 the third annual U.S. News STEM Solutions conference was held in Washington D.C. Billed as an outcome-focused forum zeroing in on results: more U.S. STEM graduates. “The STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) crisis in the United States demands solutions…”

Nearly one of two engineering graduates in the U.S. at the master’s level is foreign-born. U.S. foreign-born engineering doctoral graduates come in even higher at 56%. (Joshua Wright, Forbes.com 5/28/13)

It isn’t just STEM jobs the U.S. must find ways to fill; STEM competencies are required in a wide spectrum of occupations. The 2015 allotment of H-1B temporary visas for skilled professionals was filled within five days of its filing. As a result, tens of thousands of U.S. skilled worker jobs will go unfilled. (Matthew Kolodziej, Immigration Impact 4/7/14)

It is a mystery why STEM workers can’t qualify for the same work accommodations as young people in the U.S. illegally. Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg is hiring teachers who qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. (Donna Bryson, Associated Press, Denver Post 4/11/14)

Therein lies the rub. If a person arrives in the U.S. as a child, odds are the education received here would prove inadequate for jobs requiring STEM competencies. If an adult masters a content-rich, rigorous curriculum in another country, odds are against him/her winning the newly adopted lottery system for an U.S. H-1B visa.

The true problem must first be recognized before we can solve the STEM crisis. Decades ago we made the decision to not teach basic skills (reading, writing and math) well. Just over a third of children in Nebraska and the U.S. are proficient in basic skills (NAEP 2013). Each year, as we reap the fallout from that failure, our economy requires increasing numbers of well-educated foreigners.

In 2006, The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) provided excellent information about the very foundation of all learning: reading. The report “What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning” was largely ignored.

Again, NCTQ along with the National Math + Science Initiative has compiled excellent suggestions to tackle the STEM crisis:

  • Raise teacher education school standards
  • Improve the quality of undergraduate preparation
  • Recognize the need for creative and diverse instruction solutions
  • Send qualified teachers to the schools that most need them
  • Remember the PK-12 system produces our future STEM teachers

Solutions to the STEM crises when we acknowledge the true problem:

  • Effectively educate Americans somewhere. If we are determined it won’t happen on U.S. soil, send them to the top-ranked Asian countries to learn basic skills. The ability to read, write and do math well in any language is a prerequisite for STEM training and employment.
  • If education of Americans continues to be disallowed, grant illegal STEM workers the same privileges as illegal immigrants who came as children.