Bad news on STEM education. But good news, too.

January 31, 2011

By hammersmith

The headline in the Jan. 28 Arizona Republic is not the kind anyone interested in STEM education would like to see: “Arizona students fare poorly in science.”

The Republic notes a new report issued by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and finds that:

Students in fourth and eighth grades scored 11 and 8 points, respectively, below the national average. Arizona’s fourth-graders earned 138 on a scale of 300, which was below the national average of 149. Eighth-graders in Arizona scored 141, below the 149 national average.

Arizona-specific results did not include the 12th grade, but overall, the state ranked among the 10 lowest in the 2009 assessment of student knowledge of physical, life, Earth and space sciences.

Darcy Renfro, vice president of Science Foundation Arizona’s STEM Initiatives, cuts to the chase:

“What I am seeing in these numbers is that we’re not moving the ball in science, and we have to start approaching this in a fundamentally different way.” She adds, “”How do you engage students by making (STEM) more interesting and relevant? You have to start with the colleges of education.”

The news in Arizona is not uniformly bad, though, as many of those involved in strengthening STEM education would attest.

Also released this week was the Milken Institute’s annual state technology and science index, which ranked Arizona 15th, up from 17th last year. That’s good, by itself. But look closer, and there are particular niches to be excited about.

One of Milken’s sub-assessments is the Human Capital Investment Composite Index. It contains some sobering statistics–especially related to education funding–and some exciting ones. It sure looks like the work done at the community colleges and universities in recent years to encourage students toward degrees in STEM subjects is paying off–In some areas, Arizona is among the nation’s best:

  • All Recent Degrees in Science and Engineering per 1,000 Civilian Workers (2007): Rank: 4
  • Recent Bachelor’s Degrees in Science and Engineering per 1,000 Civilian Workers (2007): Rank: 6
  • Recent Master’s Degrees in Science and Engineering per 1,000 Civilian Workers (2007): Rank: 2

Renfro and her colleagues have something to build on.