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Survey: Educators aren’t discussing STEM careers with students

Students say content is interesting, but teachers don't promote career options

Survey: Educators aren't discussing STEM careers with students
Students say they aren't getting the STEM guidance they need.

Teachers say they don't have the time or the resources to discuss STEM career options with their students.

In a recent survey, a majority of students said that while their science and math teachers seem knowledgeable and keep class interesting, they aren’t teaching about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career options. High school students also said they don’t believe STEM knowledge is integral to getting a good job, which doesn’t bode well for leaders counting on STEM education to keep the nation at the forefront of the global economy.

Spurred by the Obama administration’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign—a nationwide effort by U.S. companies, foundations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to help move America to the top of the pack in math and science education—the American Society for Quality (ASQ) commissioned market research firm Harris Interactive to conduct an online survey to uncover how well teachers transfer their knowledge and passion for science and math to their students and inspire them to pursue STEM careers.

The survey, conducted in December, asked more than a thousand students in grades 3-12 to provide a scaled report card (with grades ranging from A-F) on their science teachers’ classroom skills and activities.

Although 85 percent of students said their teachers deserve at least a “B” when it comes to knowledge about science topics (55 percent of students gave their teachers an “A”), 63 percent of high school students said their teachers are not doing a good job of talking to them about engineering careers (“C” or lower), and 42 percent of high school students said their teachers don’t ably demonstrate how science can be used in a career (“C” or lower).

Also, students in grades 7-12 are less likely than third through sixth graders to believe a person needs to be skilled science and math to get a good paying job (66 percent vs. 80 percent).

“We believe that as students get older and begin to diversify their studies and become more aware of the wide range of available career opportunities, they start to think that math and science aren’t necessarily critical to their job hunt,” said Maurice Ghysels, chair of ASQ’s Education Advisory Council.

“In some cases, a contributing factor is that some teachers aren’t doing all they can to connect the dots between the math [and] science work that students are doing on a daily basis and how it relates to the real world and their future careers.”

Why the disconnect?

Teachers who make math and science interesting but fail to discuss STEM career options might feel limited by the time constraints placed on them.

“Good teachers in many cases are doing their best to cover a wide range of topics and required curriculum in science classes, but because of time and budget constraints, career discussions are often left out,” said Ghysels. “So, any support that teachers can receive from parents and local community members [in terms of] volunteer career speakers and programs is really valued.”

One former math teacher said teachers often don’t have time to discuss STEM career options because they’re too busy having to teach to high-stakes tests.

“A teacher’s primary responsibility is instruction that will provide all students with the math skills necessary to demonstrate proficiency on state-mandated assessments or exit exams,” said Judy Brown, math program manager for Sylvan Learning.

“Unfortunately, many high school students come into classes without essential prerequisite skills. This is particularly difficult in the math classroom, because higher-level skills are built on a foundation of basic skills. Finding additional time to incorporate STEM careers into high school math classrooms may not become a priority until state-mandated assessments include items assessing this topic.”

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Comments:

  1. keen2learn

    February 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    The significance of the next generation of engineers and scientists in the quest to control climate change and renewable energy must rank equal to a job in NASA. Perhaps the role needs to be sexed up to attract children and pull the career opportunities through to teachers.

  2. keen2learn

    February 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    The significance of the next generation of engineers and scientists in the quest to control climate change and renewable energy must rank equal to a job in NASA. Perhaps the role needs to be sexed up to attract children and pull the career opportunities through to teachers.

  3. patty o novak

    February 25, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Thank you. I enjoyed this interesting and informative article. As someone who does engineering presentations for Preschool – 5th grade, I was encouraged by several mentions of introducing engineering earlier in a child’s life. Children are natural engineers and do not have to be math superstars to excel in engineering.

  4. patty o novak

    February 25, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Thank you. I enjoyed this interesting and informative article. As someone who does engineering presentations for Preschool – 5th grade, I was encouraged by several mentions of introducing engineering earlier in a child’s life. Children are natural engineers and do not have to be math superstars to excel in engineering.

  5. thekingster

    February 26, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Somehow I doubt the validity that modern students are aware of “what” their teachers are talking about at any given time. Case in point: in my school, I can produce a PowerPoint, write it on the board, and provide a hand out, and invariably a student will indicate that “they never knew” about an assignment or announcement.

    I teach a careers class and find that most students feel they will walk into above average paying careers while they can’t fashion a cogent sentence. Understandably, students need good instruction…but…if you can’t convince the parents to endorse education, then, this is a lot of hot air…signifying nothing.

  6. thekingster

    February 26, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Somehow I doubt the validity that modern students are aware of “what” their teachers are talking about at any given time. Case in point: in my school, I can produce a PowerPoint, write it on the board, and provide a hand out, and invariably a student will indicate that “they never knew” about an assignment or announcement.

    I teach a careers class and find that most students feel they will walk into above average paying careers while they can’t fashion a cogent sentence. Understandably, students need good instruction…but…if you can’t convince the parents to endorse education, then, this is a lot of hot air…signifying nothing.

