There is a growing sense of urgency in Arizona and across the nation to increase the skills of our students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, commonly referred to as STEM education. In fact, Arizona K-12 schools have increased math and science requirements and by next year, all Arizona students will be required to take a minimum of four years of math and three years of science in order to graduate. In addition, as our schools implement Arizona’s Common Core Standards, there is greater focus on ensuring students can apply their math and science knowledge to think critically and solve problems.
The focus on greater critical and innovative thinking is the result of increasing demands by employers for a skilled and knowledgeable workforce that can help find solutions for the some of the challenges facing our society. For example, industries such as renewable energy, bio-design and national security will need individuals who can come up with creative, collaborative and innovative solutions.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008-2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.1 And STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they word in STEM or non-STEM occupations. Women with STEM degrees and jobs earn 29% more than those without, while men with STEM degrees and jobs see a 23% advantage over their counterparts.2
However, the increase in STEM demands is challenging for our students and our teachers. According to an article in the Arizona Republic, there is a culture shift happening in our schools that is unlike what previous generations have experienced. The goal is to ensure all students are college and career ready. The increased focus on hands-on learning is aligned with Arizona’s Common Core Standards which are being implemented in targeted grades this year and will be fully implemented by 2014. This new way of teaching math, in particular, helps students apply concepts to real-world situations and not just memorize formulas.
While we know our teachers and students are being challenged, we also know that they can and will rise to the challenge. By striving for more rigorous science and math coursework in schools, and encouraging students to pursue STEM-related educational and career pathways, we increase opportunities available in college, career and life for all Arizona students.
1 “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future,” (2011) U.S. Department of Commerce.
2 “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation,” (2011) U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration
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