To stay on the cutting edge of STEM, California needs to start laying educational foundations in the early grades, boost professional development for teachers, and more, according to an upcoming report to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson by a task force of experts.
Torlakson previewed the report today before the Assembly Select Committee on Integrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.) in Education in California K-14 schools. He and Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla, D-Concord, who chairs the select committee, convened the task force last year. It comprises 55 volunteers, including higher education leaders, business and industry representatives, teachers, administrators, and others.
“STEM education holds great value not only for our kids, but for our businesses, our economy, and our entire state,” Torlakson said. “A strong emphasis in STEM will help keep California on the cutting edge of improving our quality of life and ensuring a diverse workforce. Job growth is more pronounced in the STEM fields than anywhere else; if we want our students to succeed outside our classrooms, we have to prepare them with the knowledge and skills they will need.”
The task force was charged with examining the state of STEM education in curriculum, instructional practices, professional learning, student testing, existing resources, and community and business partnerships. Its report remains under development, but Torlakson highlighted some of its early recommendations in his testimony. Among the recommendations are:
* Begin building the foundation for STEM learning in the early grades by highlighting the value of problem solving and other 21st century skills. Also, begin instilling a value for the STEM fields in underrepresented groups, including women.
* Promote STEM instruction in teacher training programs to help candidates understand the value of including STEM instruction in a broad-based and integrated curriculum.
* Continue the STEM emphasis over the arc of a teacher’s career by developing guidelines for high-quality professional development in the STEM disciplines.
* Create a STEM leadership academy for educators to build STEM professional learning networks.
* Establish a central, searchable clearinghouse of STEM partnership programs, regardless of whether they are housed in public schools, higher education institutions, nonprofit agencies, or industry.
* Use assessments as a way to model teaching and learning of 21st century skills, which Torlakson said is already being accomplished under Assembly Bill 484, signed this week by the Governor, which paves the way for California’s switch to modern, computer-based assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards that measure student readiness for careers and college.
“With new standards and new assessments, we have a rare chance to remodel our education from the ground up,” Torlakson said. “The simple fact is, the world is changing and our schools have to change too. Kids need very different knowledge and skills today and tomorrow than they did 15 years ago.”