June 2, 2016

Northern New Jersey, including the Fifth District, has some of the best K-12 schools in the country. It’s one of the reasons many of us wanted to raise our families here. I want to make sure that our schools stay on the cutting edge and at the top for years to come.   One academic area that’s particularly important is STEM education — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM fields are essential to America’s economic growth and global competitiveness.

  • Over the past decade, demand for STEM jobs was three times greater than non-STEM jobs;
  • In the coming decade, STEM jobs are projected to grow 10.1 percent, while non-STEM jobs are projected to grow only 6.5 percent.

To meet this growing demand for careers in STEM, many schools in our area have developed top-notch STEM-specific programs, including High Point Regional, Newton College and Career Academy, Eisenhower Middle School, Ramapo High School, Ridgewood High School, Warren County Technical School, and Bergen County Academies – just to name a few. And many others are programs are in development.

But we must work hard to stay ahead of the curve. We must aggressively look forward and ensure that all of our children are given every opportunity to succeed in the global, digital economy.

 

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The Challenge

There is currently a mismatch between the supply and growing demand for STEM-skilled workers. Today, there are more than half a million unfilled jobs in information technology across all sectors of the economy. This gap reinforces the notion that by 2018, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs.

 

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The STEM employment gap is further compounded by persistent diversity challenges, as women and minorities, who comprise 70% of college students, but fewer than 45% of STEM degrees they represent a largely untapped talent pool.

At Microsoft, I saw first-hand this skills-gap between the jobs available for engineers and computer programmers and those our country is producing. We simply aren’t graduating enough people with STEM skills.

STEM fields are closely related and build on each other. As one report noted, “Math provides the foundation for physics—and physics, in turn, for engineering. Engineers can apply their knowledge of physics to make high-tech devices that could be useful for testing theories in physics. Advances in physics could then contribute to advances in engineering and technology.”

Here are a few additional STEM facts:

  • Among OECD countries, US high schools students rank 27th in math and 20th in science;
  • In the US, 4 percent of bachelor’s degrees were awarded in engineering, 27 percent lower than China;
  • Only 35,000 college students majored in computer science in 2012, nearly a 50 percent drop from 2003;
  • Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men;
  • Less than half of U.S. high school graduates are prepared for college-level math courses and only 36 percent are ready for college science courses;
  • The latest census found that only 26 percent of STEM workers in the United States were women, meaning a full 74 percent of all STEM jobs are filled by men.

Facts on STEM and New Jersey:

  • In New Jersey, women hold less than 20 percent of the degrees/certificates in computing, and only 28 percent of the degrees/certificates in engineering.
  • Minority students are falling behind their white counterparts in science and math achievement. In New Jersey, 61 percent of white 4th grade students were rated at or above proficient in math versus 21 percent of African American students and 28 percent of Latino students. The results in science were equally troubling, 52 percent of New Jersey 4th graders being at or above proficient versus 12 percent of African American students and 15 percent of Latino students.
  • In New Jersey, STEM jobs pay a median salary of almost $43/hour, nearly double that on non-STEM jobs. Additionally, the unemployment rate for STEM workers is roughly half that of non-STEM workers.

 

FIVE POINT PLAN TO ADDRESS THE STEM GAP

We must continue to take steps to close the significant gap between what we are teaching our children today and what we need to be teaching them to succeed in the job market they will enter.

Here is my plan:

  1. STEM Curriculum

The number one solution to addressing the skills-gap is through school curriculum. These decisions should all be made at the local level. STEM courses should be challenging and engaging to every middle and high school student across the country.

  • We should look to technologists, engineers, academics, and those in tech companies to provide guidance on STEM courses.
  • School boards should enhance K-12 curriculum to prepare students for the workforce and/or college level math and science programs;
  • We should create partnerships between high schools, colleges, and community colleges that will provide students with state-of-the-art facilities, first-class instruction, and give them the opportunity to earn college credits toward a degree in a STEM related field;
  • Laying the foundation for STEM education early by including basic ideas in Head Start curriculum;
  • We need a program like the proposed STEM Master Teacher Corps that would enlist America’s best and brightest science and math teachers to improve STEM education. We could build this program at the state and local level. This proposal would identify, share, and expand models to help transform thousands of excellent STEM teachers into national STEM teacher leaders who help improve STEM teaching and learning nationwide. Specifically, teachers would build their leadership capacity, enhance the professional learning of other STEM teachers; identify and share promising practices; participate in local, state, and national STEM policy forums; and help students excel in STEM subjects while taking on coaching and mentorship roles in their schools and communities.

 

  1. STEM Partnerships with the Private Sector

We should facilitate partnerships with local businesses to create rich learning experiences and bridge the connection between the classroom and workplace:

  • We should facilitate summer internship programs with the private sector that would provide an extensive, “embedded” learning experience for students;
  • Encourage businesses that need STEM talent to visit STEM schools and speak to students about career development;
  • Providing tax incentives for corporations who partner with poorer school districts to bring technology into the classrooms, creating real world learning environment.

 

  1. STEM Programs for Women and Minorities

Today, women hold only 27 percent of all computer science jobs, and that number isn’t growing. This is unsurprising when we take into account how many women are actually studying computer science in college; less than 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women, even though female graduates hold 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees.

  • We should encourage programs that help young girls and women to pursue STEM education;
  • Programs like Million Women Mentors (MWM), an initiative of STEM connector, are connecting corporations, nonprofits and government entities to raise awareness and support young girls and women in STEM education;
  • We should create mentoring programs that would connect women and minorities working in STEM fields with students pursuing STEM education;
  • We should have educators encourage women and minorities to pursue advanced studies in STEM including AP courses, afterschool activities in STEM, and other immersive opportunities.

 

  1. Technology in Our Schools

We must expand the use of education technology in classrooms and the availability of computer science education. We must modernize our schools – and broadband infrastructure — so that children have the facilities and resources required for a comprehensive STEM education.

  • Too many of our schools don’t have the broadband capacity so that all of our students can be online, where they can maximize the benefits of the Internet, collaborate on assignments, and communicate with educators;
  • The Federal Communications Commission, through the modernization of its E-Rate program, has taken steps to help schools help make this transition to greater Internet capacity;
  • I believe there is room for schools to pool their purchasing and negotiate more favorable rates and higher speeds in schools.

 

  1. Connectivity Beyond the School-House Door

Too many of our students don’t have access to broadband when they leave the school-house door. We know that one-third of all students nationwide – and more than twenty percent in New Jersey — don’t have connectivity at home. In this day and age, that’s like not having running water or electricity. Without connectivity at-home, students can’t collaborate, conduct research for homework, or communicate with their teachers.

  • There are many non-profit programs available to students, such as Internet Essentials and a program I helped launch called JerseyOn, to help school lunch students connect at home at much lower rates.

 

Conclusion

The bottom line: providing our children with a STEM education will make the district an attractive location for companies from the technology industry, and position our children to compete for the high paying jobs of the future. Studies have shown that over time each high-tech job creates about five jobs outside of tech (two professional and three nonprofessional). It is critical that we have a representative in Congress who understands the needs of an increasingly important industry that has such dynamic economic potential if Northern New Jersey is going to be well positioned have a vibrant economy in the future.