Washington State residents believe that the best economic opportunities for today’s students are in the fields of science, mathematics, and technology according to a poll conducted by Washington STEM. Washington STEM is a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of STEM education in Washington schools.
Over 90% of people polled believed that improvement of STEM teaching and the state’s future economic health were tightly linked, and over 70% thought that schools weren’t doing enough to challenge their students in these areas of study. Washington STEM hopes that the results would be a clarion call not only to educators but also to parents, businesses and policymakers to take STEM education more seriously going forward.
In most school districts in Washington state, computer science is an elective course that does not count as a math or science credit, even though many of the technology jobs at the state’s pre-eminent companies are rooted in an understanding of computer science. Recent legislation introduced in Olympia by Rep. Hansen seeks to change this. (HB1472: Providing initiatives to improve and expand access to computer science education.)
Brad Smith, board member of Washington STEM and an executive vice president at Microsoft said that many of the company’s employees date their passion for computer science from the courses they took in Washington high schools. Yet, despite the fact that the technology industry in the state and the country is crying out for more qualified professionals to fill their open jobs, too few students today have access to computer science courses early in their academic careers. Smith said that every school should make it a goal to offer at least one technology course to its students prior to graduation, and provide more encouragement for kids to take interest in STEM.
Poll respondents also strongly supported the new Common Core State Standards and the upcoming Next Generation Science Standards. The Common Core, developed by 46 states, are standards that provide a deeper understanding of key concepts in math and English-language arts and require practical, real-life application of knowledge that prepares students for success in work and life. The Next Generation Science Standards are similar but focused on science.
The improvement of STEM education in Washington is one of the goals of the administration of Governor Jay Inslee. He hopes that the changes in how STEM is taught will go a long way to towards helping to fill nearly 30,000 technology-related job openings that go unfilled in the state every year.