Expert Opinion: David W. Andrews

Fall 2011

expert-opinionQ. What can Johns Hopkins do to STEM the crisis in K-12 preparation in science, technology, engineering, and math?

Last year, a front-page story 
in the New York Times described how U.S. educators were “stunned” that high school students in Shanghai, China, far outscored their counterparts in other developed countries in literacy, math, and science. 
The results showed that the United States was slipping in all categories and raised questions about our country’s ability to be competitive in the global marketplace.

A number of leading voices in education and politics understand the urgency for a call to action. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “The brutal fact is that many countries that are far ahead of us are improving more rapidly than we are. We rank 24th or 25th in most categories. This should be a massive wake-up call,” and in a State of the Union address, President Obama made 
an urgent plea to ensure that “all children have the basic science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) literacy necessary to be full participants in our economy and our democracy.”

Q: What can we do at Johns Hopkins?

First, we shouldn’t respond to this national crisis by simply generating a host of engaging programs that magically get kids interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. While this may be a start, we need to strategically consider and test programs that have high impact; take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity to tap the resources and expertise of the greater Johns Hopkins community and work together across disciplines to create highly qualified STEM educators and graduates; and position STEM as a critical pipeline issue.

Students who fall behind in math and cannot read have a very difficult time seeing themselves as a scientist or engineer. No matter how exciting we make the jobs look, there is a disconnect between their skills and knowledge and what it will take to work in these professions. This mismatch does not go unrecognized by the students themselves. If we focus only on those students who have clearly demonstrated the academic acumen to compete in these disciplines, we won’t have enough individuals in the pipeline to meet the need. While we continue to try to attract our best and brightest into STEM professions, we need to create parallel efforts to attract our best and brightest into the education field and charge them with sustaining a pipeline of well-
prepared students.

At the School of Education, we are expanding our work with our colleagues in STEM-related JHU schools and seeking their ideas on recruiting the “best and brightest” for teaching careers; 
creating professional development programs for existing teachers to improve their content knowledge in the STEM fields; and developing STEM curricula that reflect the latest research and best practices

To illustrate, new studies are emerging suggesting that by starting rigorous math preparation earlier, students will experience faster growth in both math and science skills. Our faculty is working with the Whiting School on a grant to the National Science Foundation to develop and implement a hands-on project-based STEM module in 22 of Baltimore City’s lowest-performing schools with the goal of integrating science education in teachers’ lesson plans.

In addition, an often-overlooked facet of this discussion is that many STEM-related jobs do not require a college degree. Employers have said there is a significant shortage of middle-skilled workers who are needed to implement new technologies. This group represents one of the largest segments of our economy, and it is an area that will require new interdisciplinary thinking on how best to prepare employees with the skills to meet employer needs