  7. orthner

    March 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I have been developing and implementing a program in NC called “CareerStart.” We provide on-line tools that help teachers in the core courses in middle school (6-8th grades) give examples from careers as to how the information they are teaching is actually used in jobs and careers. Our experimental study is showing quite significant differences between the students whose teachers give career examples and those who do not. Those hearing career examples are more engaged, attend class more, have fewer suspensions, and have higher test scores, especially on math. And these results come at very low cost since the teachers are already committed to their subjects. One student said, “I like it when they [her teachers] talk about career stuff, because then I’ll get an idea of my future. But I would like it if they would do it a bit more.”

  8. orthner

    March 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I have been developing and implementing a program in NC called “CareerStart.” We provide on-line tools that help teachers in the core courses in middle school (6-8th grades) give examples from careers as to how the information they are teaching is actually used in jobs and careers. Our experimental study is showing quite significant differences between the students whose teachers give career examples and those who do not. Those hearing career examples are more engaged, attend class more, have fewer suspensions, and have higher test scores, especially on math. And these results come at very low cost since the teachers are already committed to their subjects. One student said, “I like it when they [her teachers] talk about career stuff, because then I’ll get an idea of my future. But I would like it if they would do it a bit more.”

  9. Lea Smith

    March 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    With standardized tests driving the content of most science and math classes, applied technology needs to be encouraged and supported. Slim budgets are threatening these classes. STEM should push – and support – them better. My 6th grade students learn computer drawing and what NASA does. My 7th grade bridge builders learn what civil engineers do and study careers in technology. My 8th graders practice forensic science and learn about their role in promoting energy that won’t harm the environment. Materials that support these efforts need to be more readily available – and free.

  10. Lea Smith

    March 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    With standardized tests driving the content of most science and math classes, applied technology needs to be encouraged and supported. Slim budgets are threatening these classes. STEM should push – and support – them better. My 6th grade students learn computer drawing and what NASA does. My 7th grade bridge builders learn what civil engineers do and study careers in technology. My 8th graders practice forensic science and learn about their role in promoting energy that won’t harm the environment. Materials that support these efforts need to be more readily available – and free.

  11. TomR55

    March 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    The situation in Public Schools is, I fear, worse than this article suggests. As we near the ten year anniversary of No Child Left Behind and the collapse of public funding models, we see increased balkanization within the schools as many of the non Mathematics and Science offerings complete for a dwindling number of available credits distributed among an ever smaller number of capable and interested students.

    As an example, I teach Computer Science, which the “engineering” teachers do NOT consider STEM. And why would they? They perceive my courses as eroding their student base. So, instead of working together, they do not feel that they need to give an inch—sounds like our current political climate, doesn’t it?

    By the way, teaching is my 2nd career; I was a Computer Scientist (I guess I still am) for nearly 20 years before going to do something that I thought was meaningful for the next generation of students. Alas, it has not worked out that way because that is not the same thing as having been a classroom teacher for 20+ years, but the system rewards the later and discriminates against the former— advanced degrees notwithstanding.

    At the end of the day, I have spent nearly 8 years talking about realistic career expectations; I have modeled what an accomplished, well-adjusted professional looks like, and more than a few students have gone on to graduate study. These were the few who would have soldiered on regardless, I fear.

    Finally, I see no reason to be optimistic: Duncan is no different than the lot that came before him; in fact, I find the entire Obama crowd completely lacking in courage and vision. I suspect that they are frightened to cross the same people who created NCLB. Just throwing money into the STEM pot without changing the vision, I fear, will provide more than enough ammunition for the Obama detractors, But here’s the real tragedy; all of this comes at the expense of our most precious commodity, our students.

    Ask yourself: Do you think that the Romanians, the Russians, the Germans, the Chinese or the French are wringing their hands over standardized test scores? To the extent that they even pay attention to what has happened here, they are loving it!

  12. TomR55

    March 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    The situation in Public Schools is, I fear, worse than this article suggests. As we near the ten year anniversary of No Child Left Behind and the collapse of public funding models, we see increased balkanization within the schools as many of the non Mathematics and Science offerings complete for a dwindling number of available credits distributed among an ever smaller number of capable and interested students.

    As an example, I teach Computer Science, which the “engineering” teachers do NOT consider STEM. And why would they? They perceive my courses as eroding their student base. So, instead of working together, they do not feel that they need to give an inch—sounds like our current political climate, doesn’t it?

    By the way, teaching is my 2nd career; I was a Computer Scientist (I guess I still am) for nearly 20 years before going to do something that I thought was meaningful for the next generation of students. Alas, it has not worked out that way because that is not the same thing as having been a classroom teacher for 20+ years, but the system rewards the later and discriminates against the former— advanced degrees notwithstanding.

    At the end of the day, I have spent nearly 8 years talking about realistic career expectations; I have modeled what an accomplished, well-adjusted professional looks like, and more than a few students have gone on to graduate study. These were the few who would have soldiered on regardless, I fear.

    Finally, I see no reason to be optimistic: Duncan is no different than the lot that came before him; in fact, I find the entire Obama crowd completely lacking in courage and vision. I suspect that they are frightened to cross the same people who created NCLB. Just throwing money into the STEM pot without changing the vision, I fear, will provide more than enough ammunition for the Obama detractors, But here’s the real tragedy; all of this comes at the expense of our most precious commodity, our students.

    Ask yourself: Do you think that the Romanians, the Russians, the Germans, the Chinese or the French are wringing their hands over standardized test scores? To the extent that they even pay attention to what has happened here, they are loving it!


Ryan Poelman | Karsof Systems